By Verónica Sanchis, translated by Ellen Donnison
Antonio Briceño was born in Caracas, Venezuela. He graduated from the Universidad Central de Venezuela (Central University of Venezuela) with a degree in biology and is currently studying for his masters in Digital Arts at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Briceño has exhibited his work in numerous exhibitions, many at an international level. Examples of his most recent exhibitions include Omertá Petrolera, La era del Silencio, (Omertá Petrolera, The Era of Silence) at the Galería D’Museo in Caracas, Venezuela, and on an international level with Gods of America. His images form part of various collections throughout distinguished museums and galleries such as: Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art), Galería de Arte Nacional (Gallery of National Art) and the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), all based in Caracas, Venezuela. Internationally, his work is featured in collections at various institutions such as: la Casa de las Américas (House of the Americas), La Habana, Cuba; Maison Internationale, Brussels, Belgium and the Centro Nacional de Artes (Centre of National Arts), Mexico D.F., Mexico. He has also received various prizes for his photographic work including: the Beca Talento from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (2014); Premio de la Crítica AICA (2012); the Green Leaf Award for Artistic Excellence (2008); he represented for Venezuela at the 52nd Venice Biennale, Italy and at the XVI Premio de Fotografía Luis Felipe Toro (1996), among others.
Ventana Latina: 1. How did you discover photography?
Antonio Briceño: When I was eight my uncle gave me my first little camera. At fourteen my auntie showed me the first single-lens reflex camera I’d ever seen. From then on I was hooked…
VL: 2. How do you view Latin American photography?
AB: I’m not aware of the major groups of photographers, but what I can tell you is the photography within Latin America is as diverse as Latin America itself.
VL: 3. Tell us a little about how your latest project, Omertá Petrolera, came to be.
AB: Omertá Petrolera was a work featuring people who were victims of torture or who experienced an excessive use of force by military groups and paramilitaries of the Chavista regime during the protests at the beginning of 2014. There were hundreds of cases like this but, out of fear very few people ended up reporting them. Thousands of arrests were made and there were around fifty deaths. But the media was censored, the government denied its actions, despite hundreds of testimonies. The government of the region and the international authorities also denied what happened. We have a lot of oil so some people viewed the violence as justified. The way the project came about was through an incident involving one of my photographer colleagues. The military grabbed him whilst he was covering some of the confrontations. They stripped him of his equipment and beat him so badly that they fractured his ribs. I decided to make a piece about these victims and what, for them, would represent this silence in the face of their misfortune. I made ten video portraits of people, sitting alone in front of a camera and I recorded them in silence whilst they revisited their own personal memories of terror.
VL: 4. Tell us what you photographic technique consists of.
AB: I always work with a digital camera that makes both photos and videos. All of my photographic work is edited on Photoshop and I use a great many techniques of this kind, from the composition and the colour correction, to photomontages and collages of a distinct nature. Generally the medium of print or projection is allegorical to the theme or to the piece.
VL: 5. What was it like working in Finland on your project, 520 Renos (520 Reindeer)?
AB: I was invited to do this piece by the Finnish government and the Sami Parliament. They were familiar with my work, Dioses de América (Gods of America), based on ten cultures from the American continent and also my work with the Maori people in New Zealand. Therefore they brought me over to make a work based on the Sami culture- the only indigenous town in Western Europe- and their passionate support of their own language. This work is made up of various series which are allegories of the Sami language. They are printed on flexible acrylic, which can be folded like deerskin, the animal whose domestication is at the heart of the Sami culture. 520 Renos (520 Reindeer) pays homage to the Sami language, their culture’s richness and its integration with its surroundings.
VL: 6. Have you found any similarities between the ethnic groups you have photographed?
AB: In general, the shared knowledge of nature, the feeling of unity, the ancestral connection with the earth and the feeling of belonging to the same landscape.
VL: 7. Do you think you will continue working with video and if so, why?
AB: Yes, certainly. The truth is that technology is secondary for me. What I arrive at first is the theme; later on I decide how I am going to portray this. Within the depths of photography I feel more comfortable and I find there are thousands of ways to approach it. Later still, regarding the printing and the presentation of the work, there are also many ways to approach this. But video has eventually allowed me to say things in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise: the roughness and the instability of my sled ride at the temperature of -35 º C (featured in Nieve Suave, 520 Renos) (Soft Snow, 520 Reindeer), the crying chorus of mourners (¡Ay Mamita! y ¡Compadre Florencio!) and recently, the silence in Omertá Petrolera. Therefore I hope video allows me to keep developing things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with photography.
VL: 8. What do you try and represent in your photographic projects?
AB: I’m interested in putting forward images that represent intangible subjects or situations, archetypal emotions or allegories of the character. Therefore my sources of inspiration are diverse: psychology (of Jung in particular), mythology, anthropology, biology, astrology, etc.
VL: 9. Are you currently working on a new project?
AB: I am currently doing my Masters in Digital Arts at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona. The digital technologies offer a range of tools so vast that it is difficult to explore them empirically. So I’m learning a lot of technical possibilities that I will have to hand for future projects.
VL: 10. What represents a good photo for you?
AB: For me a good photo is a photo that somebody appreciates. This is to say that each photo has a million different possibilities to be a good one, and it is enough that one person may relate to it. Good or bad, it’s only a question of taste. Fortunately…