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Family is Family

Cristian Hurtado's Creative Process.

The human being generates affectionate bonds that influence his daily life, and even the preservation of his species. These ties are closed in a primary group that receives the name family, which, within the collective imagination, is made up of father, mother, and a couple of children with opposite genders.

Today, this margin has been expanded, and the family cannot be reduced to such a simple formula. Family is Family is in a photographic series made in the Tres Esquinas sector, in commune eight of Medellín (Colombia), which portrays different family configurations from the traditional one, highlighting that the transformation in its conception are due to social changes.

The idea to carry out this project was born in 2015 when I was in that sector of Medellín executing a labor project with a foundation that assisted low-income children, and from there the issue began to linger in my mind, but it wasn’t until the year 2017 that I carried it out.

The main premise of my research was that, in this sector of the city, the vast majority of families that I had had the opportunity to meet were constituted in a dysfunctional way - something that sharply contradicted the idea of ​​family that exists in my city where the collective imagination is very traditional.

So I did research from painting, photography, and academic texts about how The Family had been represented until now. I did all this in order to know what photographic path to take, and what would be the best way to develop my project. This was vital for me as it worked as a route to follow in the moments when I felt confused: I returned to my research and constantly reviewed my goals to achieve what I had structured in my mind. That does not mean it worked like a straitjacket, on the contrary what I had on paper changed it, adapted it, and in turn improved it, all to prepare myself mentally and technically.

Getting the characters was not easy at all. I have to give thanks to Lina Henao, an inhabitant of the sector who was able to reach these people, and introduce myself as a photographer. She told them about the photography work I wanted to achieve in the community. Some people gave a resounding no, others hesitated to give me a yes, and others accepted without much problem.

In the end, I could portrait 5 different families. Initially, the idea was to spend the night in each house, but this was only achieved with one of them, since it was complicated by space, and I noticed that it was becoming an impediment for the project to flow.

The first family I was with was with Rodríguez Montoya.

It was really challenging to do my work. In the beginning, the images did not flow, I did not like the lighting that was in the environment, I did not like the scenes that I witnessed since I was being an intruder in their lives, and this was evident in the behaviour of the characters. However, as we all started to get to know each other, we started gaining confidence, they started to get used to the camera and everything changed. The afternoon fell, the light improved, and the atmosphere of this family began to become more natural.

In my photos I did not seek to pose or force situations, on the contrary, I wanted it to be as natural as possible. Thus, after that first experience, I managed to continue with each of the family nuclei.

Rodríguez Montoya family

This home is made up of Yasley, 15, her mother Elsa, 39, and her other mother Flor, 40 year old. Yasley has a pet called Samy. A shaped core only for women.

Darío Muñoz Quintero

83 years old. Living alone for 20 years. Despite having descendants, after the death of his wife his only family is God, from whom he awaits his call, he said.

How did you manage to take advantage of the light inside the houses?

The first thing I started to analyse when I decided to carry out this project was lighting. I did not want to use external lights of any kind, neither stroboscopic or continuous. For this type of project I had to minimise the distractions, and I had to try to make people as comfortable as possible in their own houses.

I wanted to use the light that was in each place in order to be more faithful to reality. This, with the idea that light fulfils an important role in the narrative of the story, and that through the natural light of the environment we can create a unique natural atmosphere. So, most situations were achieved with very little light in the environment, so I had to put into practice my technical knowledge, and figure out how to get enough light for each scene.

Tuberquia family.

Luz Dary, 35 years old has 5 children: Kelly, 16, Luis, 14 (does not appear in the photos), Zulay, 11, Sara, 5, and Maximiliano, 6 months. For Luz Dary her children are her reason to live.

I took the photos over approximately 10 days, visiting each family and spending an entire day with them, observing the situations that were happening, interacting with them, learning about their history, and why they were shaped that way. I was talking and taking photos at the same time to familiarise them with the camera. I asked them to pose, and made individual portraits but in my mind it was clear that this was not what I was looking for. I did everything to capture everyday and natural scenes, and ensure my camera was not very intrusive. For this reason I ended up with around 1,200 files.

Selecting the photographs was a long task, so I started making filters to debug the work. From experience with past projects, I knew that the treatment of light and colour were very important to be able to have a homogeneous work, so from the moment of capture I was careful and methodical.

All photographs were taken with a Nikon D750, and then edited with Lightroom. I chose images in which there was an atmosphere of rejoice and in which the light was contrasted to generate continuity with each portrait.

I made a filter of 176 images, and together with Juan Pablo Gómez, my project advisor, we managed to choose 20 photos to be exhibited in a gallery in Medellín called F8 Fotogallery.

