Welcome to Ways of Seeing, an interview series that highlights exceptional talents in photography and film: the people behind the camera whose work you should be watching. In this week’s edition, senior content editor Michael Beckert chat with the artist Camila Falquez, whose first solo exhibition, Gods who walk among us, is now on display at the Hannah Traore Gallery in New York City.
Congratulations on your first solo show. How did you come up with the title, “Gods that Walk Amongst Us”?
The title derives from this ability to, and it is not something I do consciously, see the goddess quality in human beings. I live and work in Bushwick, and I’m not a huge graffiti fan there, but there is this piece I love about two natives. It’s really beautiful and the title is “Gods That Walk Amongst Us”. When I read it, I was like Oh, wow. The truth is there are people who walk among us, who are gods or real. This show is not about me, it is about presenting something that I have understood is overdue: presenting these gods and goddesses as they are. Each photo is someone who looks at the viewer and does not question their presence in that beauty and on that pedestal for a second.
I’m curious about how you invite people to collaborate with your work. Do you formally choose subjects?
I would never call the process “casting”. I would define it as a process of falling in love with the human beings that I see and whose beauty I do not doubt. It is something extremely intuitive: I see someone and I am amazed by their beauty.
Tell us how you got to this point in your career. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
No I did not. I was born in art from my mother, artist and sculptor. Her way of bringing herself, me and my sisters through her life was art. We grew up as Colombian immigrants in Spain in this very creative family. At first I wanted to become a flamenco dancer. When college came, I got a little lost and studied communication. Slowly, I started taking pictures, taking a camera. But we were practically born in my mother’s studio, painting; I was always full of paint, I still am, if you look at my clothes.
This is something I want to insist on also with regard to the exhibition: I don’t think people are aware of how much of the work I do is more the work of a painter, and not a photographer. I paint all my sets, I create all my props. I create with fabrics. It is this manual process that I learned from my mother. She called her the other day and said, “Wow, it’s you.”
What was your first job when you landed in New York City?
I moved here 11 years ago. Initially, I worked in the cinema. I found this directorial seminar affordable, but what it actually gave me was a visa. Eventually I found a job as an intern, where I would take this photographer’s children to dance. Slowly, he started teaching me and then I thought, “Okay, I want to do this”, and then I left him. I have to admit I had the mindset of, I have things to say. I can’t waste time here. I have to go. [Laughs.]
You also work in the publishing world, to a great extent. Is there an editorial board standing out for you lately?
I have a person. On your journey, you have these angels coming in, seeing you, trusting you, guiding you, and giving you opportunities. I have this woman, Eugenia de la Torriente: I could not have done an editorial job without her believing in me. When she met me, she was the managing editor of Rowing Spain, and she immediately gave me big commissions. She gave me my first Rowing cover very early in my career and she is still commissioning me to do what I want, and I am so grateful for all of that. You make my work famous. People come to my page more and if they come to my page more, they end up seeing more people I want to portray. It is a beautiful flow of energy, what it gives to my work.
I like this idea of flowing energy. I see it in your photos. There is this stillness in your work, but it is not static. Your photos shine.
People are also not aware, but in every photo I take there is salsa or flamenco music. It’s a huge part of my process. I really believe in the carrying power of music. It’s almost a way for people to get to my own mental space. For me it is as important as the camera. One shot I have no music, I don’t know how to think, I don’t know how to reach creative conclusions.
The energy on a set is really important. Whether an image is good or not is such an important part of this.
Decidedly. That’s why it was so important to recently open my studio, Delicia Studio. I feel that, in order for the work to continue to grow, I need to be able to provide an even safer space for my collaborators. I need people to feel like they have arrived in a space where they are comfortable: a temple. I’ve never used that word, but I love it.
The photographs in your show seem to be about the apotheosis: each person is photographed in their most perfect final form. Does spirituality inspire your work?
I hope the internet has room for this answer [laughs]. My family is Colombian. I was born in Mexico. We immigrated to Mexico and then I grew up in Barcelona. What happens when you grow up in Europe, especially with an artist mother and especially wanting to understand the culture that surrounds you, we went to all the museums. You can imagine: Paris, Nice, Milan, with my mom. I grew up surrounded by European art and understood beauty through that Eurocentric lens. Lately I’ve realized that art gets along very well. It leads you to buy certain things, through the idea that the gods put in front of you. I thought, “How would they get away with showing so much nudity?” It’s because these artists say they were portraying goddesses and I guess that’s fine. I will apply the same thing to what I am doing. I’m portraying gods and goddesses, no questions asked – it’s a good tool for presenting beauty.
Last question: what are you most proud of so far in this wild and long journey of being an artist?
I am proud that I can have a conversation of this level, be so assertive and know what I am saying. It is not just creating the work, but being able to defend and support it. This comes from talking, reading, opening your eyes, having good people around you. I definitely feel ready to support my work and not doubt it. I am extremely confident and this, my friend, is an incredible achievement, for all those who create art.