Classroom: Juliana Henao Alcaraz

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 10

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 started 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 experimenting 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. 

This post features the work of Juliana Henao Alcaraz- who was our sixth microgrant recipient - and comments from her two assigned mentors, Amani Willett and Oliver Schneider, as well as additional comments from Jaime Permuth and Gwen Lafage.

Juliana asked her mentors specifically for help looking at the three different projects she has been working on to judge how they stand so far as well as how much promise they offer for her moving forward. Her three statements as well as images and comments from the mentors follow. For length, only a selection of the over 30 images sent to the mentors are presented here.

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 5

Project 1
Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia

Never before in Colombia had people lived through the destruction of a town of this size, never before had my eyes seen so many dead, never before had I seen so much fear.

Before everything was normal, the people went to church, went to the market, to the river, the children played in the courtyard, people went to the their small country houses...they lived.

Then we left. There were very few people left, all in silence. We got used to the fear. Then came the hatred, then after the hatred came hope ... We all move forward with strength and memory, looking to the future without forgetting the past. There is no peace, nor tranquility, nor happiness. There is still silence and sadness, but now with a little more hope than before.

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 1

Project 2

Another world ...
You refuse the light completely,
You go clickety clack as if you’re going to crash,
Crackling in and out of the water,
you're somewhere else, you fly ...
Feel your living slowness
that takes you to magnificence and oblivion ...
You dye yourself in her: green, yellow, blue ...
You undo yourself in form and color,
in weight or in fragrance ...
You navigate the sky by going through the bottom,
Sky galaxies reflected
and the waves circle you in rays of light...
Listen to your heartbeat,
your skin becomes bejeweled by clear drops,
other bodies go by like they’re water,
fleeting water for your thirst,
that caresses you with a distant light
in an intimate and unique shadow ...
You dance as if you are air
do not talk, do not hear, do not breathe ...

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 9

Project 3

Eternal and timeless days. Days filled with strangers who become close to you upon meeting them…days filled with friends who become strangers. Days in which you see the same thing…days in which you see nothing. Days in which instead of seeing, you feel…days with luck.


© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 1

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 2

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 3

Response from Amani Willett:

Hi Juliana –

I'm excited to be able to connect with you, see your work and offer what advice I can.

I began by reading your project descriptions without looking at any of the photographs. This was a fun exercise because I have never seen your work and I know very little about you.

After reading the project descriptions, I think the first one, Traces of Life and Death, sounds the most promising. In the description I can hear your voice and your passion. I could immediately tell that this is a subject that you feel very strongly about. In reading the description, I gained some insight into your history, your experiences, your fears, etc.

Besides the obvious connection and interest you have the subject, I also sense that Traces of Life and Death holds promise for the most interesting project possibilities. There are so many different ways you could approach the subject – landscapes, portraits, documents. etc. Or a combination of multiple approaches. I would say that this potential strength is also a potential weakness– it could quickly get overly-complicated, overwhelming or confusing.

The Blue project idea is fine, but I’ve seen many similar projects. You would need to figure out a way to set the series apart from other similar projects.

The third project Days might be too open-ended. It might not provide enough structure.

After reading the project descriptions I looked at the photographs. The three projects are at differing stages of completion. The most cohesive of the projects at this point is the Blue series. The images work together, they agree with the work statement and they are the strongest images. It could be relatively straightforward to continue working on this series to try and make some images that set it apart from other photographers who have photographed "swimmers," "water," and "blue." You should do some research to see what other artists have produced while tackling these themes.

I still think Traces of Life and Death has the most potential, but at this point it also probably needs the most work. The photographs don’t yet have the same power as the statement and they feel disconnected with one another. This project may require quite a large number of images to effectively illustrate your concept. You might want to consider incorporating historical images, old family images, landscapes, still lives, portraits, maps and oral histories.

You have many exciting and promising directions to explore and some of the images in this first batch are wonderful. I hope my comments are in some way helpful for you as you figure out which project to focus on. I can't wait to see how your work develops!

