Ten Questions with Photographer Karen Paulina Biswell

Mar 17, 2015 Comments Off on Ten Questions with Photographer Karen Paulina Biswell by

By Verónica Sanchis, translated by Ellen Donnison


Album Erotico II – Wild Palms Dance. ©Karen Paulina Biswell

Karen Paulina Biswell was born in Aruba in 1983 and grew up in both Colombia and France. From a certain perspective her work can be considered documentary. However, Biswell never started out with the intention of exposing a social or political in particular. Her work could be better described as autobiographical. It comes from an inner desire to explore the limits of human emotion: vulnerability, strength, sexuality and authenticity. In 2014 Biswell was nominated for the well-known World Press Photo-Joop Swart Masterclass. Additionally, she was awarded second place for the IX Premio Colombo-Suizo de fotografía and nominated for the La Lettre de Photographie – Bourse du Talent: Portrait. Karen’s work has been shown in international exhibitions and festivals in Cambodia, Lithuania, Switzerland, Japan and Colombia. She is currently represented by Valenzuela Klenner Galeria and is a member of Hans Lucas.

Karen currently lives and works between Bogotá, Paris, London and Taganga.


Ventana Latina: 1. How did you come to be a photographer?

Karen Paulina Biswell: An acquaintance introduced me to the photographer Vanina Sorrenti. Two days after having met her she started to take portraits of me. We then worked together for more than a year. When I met Vanina I was 19 years old, living in Paris and studying History of Art without really knowing what I wanted to do. Over time we developed a very close relationship and one day she offered to show me how to elevate my photographs from black and white to colour, which I needed help with. Whilst learning I became her assistant.

VL: 2. Photographically speaking, which best identifies you, medium format or 35mm, and why?

KPB: I like to work with medium format because it’s a tool that helps you compose work in a way that makes the image more elaborate. I like taking time to work with my models and capture a singular moment in its intimacy.

VL: 3.  What does your project Emberá-Chamí, Chao nos vemos, consist of?

KPB: The project came out of an intuitive curiosity. It was born out of the friendship and trust that was offered to me by young parents, Lindelia and Albeiro, who, like many others, were selling artisan goods in the streets. The people from indigenous communities who get together in the streets of central Bogotá can be described as ‘living memory’. We recognise their existence as a symbol of heritage. However, there is a fractured relationship between the comfort we find in these memories and the actual circumstances that they have had to accept. My experience with these communities and the work that came out of this is evidence of a forced cultural fusion that has appropriated itself and became natural with time. I wanted my portraits and these trips to reflect this metamorphosis and also demonstrate a native resistance, which is implicit in the loss of their culture. This project is also autobiographical and allowed me to travel to the past and in a way, get to know my own indigenous roots.

Akéebaríburú. De la serie, Emberá-Chamí, Chao Nos Vemos .©Karen Paulina Biswell


VL: 4. What inspires you about Latin America?

KPB: For me Latin America inspires a tropical fever full of gold, missing indigenous people, oligarchs, mestizos, and reunited descendants of Africa within violent and improbable situations.

VL: 5. Tell us about your project, Todo Posible Nada Seguro.

KPB: This project is a series of portraits. Above all I look for intensity, authenticity, tension and the moment of truth. Any type of person can draw me in due to the energy that they possess, which demands to be expressed. I want to deliver total freedom, devoid of space and time, where the only thing that matters is expression, where everything is possible and nothing is definite. “Todo Posible Nada Seguro” (everything is possible, nothing is certain), is a very Colombian saying. One can apply it to anything within daily life. It definitely helps us keep everything in perspective. It is the supreme answer to all situations. Regarding this series it seemed to me that this title makes the portraits more timeless and gives them a greater strength. The only thing that matters is the moment.


La Sobrina. De la series, Todo Posible, Nada Seguro. ©Karen Paulina Biswell

VL: 6. What do you aim to explore in your portraits?

KPB: The majority of people are afraid to express what they feel. They are scared to understand what they really want, what that actually is. I am not exempt from this either. One of the most difficult things in the world is to be able to reveal who you are and to know yourself in order to reach your true potential. Artists often look to make portraits of people who don’t have this fear and who search for the opportunity to express and accept their own personalities. I admire the people that are disposed to risk a lot to express who they really are.

Nama Bú. De la series, Emberá-Chamí, Chao Nos Vemos . @Karen Paulina Biswell

VL: 7. Tell us how your project, Leda y el Cisne, Mitología Tropical , came to fruition?

KPB: Greek mythology has always fascinated me. It exercises a profound influence on the development of our current way of thought. One can apply this mythology to any situation within our daily lives. This project came out of a natural and evident combination of various and perfect elements elevating us to realise this ‘performance’ turns into a radical corporal expression of the Leda myth. Leda was raped by Zeus whilst in the form of a swan. The handling of the body with its complexity and wealth translates the universal questions that the Leda myth asks us concerning fertility, sexuality and fatality. I consider the body as the most radical and pure tool of expression.

VL: 8. Have you considered utilising other media such as video or multimedia?

KPB: I would like to explore video. It would be in the future. At the moment I feel the necessity to progress further through the use of photography.

VL: 9. Are you currently working on a new project?

KPB: I am working on a project entitled They know what they have. It’s a series of portraits of Colombian women. This project focuses on the function of the body. In the way that we, as women, use our bodies to reach our goals; what interests you or what you need….


Kuarabú. De la series, Embará-Chamí, Chao Nos Vemos. ©Karen Paulina Biswell.

VL: 10. What represents a good photograph for you?

KPB: A good composition and the intensity of the relationship between the photograph and the photographic subject.


To learn more about Karen Paulina Biswell’s work, click here.



Fotografía Latina, VL English

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