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Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros donates 3 of my photos to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York

January 13, 2018

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Interview by The Cisneros Research Institute for the Study of Art from Latin America, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

July 28, 2020

[Versión en Español más abajo] 

 

Last May, I spoke with Madeline Turner of the Cisneros Research Institute at the Museum of Modern Art, New York about three of my photographs--The Most Dangerous City in the WorldPurple Haze and Lights On--that entered MoMA's collection as part of the 2017 gift of contemporary Latin American art donated by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

 

Directed by Inés Katzenstein, The Cisneros Research Institute is a platform dedicated to stimulating, supporting, and disseminating new understandings of Latin American modern and contemporary art in relationship to broader cultural issues within a global context.

 

The following interview was originally conducted in Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To begin with, I'd like to ask you if you could talk to me about how you conceived The Most Dangerous City in the WorldPurple Haze, and Lights on. What inspired you to make the Crepuscular (Twilight) series? Are the three images of Caracas? How did you manage to photograph these vistas?

 

 

I started taking photos in 2004, with self-portraits and autobiographical themes as the main motivations. In 2006, I met the German photographer Axel Hütte in Madrid. He would become my teacher and mentor, and thanks in large part to his influence, I began to be interested in landscape photography, especially in night and urban landscapes. Thanks to his advice and help, in 2009 I acquired a Phase One 645DF medium format digital camera and began taking night and landscape photographs that allowed me to print, albeit not on a large scale, at a relatively large size and high quality (90 x 120 cm). I was interested in the possibility of portraying my city at the time, Caracas, and exploring the landscape, a subject that had lost interest in the Venezuelan contemporary art scene, despite the fact that it was the recurring theme of the painters of the Fine Arts Circle of Caracas (Círculo de Bellas Artes de Caracas) at the beginning of the 20th century and especially of its most important exponent, Armando Reverón. I decided to investigate not only Caracas but those cities that I traveled through to explore and rethink the contemporary landscape, positioning myself from unusual vantage points with the intention of finding new urban views to offer a new interpretation and perspective of them. With this approach, I photographed not only several cities in Venezuela such as Caracas, Maracay, Mérida, Maracaibo, and Araya, but also other Latin American cities such as Panama, Lima, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Miami. I would choose the moment of twilight, a fleeting and transitional period, just when the sun has gone down and the lights of the cities begin to light up, when they give unusual, less obvious views. I call them 'anti-clichés'. I thus portrayed Rio de Janeiro from the Christ of Corcovado, turning my back on it and portraying the city’s port. Also, Lima from the coast to the Island of San Lorenzo, and Caracas in The Most Dangerous City in the World, specifically the largest slum in the city, Petare, from the Ávila mountain, a referential geographic icon that has always been the protagonist in the pictures and photos that have been taken of it. On that occasion, I did not portray the Ávila but what I could appreciate from there, this slum that all of us who have been to Caracas know from the highways that run next to it, but that we have rarely seen from a bird's eye view, from the mountain. I managed to access this point thanks to the fact that there is a small population in the El Ávila National Park called Santa Rosa, and despite the fact that only those who live there have access, I managed to climb up there to be able to take the photo in the late afternoon with complete ease, without fear of being robbed (which is a reality anywhere in Caracas and Venezuela). In that session, I took photos from dusk, however, the photo taken late at night was better. It was an exposure of several minutes (more than four) due to the large number of lights that illuminate the houses in the slum and the atmosphere created through the clouds and lights of the highway. Every time I show this photo to a Venezuelan, it always strikes me that nobody is able to identify this as Caracas, much less that as Petare, because naming Petare is synonymous with the image we have of it: seen in daytime, from a car speeding up the highway, or from so many reports and violent new