Mexico Notebook: Q&A with Nora Gómez

© Nora Gómez

Hannah FrieserJaime Permuth and I have begun a collaboration to explore contemporary photography in Mexico. We're looking at trends and how they relate to traditions; events, institutions and venues; as well as pursuing conversations with curators, academics, gallerists and photographers on what's happening currently. This collaborative project will feature a variety of types of posts including interviews, book reviews, published letters, portfolios of images and more.

Hannah Frieser is a curator, photographer and book artist and former Executive Director of Light Work. Jaime Permuth is a Guatemalan photographer living and working in New York City and a Faculty Member at the School of Visual Arts.

We have started the project by collaborating with photographer Alejandro Cartagena. Cartagena has overseen and executed a series of short interviews with photographers from Mexico that will be published over the coming weeks.

The first two interviews were with Jorge Taboada and Melba Arellano. Today we continue the series with an interview between Cartagena and Nora Gómez.

Alejandro lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico. His projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban and environmental issues in the Latin-American region. His work has been exhibited internationally in festivals like CONTACT in Toronto, The FIF in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, GuatePhoto festival in Guatemala City, FOTOFEST in Houston, the PHOTOIMAGEN festival in the Dominican Republic, Photoville in Dumbo, New York and UNSEEN by FOAM in Amsterdam among others.

Alejandro's work has been published internationally in magazines and newspapers such as NewsweekLe MondeThe GuardianThe IndependentNownessDomusDomus Mexicothe Financial TimesViewThe New York Times Lens BlogSternPDNThe New YorkerMonocle and Wallpaper among others. His book Suburbia Mexicana was published by Photolucida and Daylight books in 2011.

He has received the Photolucida Critical Mass book award, the SNCA-CONACULTA grant for Mexican artists, the Premio IILA-Fotografia 2012 award in Rome, the Street Photography Award in London and a POYi reportage award of excellence, the Lente Latino award in Chile, the award Salon de la Fotografia from the Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Mexico among other awards. He has been named a FOAM magazine Talent and one of PDN Magazine's 30 emerging photographers. He has also been a finalist for the Aperture Portfolio award, the Photoespaña Descubrimientos award, the FOAM Paul Huff award and has been nominated for the CENTER Santa Fe photography prize.

His work is in many private and public collections including the San Francisco MOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Portland Museum of Art, the Museo de Arte Moderno in Rio de Janeiro, the Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico, the University of Maine collection and the Fototeca Nacional in Pachuca, Mexico. He is currently represented by Circuit Gallery in Toronto, Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles and Galería Patricia Conde in Mexico City.

Alejandro Cartagena: Where do you live and what you do?

Nora Gómez
: I live in San Pedro Garza García, México. I am a visual artist and painter, balancing my profession with the daily work of my family.

Alejandro Cartagena: ¿Dónde vives y a qué te dedicas?

Nora Gómez: Vivo en San Pedro Garza García, México, soy artista visual y pintora, alterno mi profesión con la labor diaria de la familia.

© Nora Gómez

© Nora Gómez

AC: How did you get started in photography?

NG: My career as an artist began in painting, specializing in a realistic figurative style. After many years dedicated to painting, in 2007 I began to be interested in photography as a new form of expression.

AC: ¿Cómo te iniciaste en la fotografía?

NG: Mi carrera como artista inició pintando, especializándome en el estilo figurativo realista, después de muchos años dedicada a la pintura, en el 2007 me empieza a interesar la fotografía como una nueva forma de expresión.

AC: When and what made you start considering producing photographic work to explore your personal concerns?

NG: From the beginning I found that through photography I could express myself better [than with painting]. I liked the idea of working outdoors and meeting people, and many new ideas came to my mind. In 2008 I exhibited my first photographs and since then I have continued to work on it.

¿Cuándo y que te hizo empezar a considerar producir trabajo fotográfico que explorara tus inquietudes personales?

NG: Desde un inicio descubrí que con la fotografía podía lograr expresarme de una mejor manera, me gustó la idea de trabajar en el exterior y conocer gente, vinieron a mi mente muchas nuevas ideas, en el 2008 expongo mis primeras fotografías y desde entonces he seguido trabajando en ella.