- Amani Willett

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 4

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 7

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 9

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 10

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 12

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia, photograph 13

Response from Oliver Schneider:

Dear Juliana,

Thank you for showing us your beautiful work. I'll go on and comment on each series specifically.

Traces of life and death / Granada, Antioquia

It was a huge difference to just look at the pictures without having read your statement. That's a common problem with photography and especially with documentary photography: the context is very important. My own personal goal is to make pictures that go beyond the context and stand for themselves (which I haven't managed to reach yet by my own standards). You could try to let your pictures be free and stand by their own, but with the topic you chose still in mind. What I mean is: don't try to tell something specific, grab your camera and do more pictures and don't think about what the viewer might want to know or has to understand.

I can see that you don't want to do a traditionally told photo story about a village that has been destroyed. But I think you could be even more distant from the actual story and tell us more about your feelings and show us your observations. Strangely, the picture with the horse (number 5) still sticks in my mind. Maybe because of its strange angle and framing but also it seems to be your personal, subjective perspective. The surrealism of the picture gives the picture more reality, in my very humble opinion. It reminds me a little of the work by surrealistic artists like Luis Buñuel or Alejandro Jodorowsky. The picture with the cow (number 10) goes very well along with it and has the perfect balance of showing something but not everything and still holds its mystery.

The whole series would gain immensely if you would take out the first three pictures or better: redo them, try again in different lighting and/or perspective if you can't let them go. Find out what it is you wanted to take a picture of and try to catch it. In your case maybe I would propose to try taking black and white pictures, too, I can imagine it could be great and even stronger and more focussed than in color. I can imagine numbers 3, 5, 9, 10 and 12 could look great in black and white and would make a good series.

Some pictures, like numbers 3 and 4, seem to me like you were hiding to take them or you were in a rush. Maybe you could try to be more upfront or when taking pictures of people, try to ask them for permission. Believe me, I know how hard that is, I'm still hiding when I can which is still a problem for me. Also, the situation changes completely when they're aware you're taking a picture and that sucks, too, I know. Try to find your way of dealing with this, maybe go to a public event or make planed portraits at their homes. The expressive faces are fascinating and it would be great to see them more clearly.

I really like your style of writing the statements, it's great to try something different and I like poetry. I think poetry has a lot in common with good photography: it's a condensed feeling. I think the challenge to understand a poem is not so much the context and excessive additional information but how you understand and how you feel it personally. Certainly this is my personal opinion rooted in my taste in photography, others might see that differently.


I can relate to your fascination with water and to be underwater. You feel free and in a way out of this world. The numbed hearing and the shades of blue are indeed fascinating. Also, no wonder in medicine they use tanks to give people relief who suffer from Tinitus. To quiet down is also a big wish of mine, to find quiet and stillness in a stressful world. Unfortunately there are certain topics in photography that so many people have tried and used that it's hard to stand out - to say it more directly, they're a little overused. I'm working as a designer and I sometimes have to look for fitting images in stock photography collections like Getty Images. This work numbs me in a bad way and spoil photography sometimes because I get sarcastic from so much stereotypes.

To be honest, this series is not working for me so much, I like the more abstract pictures the best (numbers 2, 7, 9, 10). Try to reflect what it is that fascinates you and try to get to the root of it, get extreme and try different photographic techniques (using flash or long exposure, wrong colors, bad cameras etc.). Maybe the goal will become clearer while doing more work underwater. Maybe looking at works of other photographers or painters will give you more ideas about how to proceed and how to get it more personal and outstanding. Do you know the work of Daisuke Yokota? Your statement is great, I really like your text and I think I really get what you're after but I think this series needs some more work. But don't give up, please, it's just hard to do in a really good and unique way.

Another great statement! The viewer doesn't really need the additional information from your statement but it adds to the experience. I really like the series, I just think the pictures number 4 and 9 fit in so well. In those pictures your view gets more distant and the pictures lose their intimacy and power. Other than that, they're really touching, youthful and exploring - a rush of experiences. Please continue, I'm looking forward to seeing more. This series might illustrate what I said to your Traces of life and death series, these pictures telling me nothing specific, but in general they're telling me so much more about you and your life. I can relate and I can feel your hopes and dreams and I get a glimpse of you.

