Vanichi Magazine goes in-depth with Guatemalan photographer Eny Roland Hernández.

Based in Guatemala, photographer Eny Roland Hernández knows how to make imagery leave an impression. He possesses the ability to present themes in and out of context, and to create a seamless blend between the quotidian and the inner thoughts or larger backstories that lurk behind. His singular style of portraits are both alluring and thought provoking. Whether it’s a photograph in a day-to-day setting full of detail or a black and white picture with much left unseen, his work is captivating and worthy of closer inspection.

[divider]Q + A[/divider]

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VM: When did you discover photography?

ERH: It was really late… I was an accountant, studying to be an auditor, which is what my parents wanted. I, however, didn’t like it, so I changed careers. I began studying Systems and started working in a bank in the IT department. But then, well… I didn’t like that either, so I opted for Communication Sciences. It had a lot more to do with creativity, and that was something that had always drawn my attention. I was 23 at the time. I think of myself as self-taught. When I started getting into photography, the only place to study was the Club Fotográfico de Guatemala. However, if you didn’t have an expensive or high-tech camera at the Club, you were looked down on, and for someone that was just starting in on photography that was not very easy.

Around that time, digital cameras began to gain popularity, and I started experimenting on my own in college. One of my college professors was very enthusiastic in his classes, and he always told us that one could actually make a living of photography. He used to say that everything that is sold around us has an image, and that those images were paid for. I realized I could actually be working at something I enjoyed, so I quit my job. There was a yearly expo called Foto30. I remember an awesome course which was given by a Mexican curator about landscapes. It was there that I first learned about conceptual landscapes in photography; that they are not necessarily just lakes and Instagram type landscapes, but can use landscapes to express other things that are not as aesthetic, or “pretty.” I saw that I could use this to really express myself. That’s when I really found myself in photography and began experimenting on my own.

VM: You work with color photography as well as in black and white. How do those aspects play out in your work?

ERH: I started with regular pictures, Kodak 35. Then I began with digital, but still in color. It was till later that I began doing black and white. I have worked with urban photography, journalism photography, fashion, portrait, and product photography. What I’ve liked the most is doing portraits because I feel that is where I can express myself the most. I work with two major lines of photography: urban and gallery. The Urban line is the one which I work mostly in black and white. Since I work with printouts and photocopies of my work, it was more feasible.

My first expo was practically set up for me. I had submitted some work to a project and they decided to present it. I had no idea of how to go about arranging cocktails, dates, Passe-Partout… nothing. The pictures I presented on that occasion were about the Guatemala downtown area, which was close to where I had grown up. Looking back, though, I feel I’ve moved on from that kind of work. Back then I was still too focused in the aesthetic. But that expo was a huge help to get started. After that, I couldn’t wait a whole year for the next one! So, I got organized with some friends -photographers, illustrators, painters, graphic designers- and we began mounting expos in some small galleries. Working together minimized costs, and by the time the next big expo came around I would already have at least five good, well-worked pictures.

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VM: You mentioned your parents had certain expectations for you and that times at the beginning were a little unstable… How did you decide to fight to do what you love?

ERH: While both of those things were difficult, the hardest part for me was getting out of my comfort zone, really. I had a stable job at the bank, I would go to work Monday through Friday. Every week I’d be hoping Friday would come faster and dreading Monday’s return. But, in the end, it was still a comfort zone. I had bought a car, could pay for my things, and was, after all, comfortable. I was fearful of leaving that behind. I had practically been raised to follow a normal life pattern: study, graduate, get a job, buy a house, and retire 30 years later… Leaving that concept was hard. I had been working at the bank for seven years when I decided to leave, and when I quit, I wasn’t given a severance. Jumping into a field I didn’t know well and stepping out of my comfort zone was my biggest challenge. Looking back, however, I wouldn’t change anything. I have gained a state of calm and spirituality. Now, Mondays come as if they were a Wednesday or a Saturday, and that is just perfect.

VM: What inspires you?

ERH: Naturally I believe I base my work a lot on my childhood experiences. Also, I have a lot of influence from religion, the Catholic Church specifically. I like to blend things together like Pop culture, religion, sensuality and sexuality, which are themes that move me. Sometimes I may see a painting or a picture I like and I am interested in the lighting or some other aspect that will inspire me. It’s not that I actually see things and aim at producing something similar, but mostly the inspiration. All things pop or kitsch, color or black-and-white call my attention.

VM: What projects are you working on at the moment?

ERH: Well, I practically have the following six months booked. Before, I used to do anything and everything I could. If I had an invitation to do some project, I’d jump on it regardless. I would do it even if only just for the experience. Now I have the time to plan more, and dedicate more time to developing each theme, and refresh my previous work. I’ve learned that not everything has to be new. For instance, if there’s this one picture back from 2010 that I like, and I present it, many people that didn’t know about me nor about my work back then will be able to appreciate it. I can renew, and in some way, bring those pictures back to life while at the same time I am creating new things and more specific themes. This is why I have decided to set up a once-a-year personal expo, which is coming up mid-April.

VM: Is your work driven by personal pleasure or a desire to convey messages to the public?

ERH: I think there has to be a mixture of both. For one thing, Guatemala needs to have a reference of photographers. I would love to be able to make a precedent and lay groundwork for others to come and do it better. Maybe someone will say in 20 or 30 years, “Back in 2016 they used do so and so…” I love to work with themes that have a relevant message right now. Even when I am not working around a very clear or specific message, I like to cause a bit of a shock. Have something in the aesthetics, or lack of, cause an impression. I don’t try to follow the traditional norm in my style photography. I want my photographs to be more spontaneous, with no rules. I want to be of some inspiration to others. And if someone doesn’t like my work, at least have it be thought provoking, and make them wonder.
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VM: What can you share with us about your most recent work?

ERH: There are two projects I have done recently. One is called “Cuarto oscuro” (Darkroom), which is really a play on words. It can refer to a darkroom as it is known in photography, and also to a darkened room sometimes found in nightclubs or gay nightclubs; besides, the pictures themselves are black-and-white taken in a dark room with a pitch-black background. The theme was the taboo of the male body as on object of desire, fetish, and also masculinity. Something I liked about the project was the duality that the pictures had. For one thing, they were exhibited in high-end galleries, and very cultural places where they could be admired and appreciated openly. However, they were also put on display in a darkroom of a gay discotheque, which can be a very gritty place and where anonymity is usually sought out. In this latter scenario the pictures had to be seen using only the glow of a cell-phone screen. They were naturally damaged by moisture and other happenings that occur in a darkroom, some fell to the floor and were trampled, but later, when they were taken out, I considered they had even more depth.

The other recent project is called “Alienación” (Alienation). I looked for a situation where western culture, the US specifically, had influenced the local customs. The “Convite” in the department of Totonicapán, was a perfect example. Originally this festival, and its parade, used to mock local personalities from the town. They would parade dressed in a costume as someone from the locality, say… the lady who makes the tortillas, or the town drunkard, some local politician, or other. Later, though, with widespread cable television availability and internet access, the characters began to change. They no longer represented the locals, but began to be mainstream characters from the media. Thus, the tradition is no longer something authentically Guatemalan as it used to be, because the original local characters have been displaced, alienated, by the influence of western culture. Instead of taking the pictures at the actual parade, I decided to take them in every day scenarios to emphasize the theme of alienation.

VM: What thought would you like to leave us with?

ERH: I enjoy taking photographs and experimenting with things that are very close to home for me, things that are from Guatemalan culture, or things that will cause an impact. With my work I feel free to express myself. I can say that I like something, or just show contrasts which is what these two projects I mentioned showcase.