Dark and tonal, Carlos Jaramillo’s new work sees the end of a two-year long creative hiatus

After being diagnosed with cancer and working through the pandemic’s many hurdles, the photographer has broken his creative slump with a new zine, Roc.

15 January 2021

In 2016, Carlos Jaramillo traveled to Cuba for the first time. During this trip he captured the pigeon racing community, revealing a different side of Cuba to what he’d initially imagined. He returned to Cuba three more times to expand on the project, before beginning a further series exploring two prisons based in Lima, Peru, and the surrounding towns. Yet to be released, he’s also been working with a publishing company focusing on human rights, inmate advocacy and the arts. “So, it feels like a very exciting merger of my work with important issues,” he tells It’s Nice That.

Nearly five years have passed since we last had an update from Carlos. Lots has changed, and one momentous shift is that he was diagnosed with cancer in January 2019. He needed surgery almost immediately, which threw him off “creatively and mentally” and differed all of his plans to release the work he’d made throughout the year. Then, creativity started to spark, and another hurdle was thrown his way; the pandemic hit. “Needless to say, the past two years have been rough – point blank – but it did bud this project unexpectedly.”

The project at hand is a new zine called Roc. Continuing his adoration for the more formal and quieter moments, it’s a more refined and matured take on his previous works. Within the title, he’s paid more attention to creating photographic studies and scenarios, adding in conceptual elements and still lives along the way. A sweeping contrast to his previous flash-lit, snapshot style of work in Cuba Pigeon, it’s a speculative and finely executed series that represents a shift in attitude and circumstance from the photographer.


Carlos Jaramillo: Roc. (Copyright © Carlos Jaramillo, 2021)

Roc was created during the beginning of quarantine, while Carlos was still living in Rockaway Beach, New York, in early 2020. “After dealing with cancer in 2019, I had gone through a major creative slump and had almost no desire or motivation to focus on my work,” he says. “I spent almost two months on my back healing from surgery during the winter, and my wife was the one there taking care of me at the worst time of my life.” At the end of 2019, he’d begun work on a book – the one that was halted due to the influx of Covid-19 – so Carlos was feeling somewhat stunted to proceed with his creative process. “Out of boredom, I decided to leave my camera out on my coffee table, so if I ever felt tempted to shoot a picture inside my home or go on a beach walk it was easily available, without barrier or pressure.” A light had sparked when Selenas Mountain gallery asked him to conduct aa Zoom artist talk on the topic of his projects, which included this new set of images taken over quarantine. This gave Carlos the drive he needed to continue making work, and the “long, meditative photographic walks” needed to do so.

In this sense, the series is described as more of a catalogue on Rockaway and the feelings that he’d felt during this time of healing. “Rockaway is a very interesting, diverse, small community, and I wanted to also show as much of that as possible through these photographs.” Commonly referred to as The Rockaways, the peninsula is in some parts isolated from Manhattan and more central points of the city, and is a place that became a popular summer destination in the 1930s. Carlos decided to name his series Roc, which is a title that comes from a bodega called ‘Roc Market’ in the area, which he always thought was a random way to shorten the name – but equally an interesting one.

The zine itself has a very tonal depiction of his surroundings. He’d picked up a point-and-shoot film camera for the first time in six years to use on this project, proving reminiscent of his early years shooting with friends skateboarding. A cheaper developing process meant the outcome was hazy with a typical film aesthetic, which sees pockets of light and summoning glows protrude throughout his stark and beautiful black and white imagery. Far from cliché, there’s an image of his wife holding their cat – one of the first images he’d taken post-hiatus – that signifies a time of vulnerability to the world and of his own accord. The fish on a string is also a personal favourite (of ours too), and reminds him of his previous pigeon photos in its composition, “even in the way that the fish opens up its fins like it has wings”. There are also other photos of birds, seemingly a topic that Carlos can’t escape.

Overall, Roc represents a tumultuous time for Carlos and for the world. Its moodier tones nod to a time of darkness, yet at the same time evoke a sense of hope and change. “I hope people are excited to see something new from me,” Carlos concludes, “it’s been a few years since I’ve released new work without explanation.” Opting out of including text discussing his cancer for not wanting his audience to pity him, instead there’s a small poem talking about his relationship with the subject. He hopes that you will like it for what it is, and we certainly do.

GalleryCarlos Jaramillo: Roc. (Copyright © Carlos Jaramillo, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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