© Nora Gómez

AC: Tell us about some of your projects and the themes you approach through the images we are presenting.

NG: At the beginning my projects were simple, part of a growth process. I started photographing the young people at the places I went to ("Registro de la Nueva Ola" or New Wave Register) and the items I am drawn to and that endure ("Contando Vochos" or Counting Vochos).

The series "Registro de la Nueva Ola" shows the different trends, behaviors and clothing that the young people who visit the city center use to identify themselves as I did when I was their age and we were called "new wave."

"Counting Vochos" concerns a unique car that has been around for many years without changing its appearance and that is very representative of Mexico. Although it is no longer produced, we continue to see them on the streets of our cities and some cars have taken on the personality of their owners. Most Mexicans have a story that involves one and especially for me they bring good memories. I gave the project its title because when I was a child there were so many of these cars on the streets that parents used the game "counting vochos" as a form of distraction for children while they were driving.

"Presencias Ocultas" (Hidden Presence) comes from reflecting on how people who have faced situations that have pulled out of their state of equilibrium are forced to invent ways to achieve a feeling of security and peace.

Monitoring is a way to prevent unknown people from disturbing our harmony, either by intimidating those who want to disrupt our calm or who want to take actions when the calm is broken. Except for some isolated exceptions, Mexicans have lived for decades in a state of tranquility. As in all parts of the world, this state has been altered recently by the ravages of insecurity. This has led to the increased use of security cameras. The presence of these watchful eyes gives us a sense of security, but they also are diminishing our privacy, placing limits and creating boundaries.

This series reminded me of the book La Calle de las Presencias Ocultas (The Street of Hidden Presences) by Remedios Varo because it recalls the characters that appear from of the walls to watch the people pass down the street. The eyes of the observers that are in front of the monitor that watch over those who pass by the lens alter the calm of those who are observed.

With this series of photographs I attempt to show the invasion of the landscape by the anonymous watching eye, that more than protecting us, wrap us in a new state of unrest.

© Nora Gómez

ACPlatícanos un poco de tus proyectos y los temas que abordas en las imágenes que estamos presentando.

NG: Al comienzo mis proyectos eran sencillos, para ir logrando un proceso de crecimiento. Empecé retratando a los jóvenes que asisten a los lugares que yo visitaba (Registro de la Nueva Ola), así como los objetos que me gustan y aún permanecen (Contando Vochos)

La Serie “Registro de la Nueva Ola” muestra las diferentes corrientes, formas de actuar y vestir con las que se identifican los jóvenes que actualmente visitan el centro de la ciudad al igual que yo cuando tenía su edad y éramos llamados “La nueva ola”.

“Contando Vochos” Habla sobre un singular carro que ha permanecido durante muchos años sin cambiar su apariencia y es algo muy representativo de México, a pesar de que ya no se fabrican, continuamos viéndolos en las calles de nuestras ciudades y algunos han adoptado la personalidad de sus dueños. La mayoría de los mexicanos tienen una anécdota que contar acerca de ellos y para mí en especial me traen muy gratos recuerdos, la titulé así porque cuando era niña había tantos de estos carros circulando en las calles que los papás usaban el contar vochos como forma de distracción para los hijos mientras manejaban.

“Presencias Ocultas” surge de reflexionar como el hombre se ha enfrentado a situaciones que lo han sacado de su estado de equilibrio por lo cual se ha visto obligado a inventar formas de conseguir ese sentimiento de seguridad y paz.

© Nora Gómez

© Nora Gómez

La vigilancia es una forma de prevenir que agentes externos alteren nuestra armonía, ya sea intimidando a quien desea trastornar la calma o tomando acciones cuando el equilibrio se rompe. Salvo ciertas excepciones aisladas, los mexicanos hemos vivido por décadas en estado pacifico, como en todas partes del mundo recientemente este estado se ha visto alterado por los embates de la inseguridad, esto ha llevado a que el uso de cámaras de seguridad se haya incrementado. La presencia de estos ojos vigilantes nos provoca un sentimiento de seguridad pero a la vez va menguando nuestra privacidad, poniéndonos límites y creando fronteras.

