Classroom: Natalia Lopera

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #1

fototazo began a mentorship program in 2012, matching young Colombian photographers with mentors from across the spectrum of the photographic world - gallery owners, bloggers, academics, art directors, and working photographers. The goal is to provide the mentee photographers with commentary and advice on their work from professionals in the field and to expand their network and knowledge of resources beyond Colombia.

The program has until now been behind the scenes, but in an effort to create a singular conversation, show readers work being made by photographers in the country, and under the belief that the advice, insight, and ways of talking about images offered by the mentors will be useful and interesting to other photographers, we are going to experiment with making the process a public one.

Every month we will be featuring a selection of images from a photographer involved in the program and comments from their two dedicated mentors as well as any other mentors that contribute during the month. The current photographer and comments will be housed under a new "classroom" tab above.

This initial post features the work of Natalia Lopera - who was our second microgrant recipient - and comments from Kevin Thrasher, Matt Johnston, Oliver Schneider, and Charles Guice. A statement from her, her images, and the comments from the mentors are below.

First, as part of this inaugural post, let me give the overview of the program. It is increasing from the four initial photographers involved to seven, each matched with two mentors. An eighth photographer as well as an additional mentor will be added in the following months.

The pairings are:

Photographers: Natalia Lopera and Margarita Valdivieso
MentorsMatt Johnston co-runs The Photo Book Club as well as Phonar; he is a Professor at the University of Coventry in England; Kevin Thrasher is a photographer based in Richmond, Virginia

Photographers: Juliana Henao Alcaraz
Mentors: Julia Schiller co-runs the site Actual colors may varyOliver Schneider co-runs the site Actual colors may vary. Julia and Oliver will be considered one mentor and Juliana and a second photographer to be added to the program in the coming months will be paired with a third mentor.

Photographers: Edwin Ochoa Vélez and Monica Lorenza Taborda Gutiérrez
Mentors: John Edwin Mason runs the blog John Edwin Mason: Documentary, Motorsports, Photo History and is a Professor at the University of Virginia; Wayne Ford runs Wayne Ford's Blog and co-runs The Photo Book Club

Photographera: Aura Lambertinez and Alba Bran
Mentors: Charles Guice is Founder of Charles Guice Contemporary; Gwen Lafage is Founder of Gallery Carte Blanche

Bryan Formhals, Founding and Managing Editor of LPV Magazine, will be serving as a floating mentor and guest critic, periodically reviewing work from all four program photographers.

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #2

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #3

Now on to this month's work and comments.

Here's Natalia's starting statement to the mentors:

At this point I'm an observer of my own portfolio. I know there are things missing.

I want to become fluid with the handling of the camera because I think that's very important for my connection with my subject.

Honestly, I wait for the moment when the photos just become better.

In my way of working, it becomes difficult when it becomes time to talk about the concept, but inside I feel it's becoming more clear - just don't ask me to say what it is!

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #4

Comments from the mentors:

Kevin Thrasher's comments:

Looking at the images makes the following words come to mind - life, aging, young, old, wonder, feet, birds.

I understand the need to make work and the problem of having to explain it to other people because speaking of work is an issue. I think you need the homework assignment of writing 2-4 sentences about each image. The images look like a mixture of exploring and access to people in your life.

It feels like you have a few different subjects in this grouping of images.

The portraits of older individuals express a closeness to them, they are playful and tender at times.

Life cycles expressed through animals.

Another group of images is harder to name the subject matter i.e. images 1, 2, 3, 13, 16, 17, 18
And others show the relationship with someone. Images 1, 9, 20

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #5

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #6

Things I see in the work:

You see good light and you use it well.

You are recognizing pattern and that comes across in your editing of the work. Image 2 and 3, 15 and16

You photographed people asleep and people covering their face.

In photo 2, you have an interesting subject, but my attention in the image gets broken by the white power cable in the background.

Image 1 is really green. Is this an aesthetic choice? Image 13 and 19 are too magenta for me.

Images 13 and 17 I keep going back to. I can't tell you why. I feel like I have seen another version of these somewhere. These two images are filled with a sense of wonder and ask more questions of me then they offer answers. Image 5 is another strong image. The light, color palette and shallow depth of field all combine for a unique feeling that is also shared in images 8 and 10. 

Look at the work of these photographers: Rinko Kawauchi, William Eggleston and Alessandra Sanguinetti. It's helpful for me to call out work that I'm reminded of, but don’t look at this work as a suggestion for you to make work like them. If you want clarification about anything I have said here, please let me know.

