Mariela Sancari

From Moisés © Mariela Sancari

Hannah FrieserJaime Permuth and I are collaborating 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.

Today we continue this series with an interview with Mariela Sancari.

Other posts in this series include:
Q&A with Eduardo Jiménez Román
Q&A with Claudia Arechiga
Q&A with Nahatan Navarro
Contemporary Photography in Oaxaca
Q&A with Aglae Cortés
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

Mariela Sancari was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976. She has lived and worked in Mexico City since 1997. Her work revolves around identity and memory and the way both are mingled and affected by each other, as well as by time and space. She examines personal relations related to memory and the thin and elusive line dividing memories and fiction.

She has received numerous awards for her work: she was named one of the Discoveries of the Meeting Place of FotoFest 2014 Biennal, was winner of the VI Bienal Nacional de Artes Visuales Yucatan 2013 and the PHotoEspaña Descubrimientos Prize 2014, and her work was selected for the XVI Bienal de Fotograía from Centro de la Imagen and XI Bienal Monterrey FEMSA. She was recipient of the Artist in Residency Program FONCA-CONACYT for a project in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2013.

She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Guatemala City, New York, Sao Paulo, Caracas, Fort Collins, Houston and Cork, Ireland.

She is represented in Mexico by Patricia Conde Galeria.

From Moisés © Mariela Sancari

fototazo: Tell us a little bit about where you are based, what you do for a living and how you began with photography?

Mariela Sancari: I am Argentinian but I have lived in Mexico City for 16 years now. Actually, I studied photography and began working as a photographer here many years ago. I began studying after I saw the images of a friend of mine in Buenos Aires and got so fascinated by them that I wanted to learn and do images myself.

For a living, I work as a freelance photographer in magazines doing assignments on life and style, portraiture and travel.

From Moisés © Mariela Sancari

f: Your projects The two headed horse and Moisés are intensely personal bodies of images. First, tell us just a little bit about them.

MS: As you mentioned, both my series are self-related. In the first, The two headed horse, I tried to explore notions of identity and memory through the relationship with my twin sister and the strong bond between us. It was the first time I've ever made self-portraits, which was also a very interesting and challenging way of dealing with the subject.

In Moisés, which I consider to be a continuation of the first series with a different approach, I focused on the father figure. I started with a syndrome that my sister and I felt (from not seeing his dead body) that made us doubt his death and believe we would suddenly meet him in the street, I "searched" for him in different men with similar physical characteristics. This project has a performative side to it: I placed ads in the newspaper asking for men the age my father would be if were still alive today (around 70 years old). I photographed them in the same way, in a street studio I set in my childhood neighborhood. This typology's intention is a double standard between the anonymity of being part of a typological study and the explicit intention of looking for someone in particular in the crowd.

From Moisés © Mariela Sancari

f: Have you always, since your start in photography, worked with personal themes?  What have been the challenges and rewards of working with such intimate themes personally? Has working with photography on these projects changed your relationships with your sister and father?

MS: Until 2011 I worked as a staff photographer in a newspaper in Mexico City, doing mostly documentary and life and style photography. Although I had been, shyly, trying to approach personal themes, it was only when I was selected to participate at Seminario de Fotografía Contemporánea at Centro de la Imagen (and resigned my job at the newspaper) that I began working only on projects addressing personal issues under the guidance of Ana Casas Broda and Alejandro Castellanos among many other tutors.

Initially, it was very difficult and messy to work with personal themes. For me, it was complicated not to try to "explain" my story and emotions in the images and just let the viewer fill in the blanks. I think that when an artist works on personal issues there is a high level of self-consciousness that compels us to try to explain or clarify our work. I find this to be an obstacle to overcome in the artistic practice. At least it was for me.

From Moisés © Mariela Sancari

On a personal level, working with my twin sister doing self-portraits was an intense experience. First of all, photographers are usually solitary artists and working in collaboration with my sister (being her own life as well the theme in the images) demanded patience and understanding from both of us. The rewarding part of working with her was the surprisingly good communication on a creative level that contributed a lot to the project to the extent of her becoming co-author of the images.

And although I don't really like the word "catharsis" (because of its possible derogatory interpretation) I have to say that working on personal themes did change something in my own understanding and experience of my past. Having always had an attitude of denial towards my personal story, the possibility of relating it to my creative process felt liberating to me.

