For ECAL photography graduate Karla Hiraldo Voleau an artistic series with narrative at the heart is the key element she looks for in the medium, as well as in her own practice. It was while studying for her masters that Karla fully understood the worth of “a narrative type of photography, an intimate one, and sometimes even a voyeuristic one,” as she explored works “where you can feel like you are with the artist along a project, where you can project yourself in her/his shoes and feel close to the subject".
While at the prestigious art school in Lausanne, Karla took full advantage of being able to research artistic approaches. From looking at the situationist movement, to the works of Vito Acconci, the photographer “became so interested in this ‘performative photography’ that she did a thesis on the concept and began her astonishingly intimate diploma project, Hola Mi Amol.
To get the feel for Karla’s photographic stance behind the lens while composing Hola Mi Amol “you need a few contextual elements,” she explains. Karla is half-Dominican and half-French; and while she didn’t grow up in the Dominican Republic, “I did grow up in a mixed family,” the photographer continues. When visiting the Dominican Republic, Karla often feels she gets treated as a tourist, “and not as a local, especially by men,” in an environment where “men are such a present figure of the daily life there. Seduction, sexuality, virility, masculinity, are intense, at least that’s how I perceive it. I knew I wanted to work around that, about the Dominican men.”
Hola Mi Amoli follows on thematically from the photographer’s previous projects where she started “to develop an interest in the different relationship mechanisms between men and women, and the manipulation or seduction games that come with it,” Karla explains. Spending time in the Dominican Republic with this subject burrowing away in her mind, the photographer began to pay more attention to how men behaved towards her, noticing how there were many mixed couples, often Dominican men with foreign women. “Being considered a tourist, I just started to imagine myself as one".
Spending time in touristic areas, Karla began staring. “I wanted to stare at those who stare most — the men.” In the parts of town where “old, young, married or single” female tourists from Russia, Germany, France or Canada were visiting, she “just had the urge to suddenly stare at the men [who were staring at the female tourists] all the time,” she tells us.
While photographing the male subjects who feature in Hola Mi Amol, many questions were raised in Karla’s mind around the act of men lensed by women. “It’s still something rare to see men pictured by women,” she says. “I wanted to do that, sincerely, openly, and therefore explore questions of objectification: am I objectifying the men? Am I allowed?” When asking herself these questions, questions that the project should provoke also came up too, specifically around “the hyper-sexualisation of Black and Latino men”.
The series and subsequent book follows the lives of different men as Karla observes and tries to engage with them. “Eventually, you see a few naked shots, but you never really know how far the relationships went, and if it was staged or not,” relating back to the photographer’s initial thoughts on a performative photography practice. “This is something I try to do along the whole book, I lead you on to imagine certain things, but I actually never try to tell you ‘this is what really happened’.” It’s also actually true as Karla found herself becoming “the persona I was pretending to be” explaining that it would have been impossible to script the trip and so “accidents, meetings and feelings just sort of happened. I ended up at a witch’s and also I fell in love… I ended up at that cross point between reality and the art project.”
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