Carolina Navas G: The Real Colombia, From The Heart

Carolina Navas G, now 35, was born in Cali, Colombia. A graduate in media studies at the Universidad del Valle (Cali, Colombia), she has worked as assistant director for advertising, music videos and a short film. As a director she has moved between documentary, video creation and cultural television series like  “La Sub 30″ and “Anónimas Extraordinarias” aired by the channel Señal Colombia. In 2012 she was Creative Director for the Advertising Office of RTVC  (Radio Televisión Nacional de Colombia) and has also been a teacher. A videographer at “La Vida Alegre” she’s been very happy working as still photographer on the set of film productions including “La Sirga” (William Vega) and “Los Hongos” (Oscar Ruiz Navia). Last year she worked as a photographer for Virgin Mobile Colombia and currently she works as a television director and freelance photographer.

In partnership with Macallan, Leica ran the Masters of Photography Master Class competition, which Carolina won with her image, “My Grandmother and her Fears.” Here is her first person account of that image and others she has taken in the documentary tradition.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: I’m strongly influenced the documentary tradition and I’m very interested in portraits. My photography is essentially documentary and I like to think that it’s poetic too. I love portraits because I believe that behind every person there are many political and social constructs that one way or another always reflect on themselves, but there’s also an element of mystery, something you don’t know. I always bear in mind a famous Diane Arbus quote, “A picture is a secret about a secret; the more it tells you the less you know.”

Q: Are you a full-time photographer or would you describe yourself as a serious enthusiast?

A. Photography is my deepest passion. I’d love to be a full-time photographer, but the work I do to support myself tends to be more related to television or advertising. I hope that it changes. I’d like to travel around the world taking photographs.

Q: What does photography mean to you?

A: Photography for me is a more honest way to relate with the world. It’s hard to lie with photos because in the end they reveal what you have inside you, in your heart, in your mind, in your unconscious, in your past. It’s a way to always be naked even when we sometimes pretend to “put on a dress” for the outside world. At this point in my life photography is the way I want to find my artistic voice; it’s my quest and my need.

Q: What do you think your own photographs reveal about you as a person, and why do you think that putting on the occasional dress, that is, conceal our existential nakedness with the clothing of pretense or conventional expectations, is essentially futile?

A: I believe my pictures are a reflection of someone pursuing a quest, a person that is curious about the world and human beings in particular, someone who wants to examine others, a tiny mystery hunter that finds some of those mysteries that are darker than others.

In my view it is useless to wear a costume. There is no sense in showing yourself for what you’re not. It can be interesting as a game between yourself and your audience, for example, or when it becomes part of your quest. It’s complicated and hard to find your own voice. It can take you your whole life. I know that. And we are all free to look for it the best way we can.

Q: This is a straightforward picture of a boy gathering shells on the beach or wetlands on a sunny day, but the low shooting angle, expansive foreground, and cloud-filled sky lend this image the transcendent quality of a moment in eternity. Do you agree, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?

A: I shot “the boy with the shells” in Tumaco, Colombia. I feel very close to this place as it is linked with the story of my family. Tumaco is a rich place in terms of biodiversity. It’s full of mangroves and jungles that have made it ideal as a hiding place for guerillas, paramilitaries and drug lords. Tumaco’s population is mostly black and its situation is that of constant social unrest because of the poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and violence that defines the region. Tumaco is isolated and forgotten by the Colombian state and by Colombians. With all this in my mind I wanted to underline the beauty and the paradox represented by that boy working on the beach. Because he is not playing, he is working. I was drawn to that face covered in sunspots from working under the sun all day. I was also drawn by his loneliness. He sells those shells and takes the money home to his mother. We didn’t speak much. I just asked what he was doing and he answered with few words, in a very serene way. It was a beautiful encounter for me because I felt pride and ease in his eyes. So an attitude like this one is mysterious for me in such a complex environment.

Q: The black-and-white image of two young women in an urban setting is fascinating because in some ways they’re typical in their meticulous concern for clothing and make-up, but despite the fact that they are technically looking at the camera and appear to be self-assured, they have a not there quality like zombies and their very assertiveness reveals their vulnerability. Am I over the top here, and what are your feelings about this image? By the way, the technical quality is excellent; can you give us the tech data on this image?

A: The picture was shot with the X Vario at ISO 250, the lens set at 18 mm and f/3.5, and the shutter speed was 1/200 sec.

