Classroom: Edwin Ochoa Vélez

 © Edwin Ochoa, 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 young 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, share with readers work being made by the photographers, 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.

We will be featuring a selection of images from a photographer involved in the program and comments from mentors approximately once a month. The current photographer and comments will be housed under a new classroom tab above and older posts will be available through the site links page.

This post features the work of Edwin Ochoa - who was our ninth microgrant recipient - and comments from Jaime PermuthKevin ThrasherMatt Johnston, and Charles Guice. Edwin's statement and images as well as the comments from the mentors are below.

Edwin Ochoa

I am interested in the search for silence as a state of being, where we can hear our own thoughts and maybe have more clarity about what is and what is not important for ourselves.

But this task can be difficult in a contemporary society where there is always something loudly calling for our attention, where there is always something to see, something to hear.

This series in progress is an exploration of the moments and spaces that can be reached to realize the connection between the external world of everyday life and this internal state of consciousness and peace that I consider so necessary.

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #2

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #3

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #4

From Jaime Permuth:

I enjoyed Edwin Ochoa's series for the sense of wonder evoked in his photographs. I was particularly interested in his exploration of the intersection of nature and culture. In his best images (#1,4,6,9), the architecture of urban spaces contains or interrupts the natural world in ways that suggest disquiet, yearning and silent contemplation.

In his Artist Statement, Edwin writes that he seeks clarity about what matters and what doesn’t matter in life. Nature and culture both place demands on the individual. At times, such demands can be at odds with one another and result in a divided self. How do the human figures represented in the work form part of this equation? What is signified by having them turn away or placed at a remove from the viewer? Should we file them mentally under the heading of "what matters" or "what doesn’t matter"?

Areas of improvement:

I would suggest working to unify and refine the color palette. Also, I'm not convinced that the series is made stronger by including the human figure; its role hasn't been fully resolved.


 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #5

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #6

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #7

From Kevin Thrasher:

Your visual language to depict these moments is heavily made up of:

Chiaroscuro, reflection, clouds, sky, unidentified figures.

I think you are trying to make photographs about being a photographer. I think the moments of clarity you are trying to depict are your own, via making photographs in the world. Each image seems like your clarity more than that of the subjects. In many cases people are looking off into somewhere, I'm not convinced that the people are coming to a pinnacle of what is and is not important. Your idea is very interesting but I don't know that the images are clearly describing this internal thought and feeling that you write about.

In the images with people, the figure is too tightly cropped in their environment for me to be able to understand the moment or to make a mental leap in creating a narrative about their mental state, without seeing their space.

Image #2 I can’t understand the red object in the top right corner of the frame.

Image #12 the two horizontal lines coming out of the right corner of the frame look like they were Photoshopped poorly.

The moments aren't there enough for me yet. I don't think you have connected with each subject showing them in a moment, #16 & #10 are good starts.

The spaces need more work, they are too detail driven for my taste. I want to see more of the whole and less specific, pointing detail of the space.

Kevin Thrasher

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #8

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #9

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #10

From Matt Johnston:

Hi Edwin,

If I understand your statement correctly there is a great deal of interest at the moment in the themes that you are exploring through your photography. While this can be a supportive thing, ensure that you can disentangle your own ideas from others (this does not mean change what you are investigating). If you have not already, you might enjoy reading Henry David Thoreau's "Walden’ and Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on "Self-Reliance" as jumping off points.

I can certainly link the images you have made with the concept although would not perhaps have arrived at such a connection without the statement as a prompt. Aesthetically many of the images shown are strong and work in some sense as stand-alones but in considering them a part of a series, and a themed series, I believe more work is needed. The bold colours and harsh lighting makes it hard for me to move from one image to another or make pairings in the mind - I see this as a collection of 16 images rather than a series of 16 images.

That said, this is by no means a bad position to be in. I would suggest that you try to understand how you can use silence in your own work rather than a constant communication. Can you justify each of those images against your concept and can you reason that each says something the others cannot?

Look forward to seeing more

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #11

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #12

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #13

From Charles Guice:


I was struck by the cinematic aspect of your images, and was immediately reminded of the opening sequences of many of Terrence Malick's films. I mention this because, as a matter of practice, I prefer reviewing an artist’s work before reading his or her statement. This allows me to read and approach the work as most viewers do, all who will bring their own preconceptions and interpretations, as I did with my reference to Malick's films. I then read the statement to see if it supports what I've just seen.

One of the comments I often make when reviewing work is that, as an artist, you’re never really sure how someone will "enter" your work. Your first, second or even third image may not "hook" them in. Sequencing is an important aspect of most portfolios, but an artist must also be mindful of the fact that the success or failure of a body of work—at least in the perception of the viewer—may rest on the strength of a single image.

With that in mind, some of the images are more successful than others at holding the viewer's attention. As single images, Untitled #1 (night cityscape with reflected interiors), Untitled #5 (woman in yellow), Untitled #10 (woman standing before curtains) and Untitled #12 (man in purple) are, for me, all engaging images. As pieces of the larger narrative, they work well to shape a story, threading what could be disparate images together.

That thread can be found in the images themselves. The cityscape carries the viewer from the first to the second image, the bird in the second to the parachutist in the third, and so on. At the same time, some of the images are less successful on their own. Untitled #3 (parachutist) is difficult to read, as is Untitled #6 (storm clouds), and does little in the way of carrying the viewer's interest.

I say this, again, to draw attention to the fact that these two may be the first images the viewer sees and, if that's the case, it is doubtful that they would engage him or her. With that in mind, I would suggest photographing a skydiver that sits larger in frame and, perhaps, adding another element in the foreground of Untitled #6.

Overall, I think your stated search for solitude—or "silence," as you put it—is reflected in the work, but that this message is presently somewhat muted. To better achieve that may mean adding five or six additional images, or re-imaging and re-shooting some of the images you've already made. Nonetheless, I will be interested in seeing where you take the series from here.


 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #14

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #15

 © Edwin Ochoa, untitled #16