How to Start a Project: Erika Diettes

© Erika Diettes, from the series "Sudarios" ("Shrouds")

This is the latest in an ongoing series of short essays from photographers responding to the basic question, "What advice do you have for starting a project?" The series has featured replies from Judith Joy RossIrina RozovskyAlejandro CartagenaPhil ToledanoSteven AhlgrenSusan LipperAmani WillettLisa KeresziEirik JohnsonRichard RenaldiBrian UlrichMark SteinmetzTim DavisNicholas Nixon and Jeff Whetstone.

Today we return to the question of starting a project with Erika Diettes. The text is presented first in a translation from Spanish, then in the original Spanish.

Erika Diettes has a Master's Degree in Anthropology. Her artistic production, linked from the very onset to photography, explores memory, pain and death from her multidisciplinary perspective. It directly confronts witnesses as well as victims of diverse social and political conflicts in works in which they are both protagonists and objects of study and contemplation, encompassing pain, loss and mourning. Her research, which range from images to essays, crafts texts and conferences in dissertations that deepen her experiences and knowledge about artistic interpretation, death and the dramatic socio-political contexts that lead to it.

Her work has been exhibited in different settings linked to the memory processes of various groups of victims in Colombia. Her work has also been exhibited in Colombian cultural institutions like the Museum of Antioquia, the Modern Art Museum of Bogota, the Colombian National Museum, and the Colombian National University Museum, among others. In the international sphere, her works have been displayed in individual and collective exhibits at the Centro Cultural Recoleta (Recoleta Cultural Center, Buenos Aires), ExTeresa Arte Actual (Modern Art Museum, Mexico City), the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and other institutions in the United States, Australia, Poland, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador and Chile. Her work is part of important public and private collections in Colombia and the United States.

© Erika Diettes, Installation view "Sudarios" ("Shrouds")

All beginnings are difficult, even this interview...I have gone in a lot of circles, trying to think of something deeply inspiring to say. Thinking again and again about the beginning of my projects, however, I realized that to start a project, even if these are obvious words, the most important thing is the determination to start the project. Making the first picture of what, in the future, could become a huge project, an exhibition, a book, etc. is most important. Just by looking at an image you find the clue for the next image. An idea that never materializes fades, is lost, it does not exist. Or worse, it prevents you from moving forwards to another idea.

It is important to understand that many times what works perfectly in your mind as a wonderful idea might not work materialized in front of the camera. That is why my key recommendation is to build projects based in the images and outwards from images. While it is clear that the theoretical foundations are very important and will be reflected in the photographs, it is also very important to note that the image is the final product and that it is from the image that the viewer will come to understand the theoretical intention of the author.

Building, taking and seeing the image in the final medium in which we intend to show it in order to analyze it is key to developing the set of images that will make up a project. My last recommendation is to have perseverance to complete the project, and always be open to new opportunities that may arise along the way. Often the most important and definitive elements of a work are those that we will find in the search for the initial idea. No great work is the result of a moment of inspiration. I would dare say that great works are the result of much study, research, technical mastery, discipline, obsession and - above all - are an exercise in resistance.

© Erika Diettes, "Relicarios" ("Reliquaries")

Todos los comienzos son difíciles, incluso el de esta entrevista, ... He tenido que darle muchas vueltas, pensando en lograr decir algo profundamente inspirador. Sin embargo, pensando una y otra vez en los comienzos de todos mis proyectos caí en cuenta que para empezar un proyecto, así sean las palabras más obvias, la determinación de empezarlo es lo más importante. Tomar la primera imagen de lo que en un futuro pueda convertirse en un proyecto enorme, una exposición, en un libro, etc es lo más importante. Sólo viendo una imagen uno encuentra la pista para la imagen que sigue. Una idea que no se materialice se difumina, se pierde, no existe. O lo que es peor, no permite que uno de paso a otra idea. 

Es importante entender que muchas veces lo que funciona perfectamente en la cabeza como una idea maravillosa, puede no funcionar al materializarse frente a la cámara. Es por esto que mi recomendación esencial es construir los proyectos desde las imágenes y a partir de las imágenes. Si bien, es obvio que los fundamentos teóricos son importantísimos y se van a reflejar en las fotografías, es muy importante tener en cuenta que la imagen es el producto final y que es desde allí donde el espectador va a llegar a entender la intención teórica del autor. 

Construir, tomar y ver la imagen para analizarla en el medio final en el que se pretende mostrar es clave para desarrollar el conjunto de imágenes que conformarán un proyecto. Mi última recomendación es tener perseverancia en lograr culminar el proyecto, siempre estando abierto a las nuevas posibilidades que se pueden presentar en el camino. Muchas veces los elementos más importantes y definitivos de una obra son elementos que uno va encontrando en la búsqueda de la idea inicial. Ninguna gran obra es el resultado de un instante de inspiración. Me atrevería afirmar que las grandes obras son el resultado de mucho estudio, investigación, maestría técnica, disciplina, obsesión y sobre todo son un ejercicio de resistencia.

© Erika Diettes, From the series "A Punta de Sangre" ("All Blood and Guts")