Hinestroza family.

Ana lives with her 9 year old daughter, Dahiana. For Ana, the family is not determined by blood but by the beings that make up its nucleus of trust and support. So, her family is her daughter.

What was the easiest, and most difficult part of your job?

Nothing was easy in this project. The displacement was complex, especially with a suitcase full of expensive equipment in a city like Medellín. So, since it was not practical for me to wake up with them in each house, I was back and forth every day, and it was quite overwhelming. The biggest frustration was trying to find the families, explain my project over and over again to them, get a date, go there, and not have the door opened. Many times I went to the sector, and had to return empty handed.

Another drawback was also the light, achieving what I was looking for, scratching my head, listening to stories of sadness and injustice, enduring some uncomfortable situations, walking, and sweating a lot. I handled everything with calmness and love. I consider that I identify with the marginality's of my city, and injustices hurt me, and that makes me sensitive, and I can see the beauty that all this brings. So everything came together and I felt very justified the last time I went to visit them and brought them a printed newspaper that published the photos. I saw that some of them had some photos displayed in the corner of their house.

Torres Méndez family

Regina and Arturo live together with Regina's daughter, Sandra, and her 17 year old granddaughter Geraldín.

The peculiarity of this nucleus is that Arturo has a previous marriage from which 10 children, 40 grandchildren, and 36 great-grandchildren descend. They all love each other very much and enjoy living together whenever they meet.

Can you share some tips about how to work indoors?

I helped myself with these four fundamental things: Use the skylight or windows of each place; use a slow shutter speed (for which you must have very quick reflexes); I used high ISOS without fear but I understand how they behave when using them; and lastly, I use fixed optics with large apertures. With these technical requirements I made the whole series.

For the editing process, I used Lightroom, since I took all my photos in RAW, it is the correct way to take advantage of the benefits of your camera's sensor. In its interface I began to apply manual adjustments to finish the photo, which is not ready simply with the shot, you have to take it to a software, and finish it so that it really looks like something that was born and came out of your imagination.

Who are your references as a photographer?

Well, rather than following photographers I consider that I follow photographs.

I only have two photographers whom I have researched and have in mind every time I work. The first is the American Dorothea Lange. The first photo that I really analysed in my life is from her, and is called 'Migrant Mother'. From there, I consider that I discovered that I had sensitivity with the photographic image, and I wanted to start devouring images and dreamt of one day producing them. I love Dorothea's work, and I consult it and discover new things in it. The connection I have with her photos is indescribable. The second photographer was called Nereo López, a Colombian who I also discovered when I was not yet a photographer. I was looking at a magazine, and I found a report about it and it touched my soul, I ripped it out of the magazine, and I still have it. Years later, due to fate, I was able to meet him, and even take a photo with my cell phone, which until now is the best portrait I have ever done. Whenever I can I research Nereo because he is a fascinating photographer. Then, I look for images but I do not follow any other photographer with care. I admire images that impact me and reach my soul.

Cristian, could you please tell me what memory you keep of each family?

From Darío Quintero I think about being alone in old age. I wonder a lot about why he ends his days so lonely in an extremely small house.

From the Tuberquia family I have a feeling of strength, a woman almost my age who has so many children from different couples, who supports them alone. I am impressed to think about their aspirations for the future, and what I have in mind most when I think about them is that they are victims of a system as unequal as the Colombian one.

From the Rodríguez Montoya family I have a feeling of admiration. They are a same-sex couple with a very intelligent daughter, and all three have big thoughts in their heads. They are strong, smart and active. They have achieved their goals and continue with many more.

From the Hinestroza family I remember feeling that Ana wants to devour the world, and that she gives everything, absolutely everything, for her daughter. A very strong woman. She invited me to her daughter's first communion and I took her photos!

The Torres Méndez family loved the simplicity and coexistence in which they live their days. They are calm, they get together to talk, they are fun, and they joke all the time.

What comments did the families make to you on the day of the photo exhibition?

The families could not believe it since many of them did not expect to see themselves that way in the photos due to their shyness. The day of the exhibition I was able to take them to the photo gallery where they found a world unknown to them, and it was very gratifying to see them being the protagonists in front of more than 100 people who attended the first night. I received some comments thanking me and asking me why I had done something so nice to them if they didn't deserve it. The comments were both a surprise and appreciated. They enjoyed the night despite their shyness, and opened the doors of their homes to me again. In fact, I have not lost contact with them, because the one who is really grateful is me.

Cristian Hurtado, 2018

Audiovisual and Multimedia Communicator


English correction: Rebecca Brown

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