‘I had been working on this show for the past five years – I just didn’t know it’
In the midst of her first solo exhibition, ‘Gods That Walk Among Us’, photographer Camila Falquez discusses the power of art to liberate and uplift
Sunday 10 July 2022 By Salomé Gómez-Upegui
At Hannah Traore Gallery in New York’s Lower East Side, the first solo exhibition of photographer Camila Falquez has received rave reviews. Though, as often happens with apparent overnight success stories, it has been years in the making.
In Gods That Walk Among Us, friends and muses of the artist pose powerfully against vibrant backdrops in 28 stunning portraits that question preconceived ideas of gender, power, and beauty. The show, which debuted in early June, will be open until Saturday 9 July.
The daughter of Colombian immigrants, born in Mexico and raised in Spain, Falquez got her start 10 years ago, when she moved to New York City. She’s made a name for herself in commercial and editorial photography with clients such as Nike and Hermès, and has had works published in The New York Times and Vogue. Yet, Falquez says arriving at her first solo art show has been somewhat of a ‘pilgrimage’. ‘There’s been a lot of work and a lot of figuring things out; like, how to make money and still be creatively fulfilled,’ she explains.
We talked to Falquez about her story of becoming and the power of photography.
Where does your love for photography come from?
‘I would say my love for art comes from my mother. She is an incredible artist. I have four sisters, and we all grew up in her studio where nothing was impossible – there were no limits. Nothing was too precious. So, I think the beginning of my visual education started really early in my life. Photography was the outlet that I arrived at later.’
The photos in Gods That Walk Among Us were shot separately over the past five years. When did you realise they were meant to be shown together?
‘Hannah Traore, the owner of the gallery, reached out and offered the possibility of doing a show. Up until that point, I was in my hustling mode. I’m a commercial photographer. I didn’t go to a fine arts college in the United States. So, my mentality has been more like that of an immigrant – making a living as I try to put out a vision of what I do. I hadn’t had the chance to stop and think, who am I in the art world? So, it’s been more a case of going back into what I’ve done, honouring it, celebrating it, and realising that I’d been working on this show for the past five years – I just didn't know it.’
What has surprised you the most about the public response to the show?
‘It’s still ongoing, so I can’t draw conclusions yet. But the most beautiful thing is to see that I really have done something that is uplifting and giving strength to a certain community. That’s been the most important part, because it just gives me the knowledge that what I’m doing has an effect and that I should keep going.’
What other art forms influence your practice?
‘I think what informs it the most is performance – specifically dance and music. In every single photo I take, there’s music playing in the background. They’re still photographs, but there’s not a single set that is not full of music… salsa, rumba, or flamenco. It’s almost like I can’t create without it.’
You’ve said you see photography as a profound act of trust? How so?
‘The nature of what I do entails asking whoever is in front of the camera to trust me, because I’m exposing them – with all my love – but I’m exposing a subject into a place of power that’s very vulnerable. I can only do that with absolute care in a very curated safe space. There’s a lot of consent, a lot of conversation, and a lot of intimacy. It’s a very profound act to do what I do, and I think it’s only fair that I’m aware of that.’
Referencing the Vogue Spain cover you recently shot of actor Angela Molina, you wrote that her beauty ‘liberates us’. Do you think photography is a tool for collective liberation?
‘It can be one of the roles of photography. Our mind perceives photography as something directly taken from reality. There is no abstraction, so if you play with that, what I’ve noticed is people won’t question things. You can’t keep denying that these humans are divine, that these humans are royalty, that these humans are beautiful because this – what I’m presenting – is reality.
‘As for the cover of Angela Molina, I’ve been trying to shoot her for several years. The fact that she carries herself with such grace – not hiding any of her wrinkles, white hair or age – and yet she exists and works as a memorable actress appearing on the cover of Vogue opens the path for all of us women who don’t find space to age.’
A word of advice for artists and photographers who are just starting to develop their practice?
‘I would say to really, really want it because there are so many lessons that I’m still going through. There may be times when you feel “you’re not good enough” or “it’s not going to work”, but all of those are just lessons. If you really want it, you assimilate the lessons and keep going.’
*This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.