Esta serie me hizo recordar la obra “La Calle de las Presencias Ocultas” de Remedios Varo porque coincide con los personajes que parecen salir de las paredes vigilando a la persona que transita por la calle, los ojos observadores que se encuentran al otro lado del monitor que vigilan a quien pasa frente a la lente, alteran la calma del quien es observado.

Con esta serie de fotografías intento proyectar esa invasión al panorama por el ojo anónimo vigilante, que mas que protegernos nos envuelve en un nuevo estado de intranquilidad.

AC: How do you think about the history of Mexican photography in your work?

NG: Although I do not believe that the history of Mexican photography has influenced my work, I can detect, perhaps unconsciously, a kind of tribute to Gabriel Figueroa, as far as how his compositions focus themselves on a nearly empty space with particular attention placed on a particular point of focus.

AC¿De qué manera consideras la historia de la fotografía Mexicana en tu obra?

NG: Aunque no considero que la historia de la fotografía en México haya influido en mi trabajo puedo detectar, tal vez de manera inconsciente, cierto tributo a Gabriel Figueroa donde sus composiciones se centran en un espacio casi vacío prestando especial atención a un punto focal.

© Nora Gómez

© Nora Gómez

AC: Do you believe that there is any relationship in subject matter, form or any other aspect between photography in Mexico and the rest of Latin America?

NG: Looking at the work of Mexican and South American photographers, I see several common and recurring topics focused on politics, violence and the decadence of the people, in addition to a handling of light and shadow that arises from the Latino temperament. That visual taste, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, can't be found in the works of artists who are not Spanish speaking.

AC¿Encuentras alguna relación de temas, forma o cualquier otro aspecto entre la fotografía en México y la del resto de America Latina?

NG: Observando el trabajo de fotógrafos mexicanos y sudamericanos, encuentro varios temas comunes y recurrentes enfocados a la política, la violencia y la decadencia de las personas, además del manejo de luces y sombras que nacen del temperamento latino. Ese sabor visual, dulce a veces, las más amargo, que no se puede apreciar en las obras de artistas que no son de habla hispana.

© Nora Gómez

© Nora Gómez

: What are the issues being addressed both in contemporary photography in Mexico and outside of Mexico that interest you?

NG: Portraits in everyday environments, the urban landscape and exercises in experimentation with editing and post-production.

AC¿Cuáles son los temas qué están siendo tratados en la fotografía contemporánea en México y también afuera de México que te interesen?

NG: El retrato del ser humano en su entorno cotidiano, el paisaje urbano y ejercicios de experimentación con la edición y post producción.

: What do you feel benefits you or is a problem with being based in Mexico?

NG: I am fortunate to practice photography in Mexico as it is a place that gives you an infinite number of options to photograph. There is a lot of competition, but Mexican photographers are willing to share their ideas, experiences and techniques in order so that we all grow as artists.

AC¿Qué sientes te beneficia o problematiza producir desde México?

NG: Soy afortunada de practicar la fotografía en México ya que es un lugar que te ofrece una infinidad de opciones para ser capturadas por la cámara, existe mucha competencia sin embargo los fotógrafos mexicanos son abiertos a compartir sus ideas, experiencias y técnicas con el fin de que todos crezcamos como artistas.

© Nora Gómez

AC: Anything you'd like to say about contemporary photography in general?

NG: I consider contemporary photography to be one of the most expressive creative means of expression, as it allows you to mimic reality yet also lie with the truth. I have seen how viewers can immerse themselves in a photograph for a long period of time as if trapped and unable to walk away. My only concern would be that contemporary photography does not fall into a simple formula.

AC¿Algo que quisieras comentar sobre la fotografía contemporánea en general ?

NG:  Considero la fotografía contemporánea como una de las maneras de mayor expresividad, ya que te permite mimetizar la realidad pero a la vez también mentir con la verdad, me ha tocado ver como los espectadores se pueden sumergir en una fotografía por un largo período de tiempo como si los atrapara y no pudieran separarse de ella, mi única preocupación sería que la fotografía contemporánea no caiga en una simple formula.

© Nora Gómez