Documentary photography, an Art among Arts…

Interview with photographer Arien Chang

/ 1 March, 2018

Arien Chang is an artist who started in a darkroom, surrounded by rolls, with no academic training, looking for the imaginary and for the way to appropriate and contextualize the photographic image. Throughout almost fifteen years of work, aesthetic soundness and shrewd vision have made of him one of the most eye– catching Cuban photographers on the contemporary visual scene. Successor of great traditions (…) he has become a leader of street photography, and the portrait of everyday actions and characters.

The city, its dynamics and dwellers, march with natural steps before a skillful viewfinder. (…) Fixed in the documentary and the photographic essay style, from black and white to colored pictures, Chang captures gestures, expressions, locations, all as common as unlikely (…)

Chang is an artist without being an artist, a precursor of a generational style, and today he opens this dialogue from the practice of his seasoned speech.

First years in photography

I started in 2003 (…) I took a two-month course (…) I was working with rolls, in black and white (…). I had no specific themes (…) I was interested in documentary work. I knew important maestros (…).

The intrinsic relationship with the city
I was born in Habana Vieja (Old Havana), in Monte Street, in Jesús María neighborhood, a hectic area. I did not have to go far to find what I wanted. I just had to walk (…)

(…) Ethics behind the lens

(…) You need to be cold minded in photography. The more professional and focused you are while taking a picture, the better the result. It’s difficult, but it comes with practice.

A black and white or a colored vision
Due to ignorance, I used to think that black and white photos had more impact. (…) I realized it was an excuse and I started learning about color photos and their complexity (…)

Banality of images
Cuba is a very photogenic country (…) In Cuba we get dazzled, photographers take many pictures and all of a sudden they publish a book; however they are missing the Cuban essence, the idiosyncrasy. You have to live in Cuba to understand the country.

(…) An art among arts…
I do not consider myself an artist, but I try to do art with my work. Documentary photography is made out of real life, it is a challenge (…) I am attracted by the plasticity of the images (…) A camera is a very powerful tool. It is not only about freezing time, a testimony, the history of different countries, of different societies, of every culture.

Grethel Morell Otero

Historian of Cuban photography, curator and art critic. She is author of the books Otras Historias de la Fotografía Cubana (Other Histories of Cuban Photography) and Damas, Esfinges y Mambisas: La Mujer en la Fotografía cubana desde el siglo xix (Ladies, Sphinxes and Warriors: Women in Cuban Photography since the 19th century). Co-curator of the exhibitions The Lost Gaze, Cuba 1970-1984 and Small Maneuvers: Cuban Contemporary Photography.

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