Denisse Ariana Pérez captures the universality of water in her debut photo book, Agua
The photographer’s highly anticipated first photo book has been two years in the making and is “without a doubt, the most defining years of my life thus far.”
- Jyni Ong
- 8 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
In August last year, we were lucky enough to have a sneak peak into a dazzling new book by the Barcelona-based photographer Denisse Ariana Pérez. She showed us exclusive images from her new book Agua, her first photo book highlighting two significant themes throughout her practice: water and masculinity. Released today and published by Guest Editions, Agua creates a space for the photographer to display the beauty she sees in others. Two years in the making, the photographer takes us round Uganda, Senegal and Denmark; the photographic journey started with a gut feeling. She tells It’s Nice That: “Sometimes it is hard to fully understand the abstract messages our guts send us, the only thing I am certain of is that I need to follow these messages.”
She sees them more like “wise hints”, and this one in particular led her to water, driving a need to simply be in its presence. Born and raised in the Caribbean, Denisse is no stranger to the liquid state, but didn’t feel a profound connection to it until approximately three years ago when a spiritual awakening of sorts led her to “revolutionise the way I approach my work.” In short, this turning point centred around a photography practice which brings her closer to “people and communities, to human bonds and nature.” In the presence of water specifically, she found a new way to align with her inner self and thought about a way of bringing a similar feeling to others. In time, the project became about momentary liberation through depictions of water and masculinity and eventually, Agua was born.
The journey began in East Africa in 2019 and was intended to finish in South East Asia, when the pandemic hit. As an alternative, she finished it in Denmark, which turned out to be “a blessing in disguise” due to the ethereal explorations of Nordic waters. It turned out to be a fortuitous “perfect ending”, a pilgrimage from the south to the very north. Denisse wanted her subjects “to feel as universal as water itself,” documenting a variety of people including people of colour, people living with albinism, dancers, duos, best friends and sisters. The subjects interact with water in a variety of ways, helped by the fact water is symbolic of a range of experiences and can be used to hint to such in different photographic compositions. “I think of water as the perfect stage, the perfect backdrop, not only aesthetically but psychologically and energetically,” Denisse adds. “Water can be gentle or forceful, and if you let it, it will propel you to forget about where you are, who you are supposed to be and hope you should pose or present yourself, it can be quite liberating and meditative.”
The more Denisse has immersed herself in this experience, it is the process that has become more significant than the final outcome. Agua has seen her capture water in many forms, from crystalline lagunes to tiny urban ponds to droughts. Where there has been an abundance of water, she has also seen a lack of it. For instance, Denisse has seen the plastic pollution on Lake Victoria first hand, and spent hours looking for a creek in the midst of a Tanzanian drought. A percentage of the book’s proceeds will be donated to an organisation, Face Africa, working to provide access to clean water across Africa, and she hopes the book acts as a reminder that water is not only a great source of inspiration but it also a gift, a responsibility and something to be preserved.
All the images in the book are important in their own respect but there are two which are particularly resolute which Denisse talks us through now. “I always find something new when looking at those images, they make me feel something and I think that is the most powerful thing an image can do,” she says. Both covers toeing the line between strength and vulnerability, the first shows two men and a white horse in Senegal. Coincidentally, the night before Denisse took this photo, she dreamt of a white horse standing by water. And in what felt like a coming together of magical forces, when Denisse saw “two of the most beautiful people to photograph” standing next to the white horse, playing their drums and dancing and chanting, she decided to join them before taking the photographs in what turned out to be “one of those days I could easily refer to as a perfect day.”
Alternatively, the other cover shows a woman floating on a limestone quarry in Denmark. The subject is someone close to Denisse, a “wise and incredible yoga teacher” who has also deepened her relationship with water. “It all felt meant to be,” she says, “she was in her element.” The final image has the silky smooth finish of a seamlessly lit photograph while being painterly in its rich tonal qualities. For Denisse, someone with vast amounts of experience in the medium, this creative bridge between the two is rare. She concludes: “to feel like [a photo] manages to capture more than an expression but a person’s essence of soul. I feel that way about that image, that it is the exact illustration of how I see her soul.”
GalleryDenisse Ariana Pérez: Agua (Copyright © Denisse Ariana Pérez, 2021)
Denisse Ariana Pérez: Agua (Copyright © Denisse Ariana Pérez, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.