November 6, 2015

photography by RUVEN AFANADOR
Interview by ANDREW BASILE

Andrew Basile: You’re the embodiment of Latin American heritage, and your work exudes Spanish roots.

Ruven Afanador: Many memories of my childhood are a great inspiration, particularly the pageantry of the religious rituals in Colombia, where I grew up. Also, the beauty pageants and the passion all the people had for them.

AB: Your images are either saturated with color or grounded in black and white; they’re lush and opulent or starkly centered on one dramatic figure.

Opulence is a very important part of my work, but I find great opulence and drama in a stark and minimal photograph.

RA: Contrasts are beautiful; I like to translate that into my photography. Opulence is a very important part of my work, but I find great opulence and drama in a stark and minimal photograph.

 

AB: Your photos imply surreal stories, like movie stills.

RA: I would love to do a feature film, but movies and videos have to happen naturally; I don’t force it. One day I hope to do a great film that embodies everything my images have tried to capture.

AB: Like Fellini and Almodóvar, you photograph characters: men exude machismo, women are forceful. Yet you challenge the very definition of gender. How do you get a man to wear a skirt or a woman to don a mustache?

I create an environment for people to realize they are part of a special, creative moment. I love ambiguity and exploring dualities; it makes for arresting images.

RA: The moment of seduction is important and I rarely get turned down. It’s all in how you ask. You create an environment for people to realize they are part of a special, creative moment. I love ambiguity and exploring dualities; it makes for arresting images.

AB: Individual objects inhabit your work: a fan, a hair comb, a cape, a mantilla. What item most excites you?

RA: A stark black chair; I can photograph a chair forever. I also love a simple wood table. These will always be parts of my visual language.

AB: Tell us about your photography collection.

RA: Collecting is what I love most; being surrounded by photographs that inspired me when I was very young. I love to stare at them as I go from room to room at home or in my office. I love the process of acquiring a photo at an auction or gallery. I love the idea of an exhibition of all the ones I’ve collected; in them lives all that has inspired me.

AB: Do any current photographers interest you?

RA: Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh, Annie Leibovitz and Bruce Weber inspire me; I have tremendous respect for all they have accomplished.

AB: Who would you pull from the past for a photoshoot?

RA: Adam – the first man.

AB: Who inspires you?

RA: My partner Edward Bess. I love Picasso and Caravaggio, Adele and Eartha Kitt, Sofia Coppola and Christopher Nolan.

AB: How long does it take to produce a book?

RA: I took six trips to the south of Spain and spent three years shooting and editing my last book.

AB: When do you know you have the shot?

RA: I just know. My rule is, a good idea or concept should happen right away. Sometimes it takes a few minutes but I like it to happen fast. I don’t like to overwork the process.

AB: You explored your culture through the bullring in Torero, male sensuality in Sombra, the mystery of the mantilla in Mil Besos and now the dance of Flamenco in Ángel Gitano: The Men of Flamenco. Where do you go from here?

RA: My eye will continue to explore and travel to passionate themes that will always involve my Latin American inspirations and dreams.