From The two headed horse © Mariela Sancari

f: You mention that working with your sister was a collaboration. Talk with us a little bit about your process working with the models from Moisés. How do you engage with them before taking pictures? What is your way to get these men, who are initially strangers, to take on the role and relationship of your father and facilitate the tone of the project you are looking to establish?

MS: I began working on the Moisés project last year during an Artist in Residence program in Buenos Aires. I spent 3 months there, working in the neighborhood I used to live in when I was a child. As I mentioned earlier, I placed ads in the local newspaper looking for men with specific physical characteristics. I received many calls. I would talk to them for a few minutes, explaining the project a little bit so that they'd know what we were going to do. I would also ask them to bring their regular daily clothes and set an appointment to meet in my street studio.

I met with some of them many times, depending on their availability and also how well we got along to work.

Once we'd met, I would tell them about the project and what I need them to do but, oddly enough, many of them did not really care what the whole thing was about. They just wanted to talk and tell me their own stories. This was a big surprise, something I never expected when planning the project: facing these men's needs, loneliness and aging processes. At this point, the project changed my way of thinking about it: it gained a profundity I did not foresee and made me confront directly against my own idealization of my father.

This is when I decided to include myself in the pictures, with them.

From The two headed horse © Mariela Sancari

f: Can you expand on that? Why exactly did you make the decision to include yourself?

MS: I made the decision of including myself in the pictures because I needed to have a "real" experience with them. I understood their indifference as the confrontation with the real, as oppose to my idealization. It was a clash, a collision against the structure of what I thought and it paralyzed me. I had to stop, rethink it and approach it from the truthfulness of my interaction with them.

My initial proposal was to create a typology of portraits of men, which as the project evolved seemed a little too detached. It was a thought through decision to expand the typology and include self-portraits created from exploring specific actions that included these men.

From The two headed horse © Mariela Sancari

f: How do these projects overlap and interact? Are they part of one spectrum or idea, united in autobiography and in collaborative portraiture? Or are they very separate for you? How does The two headed horse and the experience of making it first inform Moisés, the project you created second, if at all?

MS: I consider them completely united and autobiographical. I think both addresses the same issues in different forms and believe that Moisés was, in a way, the result of The two headed horse in the sense of the insistence and necessity of trying to understand and finding other ways/approaches to do it.

f: Talk us through your post-production process. How do you make your selections from the various images from a shoot? What criteria do you use?

MS: While shooting in Buenos Aires I decided to set some simple rules to work: I would photograph all men in the same positions, with the same background, each of them with their own clothes and also with my father's wool jacket, first looking at the camera, then turning, etc. So, I would take front, profile, back, 3/4 portraits of all of them and then, after doing this and breaking the ice a little, I would let my intuition decide which other posture or gesture I would ask each one of them to do for the camera. As I mentioned earlier, through the process I also decided to include myself in the pictures and that triggered other images, different from the ones I started with.

Then, once I got into editing, I did what many portrait photographers do: look for the portraits that stood out from the rest because of some intangible quality. (I think I mentioned this earlier. If I did, you can take it out) I work with diptychs and triptychs a lot because I feel, many times, that one image is not enough to say what I need to say. Also because I think it is a way to insist and emphasize on an idea and the repetition of an image (or similar ones) is an interesting visual tool to do it.

From The two headed horse © Mariela Sancari

f: And talk with us about how you edit and sequence the selections into a body of images that form a unified project. Is it a virtual process on the computer? Do you print out and work with the images?

MS: For this project, just like with The two headed horse, Ana Casas Broda helped me do the editing. I would print all the images (4x size), scatter them on the table and discuss, arrange and move them for hours (days and months in my head). After having the final set of images, I enjoy making small changes in the sequence  whenever I present them in portfolio reviews and festivals. I think it is a very interesting exercise for the artist to experiment with their own images and seeing how it affects (if it does) the narrative. In my website, for instance, I included some images from my journal (the one I kept while working in Buenos Aires) and also the poster I pasted in my neighborhood looking for these men to photograph.

From The two headed horse © Mariela Sancari

f: You've been very successful getting this work into festivals and reviews, and have recently won the PHotoEspaña Descubrimientos Pize, 2014 and were selected in the XI Bienal Monterrey FEMSA and XVI Bienal de Fototgrafía del Centro de la Imagen 2014. What is it about the work the people are responding to?