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #7

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #8

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #9

Matt Johnston's comments:

Don’'t sweat the talking about your work just yet, that will come to some degree in time (very few photographers can talk about their work well [although most think they can]), and as you point out you should become fluid with the handling of your camera, especially in these delicate moments you are operating in.

As this is not presented as a series, I feel a little harsh for bringing up the matter of an inconsistent palette but I did find it a distraction as I progressed through the work; for example we go from the hyper-real and super-saturated image number 3 to a muted image number 4 (there is nothing wrong with either, just that together they sit slightly at odds with one another).

As Kevin has pointed out, you see, and use light very well indeed, I would add shape to that also and looking at Kawauchi’s work may help you see more in your own. Overall I am thinking of contact, touch, proximity and intimacy in these images and I think there are storylines here that I am not picking up on. I would be interested to see you make short (very short) stories using 2-4 images at a time (don’t concern yourself with accuracy, just the narrative).

Just a thought ,but experiment with these sequences on a large white, blank canvas, as it stands I don't think the linearity of the web gallery is working for the work and it would be interesting to see you arrange these 2/3/4 images more fluidly.

You might be interested to explore the work of Joanna Ornowska ("Awake") and Bim Hjortronsteen ("The Ice is Getting Thinner") but I would reiterate Kevin’s comments regarding not taking these as suggestions.

Any questions please get in touch

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #10

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #11

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #12

Comments from Oliver Schneider:

Hello Natalia and everybody,

It's really nice to see your work develop (we've already commented on them earlier)! Often receiving submissions for our blog ACMV in very varying quality in writing, I see the importance to be able to write about work. It's probably not the most pressing issue for an ongoing artist, but it might make it clearer for yourself what you want to achieve, I think. Julia and I are invited to speak publicly about our blog in Belfast and we have a hard time to figure out why we're doing our work and why we choose the work of one artist over the other. It started an ongoing discussion about our way of working and about what we think about art and photography, which is fun and interesting. So I think the homework Kevin and Matt suggested is a great idea.

One more thought about colors and consistency: in my opinion, your work is an ongoing, long story or a lot of short stories combined in one long story. When I was tired of thinking in the classical series format, it freed my work and I felt freed. But it's hard sometimes to continue and not to feel lost - in that way it might be easier to have a specific, fixed frame to work on. On the other hand this is what makes the work of Rinko Kawauchi or William Eggleston so touching and profound. I just think the consistency in color and maybe format (horizontal, vertical, square etc) is important then to have to feeling of an ongoing, consistent storyline.

Best wishes from Oliver & Julia

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #13

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #14

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #15

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #16

Charles Guice's comments:

Hola Natalia,

I enjoyed viewing your work and saw it within the framework of a project about memory. I was also struck by a number of stylistic devices and themes, e.g., your color palette and use of selective focus, and then recurring images of feet, hands, birds and people at rest or asleep.

Several of the photos appeared to be intentionally desaturated, particularly Untitled #1 (Feet in water) and Untitled #7 (Woman sleeping) and, in those that were not, you carried the suggestion of this palette forward by photographing green subjects, as in Untitled #2 (Dried berries), Untitled #3 (Grass) and Untitled #8 (submerged hand and minnows).

The most dominant theme, however, is the idea of memory, sleep, dreaming and recollection. Untitled #3 evokes a sense of what had been, Untitled #5 (Bird in cage), uses selective focus to achieve a similar feeling, while Untitled #6 (Woman and dog sleeping), Untitled #7 (Woman sleeping) and Untitled #12 (Man sleeping) all capture their subjects at rest. And covered, closed and/or downcast eyes are sometimes signifiers of recollection, as in Untitled #11 (Woman covering her eyes) and Untitled #16 (Woman with bowed head).

There were several images that didn't seem to fit your narrative, particularly Untitled #9 (Man with woman), Untitled #17 (Glass horse on windowsill), Untitled #18 (Hand with string) and Untitled #19 (Woman with hand to face). I might suggest editing these out in favor of some future images.

And I'm not sure if your sequencing was intentional, but it was interesting to see a bird in Untitled #6, another dead in Untitled #10 and then "resurrected" in Untitled #15. I have to assume, however, that it was intentional with your opening photograph of feet in Untitled #1 and then again in your closing image, Untitled #20.

I like this work. Photography can take on many forms, Natalia, and I’m often drawn to work that challenges the traditional norm, such as Sophie Calle's. If this narrative feels right to you, I would pursue it by adding additional images, which will strengthen the series.

Best of luck,


© Natalia Lopera, untitled #17

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #18

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #19

© Natalia Lopera, untitled #20