So, I hope I could help you in any way, I really tried! ;) Please get in touch and comment if you feel like it.

Best wishes from Berlin,

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 2

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 3

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 4

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 6

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 7

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 9

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Blue, photograph 10

Response from Jaime Permuth:

Hola Juliana,

I was very moved by the courage, faith and sensibility in the words you wrote to accompany your images. I grew up in Guatemala during my country's Civil War, a time of great social upheaval and bloodshed. Violence was part of our everyday existence as were censorship - and ultimately more damaging for an artist - self-censorship. It was painful to hear about your devastating experience and witnessing in Granada. I hope that photography can help you come to terms with that in some way.

Forgive me for having more questions than comments. I'm not sure what the timeline is on your different projects or if you are undertaking them simultaneously. Are these projects complete or in progress?

With regard to Traces:
How far away do you live from Granada these days? How are you approaching photographic production? When and how often do you return to make these photographs? What is it like for you to return? More context in your statement would be very helpful.

I agree with Amani that Traces has great potential as a project and with Oliver that it might work better in black and white. I also, agree with Amani that the images in Blue are your most adventurous and consistent thus far. In a sense these two projects are like the two sides of a coin: mourning and celebration, ying and yang.

As a photographer you learn in two basic ways: by looking at other images and by making images as often as you can.

Looking at other explorations of tragedy and exile might be helpful to you (Peress, Koudelka and Salgado to name a few) as well as past explorations of the joys of the aquatic world (Howard Schatz, David LaChapelle and Jill Greenberg in the commercial arena and Breath, a beautiful new project by Tomohide Ikeya).

Un abrazo,

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 2

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 3

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 4

Response from Gwen Lafage:

Hola Juliana,

Thanks for sharing your work.

As opposed to Amani, I first looked at your photos seeing just the title of the series and then I read your statement, before looking again at the photos.

I believe that it is important to convey the message or illustrate the subject just with the photos first - the title should be enough to give a first vision of the work, the statement should then offer a deeper understanding.

At first glance, I think that Blue is the most comprehensive project. The statement is well written, the photos are consistent. But as mentioned by others this is not a very new or innovative approach so you should keep exploring the subject to better define your own voice. Your statement is full of poetry, but also reverie and solitude, so as much as I like the playfulness of some of the photos, I think you should probably explore more the reverie you describe in your statement - or work on the playfulness of photos 4 and 6 for example but then with a slightly different statement?

Regarding Traces of Life and Death, I saw at first a very literal translation of the title in the photos. And I didn't understand the consistency and the flow of images. But reading your statement gave me another perspective and I started to better understand some of the images, which is a good thing. This project definitely has a very strong potential. But I think you should search deeper to explore what you're feeling and how your photos expressed that. There is an emphasis on your statement on the "before" and the "after," maybe this is something you can work on and explore this "duality." Your statement is very profound while I believe the photos are often too superficial, too literal. Your statement is also a lot about the people, maybe getting closer to the people, adding some portraits while keeping looking at the landscape can create a better story.

Your last project Days has for me the best photos. I'm not sure about the entire consistency of the images, but for me there is definitely something here. I wouldn't worry about the consistency or even the title or statement of this project just yet. Probably because the subject is very open, the photos seem closer, truer to you and your life? It seems to me that maybe because the subject is a little vague, it didn't become a constraint and so the photos are more natural - taken more from your 'heart' than your head? The statement is once again well written, but I think it might be too open to really create a consistent project/story. I would keep shooting and worry about the edit in a later stage. Sometimes keeping things simple and just shooting what feels right for you is the best way to go.

Thanks again for sharing your photos - I look forward to seeing your work progressing!

Gwen Lafage

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 5

© Juliana Henao Alcaraz, Days, photograph 6