I agree with what you say and I find your description very beautiful. They caught my attention and I guess it was what you describe so well that attracted me, although at that time I wasn’t totally aware of it. Then when I saw the picture, I always regret not having included more their hands — you can see that they had their hands clasped and that is precisely the contrast between their strong look and the sensation of vulnerability that they communicate. I’m a little daring when I take pictures. I lose all shyness and somehow I confront the subject, and I guess that this approach can sometimes intimidate as well as seduce.

Q: This is an iconic image of a young blond child with a vacant stare with a statuesque clown holding balloons standing behind him. It is a kind of “Arbus-esque” image of childhood, and she also embodies that not there quality. Was that your intention here, and what does this image mean to you?

A: This is one of my personal favorite images. I always displayed it in color, then just recently when I was organizing my website, I decided to output it in B&W. This picture was taken in Buenos Aires on the day of the zombies and monsters march. This child was there and I remember some of those horror movies where innocence looks terrifying. This was a very particular child. I couldn’t know what he was thinking or if he was immersed into his role; he never changed his attitude while I took the photos.

Q: One of the images shows a tall, brunette woman in a white satin dress standing in front of a large red truck on an urban street. Like the young women in the black-and-white image, she seems assertive yet vulnerable. Where did you shoot this image and what do you think it says to the viewer?

A: To me this woman was beautiful and mysterious. She made me think of David Lynch. I don’t know exactly why, but I think that I could imagine her singing “Blue Velvet.”  She seems elegant to me. Her manner of dress and her hair were sober compared to all of the others I saw on the march. This woman was like a person frozen in time. Every time I see this photo I stop because it always leaves me imagining her story, her life. Behind her it says “Rosa,” the name of a flower, a color, and the name of a woman.

Q: Perhaps the most charming and amusing image in this portfolio is the one of your grandmother who is obviously not too happy to be wading through the waves at the beach. Her body language and expression are a perfect visual evocation of her state of mind and are something anybody can relate to quite directly. Also the shallow depth of field indicates that this was shot at a wide aperture and/or longing focal length, and the sharp details in the splash of water means it must have been taken at a fast shutter speed. Can you tell us what prompted you to take this picture, and what camera settings you used? Also, just for the record, what did your grandmother think of the picture?

A: In January, I traveled with my family to Tumaco, and I hadn’t seen my maternal grandmother for quite a while. She has always been a very strong and assertive woman, and at the same time, as she’s gotten older, she’s tended to become fearful, sometimes excessively so. My brother and I usually get stressed out by this and during this visit we all talked about our mistakes in dealing with this situation, our impatience, and in the end, affirming our love for her.

I wanted to take a beautiful portrait of my grandmother during this trip because it was emotionally intense, but also because of her age, and the idea of death which begins to haunt you. She has been very important in my life and wanted to keep this memory forever. That place was perfect for a good portrait. So I took advantage that she was at sea and there was an interesting light and the beach was deserted. I took some photos of her in the water and then some standing.  At that time it was low tide, and in the Colombian Pacific when the tide goes down some animals can appear, including stingrays, that sting very hard. Also my grandmother doesn’t know to swim, and as she was posing for me she felt something strange brush against and got scared. It was at that exact moment that I took the shot. Later, when I submitted the photo in a contest I thought that the title I gave it and its meaning merged quite well.

My grandmother doesn’t know anything about photography, but she was very happy that the image received the The Macallan’s Masters of Photography award. Just a couple of days ago I showed her the picture on my computer and she said, “I look pretty, no?” And then she laughed at the face she was making. Then we toasted it with a couple of glasses of wine.

Q: Do you have any plans for these images other than publishing them on this Leica Blog, such as collecting them into a book or exhibiting them at local galleries, etc.?

A: I would love to exhibit these photographs, for now they have only been on the internet. It would be very exciting to see them in a book too, to touch them. For now I don’t have proposals or concrete plans to do either. I don’t even know how to get them on the exhibition circuit but I would do so without hesitation. Up to this point I have not entered my pictures in many competitions, but that’s about to change.

Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years? Do you have any other projects or themes in the works?

A: I hope that in three years my photographic eye and insight have matured. I hope to be doing personal projects that express my passion and hopefully also have commissioned projects and interesting projects that allow me to pay my bills. I would like keep doing portraits, landscapes and still photography for film.

Thank you for your time, Carolina!

- Leica Internet Team

See more of Carolina’s work on her website.