I am planning my next solo show, it will be the first time I will exhibit the Moisés series and I am very excited thinking and exploring different ways of showing it in the gallery space (at least new for me considering my previous experiences exhibiting my work).

Regarding the recognition the Moisés series has been achieving lately, I would like to think it is because, somehow, it goes deeper into the very same subjects I am interested in and care about in my work. Many of the reviewers and curators who saw the work, an specially the ones who know The two headed horse very well from previous meetings, mentioned that they find Moisés to be more mature and abstract but still haunting. I can share a quotation from Greg Hobson, one of the juries from Descubrimientos PHotoEspaña Prize: "The photographs unfolded around their central subject in an unsentimental yet deeply emotional form of storytelling that was consistently involving and intriguing."

From The two headed horse © Mariela Sancari

Laurel Golio of We Are the Youth

Jaydee © Laurel Golio

Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl founded We Are the Youth in 2010. This week their book, of the same name, was launched via Space-Made. We speak with Laurel about the process of making it in this interview.

Laurel Golio is a photographer and visual anthropologist. Her work revolves around the examination of community and its various subcultures, with a focus on using portraiture to investigate issues of self-presentation and identity. Laurel’s work has appeared in The Oxford AmericanPrinted Pages and the British Journal of Photography. She graduated from Smith College.

Diana Scholl is an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in New York MagazinePOZ, and City Limits. Her City Limits article, "For Transgender Homeless, Choice of Shelter Can Prevent Violence" was recognized for Excellence in Newswriting by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association. She currently serves as a communications strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union. She graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Diana and Laurel were named to the Daily Dot's list of Top 10 Online LGBT Activists in 2012, and to GO Magazine’s 100 Women We Love List in 2013.

fototazo: Tell us a little bit about the We Are the Youth project as a whole, how your goals and ideas have evolved since starting the project, and when the idea of putting this book together entered into the picture.

Laurel Golio: Diana and I founded the project in 2010, because there were a lot of LGBTQ faces and stories that we weren't seeing represented in mainstream media. There is no one queer experience and we wanted to see that reflected. One thing that has changed, or perhaps just become a bit clearer since we began the project, was a sense of time of place. As we continued with the work, we began to feel the importance of chronicling these stories for the future, creating an archive of sorts - queer stories and experiences from 2010 until whenever we end the project.

So many queer events and stories have been omitted or erased from history and the idea of sharing stories through the eyes of an individual for future record is so important. Also, there have been so many changes in the LGBTQ community over the last few years, so it's exciting to record stories during such a dynamic time.

A book has always been on our wish list, but it was mostly an issue of timing - feeling like we had compiled enough diverse stories, experiences and locations to take the project from the Internet into book form, and then obviously tackling the issue of funding. We were super-lucky to meet Cameron Russell, the founder of Space-Made, an alternative media company, who was interested in publishing our work along with Interrupt Mag's LGBT* Love Issue.

Carter © Laurel Golio

f: How did you connect with the subjects featured in the book?

LG: We connect with the participants in different ways - we've met many through social media outlets and we frequently partner with LGBTQ organizations who put us in touch with youth who are interested in sharing their story. Sometimes youth will email us directly, wanting to get involved with the project.

f: And you drove around the United States to create the portraits and interviews? Tell us about that process.

LG: We kicked off the project with a trip to the Southern United States in 2010 (Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi). Noah, the president of Mercer University's Gay-Straight Alliance, had emailed us after he saw an article about the project on It was funny because we literally had just started the project on a .blogspot (remember those?!) - I think we had published one profile - and the article had said something like, "so far, so good!" Noah had seen the article and invited us to visit Mercer, so we promptly launched a Kickstarter campaign and took our first trip! Since then, we've travelled to the Midwest (Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota), the West Coast (California, Nevada) and states in the Northeast (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania).

There are still so many places we haven't been and would like to visit! Luckily for us, our home state of New York is filled with people from many different areas, but being able to travel to a participant's hometown, or visit a state we've never been to and meet youth at local LGBTQ centers is a really unique, wonderful experience.

Michelle © Laurel Golio

f: Talk us through a meeting with a subject. Do the interviews come first, the photographs?

