Photographer Kevin Serna’s series La Presa explores his relationship with his dad by capturing the Mexican town Presa de los Sernas, where he grew up before he emigrated to the USA in the late 70s. “La Presa is a mountain town that sits just inside the border of Aguascalientes in Mexico, and is named after my family who settled there about 150 years ago,” explains Kevin. “In almost all of the images my father is beside me acting as a fixer of sorts, connecting me with the people and places from his childhood as well as family members I didn’t know I had.”
The series mainly consists of images taken during a week-long celebration of San Jose, the Father of Jesus, which Kevin felt “drew interesting parallels to this work”. It provided a wealth of colour, and throughout this series warm shades of orange, yellow and green can be found. “I wanted the colours to reflect the ambience of the town which is brightly coloured, but immersed in muted and dusty browns,” says Kevin.
“In terms of my approach, I usually describe myself as a reactive photographer. I’m big on meditation and feel like making photographs can be very meditative as you have to be so attentive to the present and ready to react while shooting to avoid missing anything,” explains Kevin. “In the same way, I try not to think too hard while shooting and trust my instincts. When I look back on the images in the editing room, the ideas and visual narratives always present themselves.”
For La Presa Kevin looked for “moments that reminded me of my dad”, and that manifested itself through people, gestures and the landscape. “I was also looking to tell the story of this place, its values and way of life that I felt were indicative of my dad and our relationship.” Telling these stories wasn’t always as smooth as Kevin would like though with the distance and language barrier being his main challenges during the project. “I don’t speak Spanish perfectly and it can be tough trying to connect with your subjects and get them to relax if they don’t fully understand you,” he explains.
From working on this project, Kevin feels he now understands the distance that was unconsciously between him and his father when growing up. “It wasn’t a language barrier, but more of a value barrier that I began to understand was at the heart of an odd divide between us,” explains Kevin. “There was also a cultural history that we just didn’t share from growing up in the same country or with the same mother tongue.”
Initially the project started as a visual exercise during Kevin’s first trip with a camera in 2010. “But after asking my Dad to show me around and tell me more about this place he came from, I started to see a different side of him that I hadn’t before. He was more engaged and proud. I could sense we were bonding on a level that we hadn’t before as he led me into his world,” Kevin explains. “When I got the negatives back and looked at the contact sheets there was a sentimental value to the photographs that I did not expect, and I knew this was something I had to continue. Many photographs from that original trip have even made it to the final edit.”
This intimacy and personality is present throughout the series and offers a deeper insight into the town. Along with a physical passage to an unfamiliar place, Kevin’s project also conveys the journey of getting to know someone close to you, encompassing “the anxiety, the fear, the happiness and the beauty of new understandings”.
About the Author
Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.