Interview – June Canedo
Three words could instantly come to mind when looking through the work of June Canedo: sexuality, freedom, nature. This interview is the result of a Skype conversation we had a few weeks back, when June spoke freely of her experiences and how they have influenced her work. Her perspective is indeed connected to a broad sense of identity and accepting of how art can be multi-dimensional and ever-changing. Images finally become the most perfect devices, capable of disclosing a certain power that could influence the research of veracity on our visual imagery.
Your images, from personal projects such as Brazilian Girls to your fashion work, express a sense of curiosity for human beings. What makes you so attracted to people and why are they usually your subject matter?
I think it ties back to my upbringing. My mom is one of fourteen so I have a lot of family. We all grew up at my grandmothers too so I have been exposed to crazy human behavior since I can remember. We grew up really poor and only really had each other for entertainment. I ended up having to watch a lot of people do crazy shit for the majority of my childhood.
My parents were also illegal immigrants until I was 21 (originally from Brasil) and when they moved us to South Carolina I got a pretty solid taste of what it’s like to be the ‘other’. For the first few years in America I was definitely on the outside looking in. Racism there is almost surreal; I remember getting beaten up by a group of girls when I first arrived in the US, who circled me on the street and spat on me while calling me Mexican. I just remember thinking, “you guys must have the wrong person because I’m not Mexican.”
It seems you have decided that photography can be another way to connect with people. When did you decide on the camera and why?
I got a liberal arts education where I was first introduced to all forms of art making. I focused on painting and philosophy back then. I remember being pretty intimidated by the camera in college, probably because the boys I knew made it very much a guy thing. Plus, I was taking so many classes that I couldn’t really focus on one thing. This was the first time I studied politics, psychology, religion, gender studies, economics, etc. But I always enjoyed taking photos and I took my time with everything else before I committed. I felt a pretty powerful connection to the camera when I decided though.
What do you mean by ‘powerful’? Also, do you ever consider the political power of photography when you work?
I think photography can definitely have the power to either keep the subject completely distant from the viewer or it can have the capacity to make the subject relatable and in some ways like everyone else.
Let’s talk about Brazil for example: when people talk about photographs taken in Brazil, favelas or Victoria’s Secret models are usually what people think of. Yes, growing up in Brazil we were poor as shit, but we had some fun too. But people aren’t used to seeing images (for example) of poor people enjoying themselves. Keeping people categorised separately and in boxes can be a comfortable way of seeing the world. I think using photography as a means of breaking down stereotypes can definitely turn political.
What about fashion photography then? How did you get involved in fashion?
My fashion work has been some of my most challenging work simply because of the people. I get talked into doing shoots because I have a lot of friends who are stylists. I emphasize that I only shoot film at all of the meetings, but fashion people don’t listen; they always have a very specific agenda. I always end up having to have those shitty conversations when the photos come out like, “no I can’t make that sharper, or, no I can’t make that a different colour.” I don’t retouch and my graphic design skills are so bad. I look at the mood-board once and then show up and do what I want. That’s the only way I can continue to do fashion. It means I have to do a lot of explaining in the end, but I honestly don’t care. I think my work always comes out more interesting if I don’t look at images of someone else’s work before I shoot. I think one of the few exciting things about doing those shoots is getting to choose the model.
Yesterday I saw a painting by Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx. Often, when viewing such work, we consider its representation as well. Do you consider your work representative of any specific meaning? The fact that you often photograph women, for example. Does that have any specific significance?
Perhaps, but it really isn’t until I start talking about my work with other people that I consider what it represents. For example, equal opportunity for women and minorities is an important subject for me so I think that reoccurs in my work.
Representing women honestly is also important to me. Most women that I photograph don’t like the photos I take of them. I shoot them from ‘non-flattering angles’ and I think it still makes people really uncomfortable to see themselves not represented ideally in photographs. That in itself speaks volumes to how much hasn’t changed. I often photograph women that way because I believe that we have to seriously stop comparing ourselves to fairies and princesses so that the rest of world can stop too.
You work a lot in contrast too. For example, your photographs are both light and dark, and your subjects range from children to older people. Can you tell me more about your technique and/or approach? What happens before and after the shooting of a picture?
I’ve seen a lot of extremes in my short 26 years. The lower American class in the South went from having a little money and zero access to culture to making tons of money during the credit boom in the early 2000’s and being exposed to the rest of the world via the internet. My friends went from living with their grandparents to driving Range Rovers (on-credit, of course), and then back in with their grandparents when the economy crashed.
Growing up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was really hectic. This was a city that catered to tourism year around as well so it was like living in a 24hr amusement park / freak show. I guess this speaks to just one aspect of my world view, but it serves as an example to how much contrast I have seen. As for technique, I don’t have any. I use one manual analogue camera… and that’s it. This means that sometimes the photos end up dark and sometimes they end up light. I do always have a sense of what I want from an image, but I like being surprised when I get the film back as well.
Could you refer to a book or a piece of artwork that has inspired you?
I remember the first time that I saw Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. That blew my mind. If I look through my work I feel like I can still see how much that image continues to influence me.
Is there a photographer or a particular approach to photography that you would say had a specific impact on your work?
Rineke Dijkstra. Her work is incredible.
You have lived in so many places. How does this influence your work?
I try to always have a ticket booked at least six months in advance. By the time I am scheduled to go on the trip I am usually not ready to go or in the middle of something important, but I get on the plane anyway. I used to book one way tickets a lot, that’s how I’ve ended up living all over. My biggest fear is getting stuck in a bubble somewhere. I spend all of my salary travelling, truly. It’s bigger than myself. I feel so small and inadequate when I travel. It influences my work because it brings me closer to reality too.
I know that what I am doing is insignificant when I consider how much fucked up / more important shit is happening in the world. Travelling means I get to see new people and hear their ideas and it gives me the courage to make work because I want to and not because it will end up being important.
What about New York? Do you think your time in this city is having a particular influence on your work and your approach to creativity?
There is something really special happening in New York at the moment. I’ve met some incredible people who I continue to collaborate with and who share a similar vision. They don’t hold themselves back because something isn’t aesthetically correct and I feel the same about photography. Because we continue to make work despite of whether some indie magazine doesn’t think it fits with all of their other content is breeding a lot of creativity here. These relationships are making it tough to leave New York, but I’m getting the itch. I can feel it coming and will most likely leave impulsively sometime soon.
What’s in-store in your future? Where do you see yourself in the world?
I am going to devote the next two to three years to some large scale projects on immigration, the public school system in the South and abortion rights in America. I am also in need of more space than New York can offer me right now. I need the freedom to work out of a darkroom when I want and it’s almost impossible to have that in New York anymore. I think I am going to make my way to Los Angeles soon. The weather is chill, the people are weird and you can still find space there.
Interview by Eleonora Angiolini / Published 6 November 2015