It’s no exaggeration to say that when we saw the work of Rydel Cerezo, a photographer based in Vancouver, we wondered if he’d applied to the Graduates by accident. His work, which investigates notions surrounding culture, race, religion, identity and sexuality, seemed far beyond that of a young practitioner emerging into the “real world” for the first time. We did some digging and bewilderingly, despite his mature themes and technical prowess, it checked out, solidifying this Emily Carr University graduate’s spot in the Graduates 2019.
Rydel was born in a city nestled in the mountains of the Philippines called Baguio, but at the age of ten he and his family moved to Vancouver, Canada. “Like most immigrant families my parents wanted a better future for their children,” Rydel tells It’s Nice That. It was six years later that he first picked up a camera, introducing him to a medium which entirely shaped his creative practice. With a bachelor’s in fine art photography from Emily Carr and a semester at Glasgow School of Art now under his belt, Rydel is a compelling photographer who utilises his camera to explore complex personal and universal themes. Not to mention to make beautiful images.
Heirs, a series of four portraits of young men astutely captures the typical masculine image of Americana, each image composed to mirror one another. It’s his series Am I a Sea which particularly caught our attention, however, and one which has seen the young photographer make waves (sorry) elsewhere too. Using his young brother as a stand-in for his younger self, the series thoughtfully explores his own relationship to the catholic church as a queer Filipino man, speaking to the experience of many through sensitive portraits and still lives.
It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study photography – what attracts you to it?
Rydel Cerezo: I’m impatient and highly sociable so photography suited my personality better. I was an avid painter and drawer before I picked up my father’s camera at the age of 16, which is probably the very reason why I was first attracted to photography because of its ease in comparison to painting and drawing. When I say ease, I mean how I didn’t need to start from either a blank canvas or paper to make an image. Rather, my surroundings were ready to be “pictured” and all that was left for me to do was think of the composition.
Evidently, that opinion has changed. Thinking about it now, perhaps that is what I am currently doing in my work, attempting to bring back in certain aspects of painting and drawing into my photography. Specifically and directly constructing staged circumstances, colours and compositions for me to “picture”.
Rydel Cerezo: Am I a Sea
Rydel Cerezo: Am I a Sea
INT: Who is a creative you admire or someone who has helped shape your practice?
RC: In my final year of Emily Carr University, I was under the instruction of two artists which I can say made a lasting impact on my practice – Birthe Piontek and Raymond Boisjoly. Raymond really challenged my thinking and making of, not only photographs, but art objects, additionally he made sure I was aware of the histories and contexts I was making them in. I also enjoy reading theoretical texts on race or queerness and find it important in informing my art-making and I could always rely on him to point me to the right one.
Birthe played a major role in the fruition of my series Am I a Sea – it was actually a project that began out of her class. At first, I really struggled in her class – it was quite a technically driven course. Each project had a set of parameters to abide by and I was very much used to the openness that Glasgow School of Art had me accustomed to. However, she’s an amazing instructor and artist who pushed me out of my comfort zone, and is the very reason why I’m no longer scared of using a large format camera. At the same time, we had long conversations that left me feeling validated and motivated.
“I’m negotiating religion, race and/or queerness”Rydel Cerezo
INT: Tell us about Am I a Sea?
RC: Am I a Sea is an autobiographical series exploring my relationship with Roman Catholicism as a queer Filipino man. I use my younger brother as a mirror to reflect the precariousness of my position in this unescapable relationship fraught with trauma and love provided by the institution and the home. It attempts to call upon the 333 years of western Spanish colonisation over the Philippines and imagine the consequences of intergenerational trauma within the Filipino body. The inability to escape is realised as a consequence of centuries of colonisation and familial inheritance.
I am interested in the history of the church that served as a tool involved in the colonial mission and now acts as a space for bodies to commune with one another in the diaspora.
There was a lot of mental planning for me before going into making this work. I did not just want to make pictures of the church, knowing full well how easily evocative religious imagery can be. At the same time, I did not want the iconography to overpower my personal voice which is vital to Am I a Sea. So I use my brother and Lola (“grandmother” in Tagalog) to achieve this goal, as they become stand-ins to represent my personal and paradoxical navigations of the family and the institution.
Rydel Cerezo: Am I a Sea
Rydel Cerezo: Am I a Sea
INT: Are there any recurring themes within your work? Or a visual language you feel is your signature?
RC: I like to say that I feel like Chris Pratt in the Jurassic World movie, specifically that one scene – or now, meme – where he spreads his arms out to keep the raptors from eating him. Although, instead of three flesh-eating dinosaurs, I’m negotiating religion, race and/or queerness. Sometimes I deal with one directly, or two at once but I’m always in some way in contact with all three.
A close friend of mine and writer, Angie Rico, once described my work as “tender confrontations” which I pleasantly identify with. I think what I like about this term is that I feel that I conceptually and visually approach spaces and people with a level of sensitivity. I think it’s important to recognise the complexity and nuances of bodies, institutions – and everything.
“I feel that I conceptually and visually approach spaces and people with a level of sensitivity”Rydel Cerezo
INT: What will you miss about university? And what are you happy to leave behind?
RC: I’ll really miss my friends. They are all very talented and driven women from majors apart from my own including industrial design, communication design, interaction design, painting, illustration, sculpture and film. Because of university, I now have a warm support system that I am very much inspired by. I also can’t forget to mention the studios, facilities, equipment and kind technicians I had access to.
I am very pleased to leave the only cafeteria we had on the campus behind. Food options were very limited and I think I can do without eating rice bowls and veggie bagels for a while now.
INT: Now that you’ve graduated, what do you hope to do? What would your dream project be?
RC: That’s such a daunting question, but to be purposefully vague and positive, something lasting. Anything can happen. All I know for sure is that I’ll be making work regardless. Other than that, I am very honoured to have been chosen as one of the 23 artists for this year’s Summer Open: Delirious Cities by Aperture Foundation which was shown in New York in August.
I would love to continue photographing families – mine and others’. It would be great to have access to particular families that I wouldn’t have normally. I think that’s what keeps me compelled in making work – to insert myself into histories and spaces I would not easily exist in.
Rydel Cerezo: Heirs
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About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.