Mexico Notebook: Q&A with Aglae Cortés

© Aglae Cortés

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 been collaborating with the photographer Alejandro Cartagena as part of this project. Cartagena has overseen and executed a series of short interviews with photographers from Mexico that will be published over the coming weeks.

Today we continue this series with an interview of Aglae Cortés by Cartagena.

Other posts in this series include:
Q&A with Maria José Sesma
Interview with César Rodríguez
Q&A with Nora Gómez
Q&A with Melba Arellano
Q&A with Jorge Taboada

Alejandro Cartagena 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 and UNSEEN by FOAM in Amsterdam among others. Alejandro's work has been published internationally in magazines and newspapers such as NewsweekLe MondeThe GuardianThe IndependentThe New York Times Lens BlogPDNThe New Yorker, 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. He is currently represented by Circuit Gallery in Toronto, Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles and Galería Patricia Conde in Mexico City.

© Aglae Cortés

This interview is presented first in English translation, then followed by the Spanish original.

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

Aglae Cortés
: I live in Mexico City and I work as a photographer.

Cartagena: How did you get started in photography?

Cortés: After beginning to study Graphic Design in college I realized I was not happy with my decision, but it was there in college that I took my first photography classes. Those classes were the ones I liked most and were a quiet place in which I decided what I wanted to do with my life. Afterwards I studied and worked on many different things. I think a constant of that time was that I liked to take pictures just for the sake of it; I imposed certain technical photographic challenges on myself, maybe because I considered myself pretty bad. The advent of digital made me understand photography better. In the end, my discovery of photography was not an epiphany; I didn't have a photographer father who gave me my first camera at age five, nor did I discover the magic of the darkroom (Ha!). What did happen, from the moment I picked up a camera, in a very intuitive way I have wondered: "What more is there behind the making of an image?" This has been a relationship of understanding each other gradually and growing up together.

© Aglae Cortés

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: At some point I realized that the technical part is polished with practice and done while at the same time understanding what it is you want to do. I was ready to stop being a robot creating images; up to that point I had been generally self-taught. I had intended to do a photographic project but there were only vague ideas and didn't have the methodology I needed to carry it out. Precisely because of that question "What more is there behind the making of an image?" I entered a mentoring program in AAVIAcademia de Artes Visuales (Academy of Visual Arts). The following year I was selected to study in the Contemporary Photography seminar in the Centro de la Imagen and afterwards I studied in their Contemporary Photography program. All these elements helped me find and solidify my own voice.

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

Cortés: My first approach was with domestic spaces and architecture, but in recent years, my interests in image-making have revolved around the gaze, space and landscape. The images I am showing here are part of the series Tratado visual sobre el vacío (Visual treaty of emptiness), which speaks of those other possibilities of space, taking the void as a metaphor for a place that is in search of its own name and also as space filtered through the photographic device to become something else.

© Aglae Cortés

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: You could say that while I enjoy and admire the work of great photographers like Mexican Nacho LópezAgustín JiménezLazaro Blanco, and Carlos Jurado among others, I do not consider them a defining influence on my production. My imagination is built from painting, cinema and literature.

Cartagena: 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?

Cortés: I don't think that there is a theme as such, nor concrete solutions. It is a time in which everything is possible, at least what I have seen in Mexico is this way. The photography made in the south, Oaxaca or Chiapas, is very different from what is done in the north, like in Sonora and Monterrey; from the issues to the technical solutions, and in aesthetics and language.

© Aglae Cortés

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: This is a generation that is taking up the landscape in Mexico again, among various others themes. I am personally interested in landscape as an idea that involves space and that is demarcated by the gaze. Particularly as I'm fascinated by how Masao Yamamoto and Hiroshi Sugimoto approach this topic.

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

Cortés: My environment has been instrumental in the way I work. As to whether it benefits me, I have not asked myself.

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: Here I think I can add in my attitude towards photography: the device, in addition to recording what we know as reality, is also constructor of parallel realities, minimal or marginal realities. You only have to turn to see them.

