“My passion and life is creating images. Ever since I began taking photos when I was 15 years old, if I’m not standing behind a camera it’s because I’m standing in front of an image or a moment so perfectly lit that it’s waiting to be captured.” learn more about our LomoAmiga Erika Diettes and see what she shot with the La Sardina
Erika Diettes is a passionate photographer living in Bogotá. We asked her some questions about her work and are curious to see what she shot with La Sardina.
Real Name: Erika Diettes
Twitter/email/ virtual name: erikadiettes
Tell the community a little bit about yourself? What do you do for fun and is it the same thing you do for a living?
I was born in Colombia. I am 33 years old. I consider myself to be a creative, loving, compassionate person, but I’m also stubborn, impulsive and emotional. Those characteristics are my best qualities and biggest defects! I believe life is neither black nor white; I try to see and understand life with all the possible layers and gray tones it has.
I am Guillermo and Magda’s daughter; Nina and Camila’s sister; Gabrielita’s auntie and Joseph’s wife. I received my undergraduate studies in Visual Arts and Social Communications at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, and three years ago I earned my master’s degree in Social Anthropology at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá.
I love the beauty and strength of the orchid; I really enjoy the pleasure of an exquisite perfume, and the comfort in a “perfect” cup of tea. I love viewing a powerful work of art, watching a great movie, or reading the text of an incredible book that puts into word what I try to show in my work.
I am constantly seeing, creating and capturing images, even if I don’t have a camera in my hands… So, the answer is, yes, I live doing what I love, all the time.
What got you into photography at the first place?
My father was a Police Attaché, sent to work in the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C. by the Colombian government. I arrived at school when the academic year had already begun, something I was already well accustomed to. I didn’t speak any English, so I was placed in the English as a Second Language class, and many of the classes you can take without speaking the language: ceramics, art, physical education, cinema and photography. For some reason, even without language, I felt that photography was my universe. The first time I entered the darkroom I knew I belonged there. I think I learned English faster so that I could understand the class.
It was the most important and decisive semester of my life. I basically “clicked” with a talent I didn’t know I had. Denied the opportunity to speak, I was forced to completely submerge myself in the world of images.
You shoot in both analogue and digital, what makes you shoot with analogue?
I think that nostalgia would be the best answer to that question. I learned and worked with analogue photography for many, many years. As a matter of fact, the darkroom was one of my favorite places in the world. I spent hours, happy and exquisitely lonely hours, working and hoping to develop the “perfect” black and white image. I enjoy working with digital photography as well. But there is a part of me that misses the physical aspects of analogue photography: the smell of the film, the contact sheet, looking at the images with a magnifying glass until you finally see the image you want to circle with the red pencil. You also experience time differently with analogue photography; you have to trust yourself and learn patience, waiting for the images to develop. So for nostalgia, I sometimes shoot with an analogue camera.
What is the theme of your work?
I’ve always been interested in the human as a being. I believe I have an incredible capacity to capture amazing portraits. I think if you really take the time to observe other people’s faces and bodies, you can see all the things we have in common—happiness and pain and everything in between.
Violence has been an important subject in my work. Not the acts of violence themselves, but the consequences of violence in people’s lives. I have produced many bodies of work in which the principal subject is memory—the way people remember their loved ones and the emptiness that their absences leave behind.
Some of these bodies of work include Silences (Silencios), 2004, which deals with survivors of the Second World War who live in Colombia; Drifting Away (Río Abajo), a series that deals with the victims of forced disappearances, and By Force of Blood (A Punta de Sangre), a series in which I examine the notion of searching for the bodies of the Disappeared by their family members who, in the midst of despair, find hope in vultures that might lead them to the remains of their loved ones.
To date I have received the testimonies of more than 300 victims of the violence in Colombia. They have confided intimacies of this violence with me; not only the harrowing details, but also the manner in which they’ve rebuilt their lives and have kept going despite their suffering.
You recently had an exhibit called Sudarios; can you tell us a little bit about it?