LG: We prefer to do the interview first, and then shoot the portrait, but it definitely depends on the situation. We've attended some larger events (Gay Prom in Yonkers, NY, the Philadelphia-Trans Health Conference, a Fall Fest thrown by the Queer Nebraska Youth Network), where I’ll take many portraits in a short amount of time, and Diana will do an initial interview and then a follow-up. But in an ideal world, we like to slowly do the interview and then the portrait. We’ve found that the participants are usually a bit more relaxed after an interview, which I think leads to a more natural portrait, as opposed to just meeting them and taking the portrait straight away.

Raciel © Laurel Golio

f: How do you choose locations, how much do you direct the subject in their poses and expressions, what have you learned over time helps you to get the portrait you're striving for?

LG: Spending as much time as possible with the participant before taking the portrait usually makes the shoot feel more natural. Sometimes that means sitting in on the interview, or just talking and hanging out a bit before we start shooting.

Diana and I view the process as a collaboration with the participant, and try to give them as much agency as possible - this includes location, clothing, etc. Obviously if we meet someone at a conference, for example, we have to be a bit more creative in choosing location then if we're visiting someone in their hometown, but ideally, I like to photograph in a location of the participant's choosing - a place they feel comfortable or a location that is important to them.

In terms of direction, my aim is to create a natural portrait without any forced expression, so really my only rule is "no big smiles, please!" I feel that when you try to direct a certain expression, sometimes it can cloud the portrait and take away from the naturalness of a subject.

Braxton © Laurel Golio

f: What criteria did you use to select the portrait for the book as the most successful from among the images created in a shoot?

LG: Diversity in all forms has always been a priority for us, so that was a huge consideration in choosing the profiles for the book. We tried to provide a diverse range of stories in terms of geographic location, race and ethnicity, experience, the way in which people speak about their identities.

f: A lot of your subjects are under 18, one just 12. Did issues come up in terms of involving parents, getting releases, and working generally with young subjects?

LG: This is a popular question for us! Every lawyer we've spoken with says, "this is a grey area, but yes, it’s always good to get a release," so we operate under the "when you can get a release, always get a release" rule. We have releases for most of the youth that are under 18, and those that were or are unable to get a release from their parent or guardian and still wanted to participate, we don't turn away. The most important thing for us is to give the youth some agency - an opportunity and an outlet to share their story. Turning them away because a parent or guardian won't give permission for them to do so would be in opposition to that idea.

We send each participant the interview before we publish anything, and they always have the option of omitting or changing anything they don’t feel comfortable with. If a participant later wants their profile removed from the website, we have no problem doing so. We also made the decision to use first names only, so participants are not Google-able.

Shonz © Laurel Golio

f: How do you think about the landscapes that are in the book layout – what is their function in the book?

LG: The landscapes were inserted to give a sense of geography, to subtly place the reader in different regions of America, without specifically saying, "Hey! You’re in Iowa now!" They were also used as a visual break, so that the book didn't get too repetitive. We obviously love each and every profile, but we were worried that portrait-interview-portrait-interview might get a bit monotonous.

Hollywood © Laurel Golio

f: What are your goals for putting the book together? Ideally, what would you like this book to do and what kinds of conversations do you hope it enters into?

We hope readers will be able to see the diversity of LGBTQ youth, and the individual humanity in all of these stories. We hope they will relate to some of the profiles, maybe think about the world in a different way, and come away from the book with a more complete view of a community on the brink of change.

Izabela © Laurel Golio

f: Did creating this book change in any way your own impression of the LGBTQ community as a whole or the LGBTQ youth community in particular in unexpected ways?

LG: Working on this project for four years has been a truly incredible experience. As a queer woman, it was cathartic in a lot of unexpected ways - meeting so many amazing young people and hearing their stories made me re-examine myself and my experiences in a way that I hadn't before, which I think speaks to the universal beauty and power of sharing your story.

I'm not sure if our impression of the community changed, but I think I speak for both of us when I say that although we set out with the intent to show the diversity of the LGBTQ community, the range of experiences and the myriad of ways in which people speak about their identities was really astounding. For every face of the LGBTQ community, there is a unique story.

Quincy © Laurel Golio

f: Anything else you'd like to add, Laurel?

LG: The book can be ordered now here. We've also started a book-donation campaign, so if it's within your means to purchase a book for donation, we'll be giving those copies to participating LGBTQ organizations, such as the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Trevor © Laurel Golio