© Aglae Cortés

Spanish original

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

Aglae Cortés: Vivo en la Ciudad de México y me dedico a la fotografía.

Cartagena: ¿Cómo te iniciaste en la fotografía?

Cortés: Cuando entre a estudiar Diseño Gráfico en la universidad me di cuenta que no estaba conforme con esa decisión, pero fue ahí donde tuve mis primeras clases de fotografía y esas clases eran las que más me gustaban y fueron un remanso en lo que decidía que hacer con mi vida. Después estudié y trabajé en cosas muy diversas y creo que la constante era que me gustaba tomar fotos solo porque sí; quizá porque me imponía ciertos retos la técnica fotográfica, en la que me consideraba bastante mala. La llegada de lo digital me hizo entenderla mejor. En fin, que mi descubrimiento de la fotografía no fue una epifanía: ni mi papá fotógrafo me regaló mi primera cámara a los cinco años, ni descubrí la magia del cuarto oscuro (¡je!) Lo que si, desde que tomé la cámara, de forma muy intuitiva me preguntaba: que más había detrás de hacer una imagen; esta ha sido una relación de entendernos poco a poco y de madurar juntas.

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: En algún momento entendí que la parte técnica se depura con la práctica y al mismo tiempo entiendes que quieres hacer, estaba lista para dejar de ser una autómata de la imagen; hasta este punto había sido un tanto autodidacta. Tenía intenciones de hacer un proyecto fotográfico en forma pero sólo eran ideas vagas y me hacía falta la metodología para llevarlo a cabo.

Precisamente por aquella pregunta ¿que hay detrás? Entre a un programa de tutorías en AAVI - Academia de Artes Visuales - al siguiente año fui seleccionada para estudiar el Seminario de Fotografía Contemporánea del Centro de la Imagen y después cursé el Programa de Fotografía Contemporánea; todos ellos me ayudaron a concretar y encontrar mi propia voz.

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: Mi primer acercamiento fue hacia el espacio doméstico y la arquitectura, pero en los últimos años, mis intereses sobre la imagen giran entorno a la mirada, el espacio y el paisaje. Las imágenes que presento son parte de la serie Tratado visual sobre el vacío, que habla de aquellas otras posibilidades del espacio, tomando el vacío como una metáfora de un lugar que esta en búsqueda de su propio nombre, y como el espacio filtrado por el dispositivo fotográfico se convierte en algo más.

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

Cortés: Podría decir que, si bien disfruto y admiro el trabajo de grandes fotógrafos mexicanos como Nacho LópezAgustín JiménezLázaro BlancoCarlos Jurado, entre otros; no considero que sea una influencia determinante en mi producción. Mi imaginario se construye desde la pintura, el cine y la literatura.

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

Cortés: Pienso que no hay un tema como tal, ni soluciones concretas; estamos en un momento donde caben todas las posibilidades, al menos lo que observo en México es así, la fotografía que se hace en el sur, Oaxaca o en Chiapas, es muy diferente a la que se hace en el norte como Sonora y Monterrey; desde los temas, soluciones técnicas, estética y lenguaje.

© Aglae Cortés

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

Cortés: Entre varios temas hay una generación que esta retomando el paisaje en México, personalmente me interesa el paisaje como una idea que involucra el espacio y este esta acotado por la mirada. Particularmente siento fascinación por como se aproximan a este tema Hiroshi Sugimoto y Masao Yamamoto.

Cartagena: ¿Qué sientes te beneficia o problematiza producir desde México?

Cortés: Mi entorno ha sido determinante en mi forma de trabajar, si me beneficia, no me lo he preguntado.

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

Cortés: Aquí creo que cabe mi postura ante la fotografía: el dispositivo además de registrar lo que conocemos como realidad, es también constructor de realidades paralelas, mínimas o marginales, sólo hay que voltear a verlas.

© Aglae Cortés