Shrouds (Sudarios) is the result of multiple theoretical concerns, an infinity of technical quests and an observation of the world from a certain context. Many times (through my viewfinder), I have witnessed that exact moment when people have to close their eyes as they recall the event that divided their lives into two parts. My intent is to enable the viewer to enter into and walk through these impenetrable and apparently foreign worlds; when s/he observes the moment these women have shut their eyes because they’ve found no other way to communicate the extent of the horror they’ve witnessed and the level of sorrow they were subjected to.
This work tells the stories of twenty women—victims, grief-stricken human who, as part of their torture, were forced to watch the violence perpetrated against their loved ones, but were allowed to live so that they would serve as witnesses to such horrors.
The process of making Shrouds consisted of using a studio where we sat in the same way that one would for a portrait session. In this act of mutual acceptance, where the model surrenders herself to the photographer’s ability to immortalize a moment in time, we understood that the resulting images were not meant to be an idealization of their faces, but of the transcendence of their sorrow. Both the women and I, accompanied by a psychologist, were willing to journey through dark places.
They did so to relate that instant, which they were condemned to remember, particularly given that the possibility of forgetting even the smallest detail did not exist. And I did to record that same moment in order to construct this work, since it’s my conviction that art fulfills a very important role in conserving the memory of a country.
I always intended to print these portraits on silk because I wanted to relate, as they themselves told me more than once, that they are beings who no longer belong to the world, and that violence had left them dead in life. That’s why my intention was always to create light, diaphanous, phantasmagorical images that would capture that sensation and profound wish for transcendence.
This lends itself to the strong inclination I have that these images should be kept in sacred places and spaces of reflection. Regardless of our faith, the journey of the work through the space helps us to not just be spectators, but to change us into pilgrims able to enter into communion with these images so that, as Susan Sontag writes, we may be able to keep this reality in mind from now onwards.
Any future projects you want to tell us about?
I have been working on a new project for the last two years. I am collecting objects that belonged to the Disappeared (or objects that people kept in their homes that remind them of their dead), and I am encapsulating them in a material called, in Spanish, Tri Polímero de Caucho. The idea is to create a “cápsula” with those objects and to preserve them forever. It is like casting pieces in amber.
It is a very large project; I interview each person and they then donate the object to me to allow me to create the cápsulas. The process of this new project has been extremely emotional, and it led me to make a very important decision, which was to set-up a studio in Antioquia. I don’t live there, so it’s a project that has been intense, and the travel from home to the studio has been an interesting factor.
I basically immerse myself into a universe where time stops. I forget everything about myself, and I become completely focused on listening to each story: writing down name after name, watching each gesture, receiving each object and, then, with the same love and respect in which these objects are entrusted to me, I try to make the best art piece I can, honoring the memory of each person and, in that way, the memory of my country.
What’s your favorite photo you took with the La Sardina and why?
I really like these two images. The first one is my shadow, taken in my studio in El Eden. I really like it because it was taken after working with a group of incredible people that came from a region in Colombia called Uraba. They traveled almost twelve hours to get to my studio, and they told heartbreaking stories. But their testimonies of strength, dignity and hope were a life-changing experience for me.
That image reminds me of how their stories changed me, and how very grateful I am to life for giving me the opportunity and the determination to continue capturing images in spite of everything. I understand now, in a very tangible and real way, the difference that art can make in people’s lives: how it dignifies the memory of those who are not here.
The other photo was taken right in front of my studio. I love the quilt with the Virgin Mary’s face on it. I´ve never seen quilts with religious images on them before. But I think it makes total sense because I think it represents that silent prayer, aside from our personal beliefs or faith, which we all have: to protect our loved ones and to be covered and embraced by hope.
If your photos shown here could have a soundtrack of three songs, what would they be?
“Un beso y una flor”, by Nino Bravo;
“Better man”, by Robin Williams;
“Lágrimas del tiempo“ by César López
Describe the La Sardina in five words:
Exquisite, fun, unique, nostalgic and easy to use
Your advice to future La Sardina shooters:
Have plenty of film… La Sardina is so much fun and unique that people are going to ask you to take their photo!
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