Melancholy & Photography: A Conversation with Mateo Arciniegas

By Nabila Brache

Melancholy & Photography: A Conversation with Mateo Arciniegas

Stumbling upon Mateo's profile on Instagram has led us to learn about a photographer conveying his emotions on immigration, life, and his experiences. In our conversation, we address his series "Olvido Pa' Recordar" which is about his emotional journey of visiting his native country, Colombia after many years living in the US. We also cover how he hopes to challenge traditional views in order to get a conversation of acceptance and love going within the Colombian and Latin Americanx community. 

NABILA BRACHE: You’ve been at different fashion shows documenting what takes place backstage and during the runway. What has this experience been like for you? Is fashion photography one of your main interests?

MATEO ARCINIEGAS: It’s been a great experience, I really enjoy the “hecticness” of it all, the pressure of delivering great content in very limited time keeps me engaged and in my toes. Also meeting different people in the industry and seeing them working so hard towards a common goal is very appealing to me. There is so much running around that when the show is over, it's great to see everyone happy!

Yes, definitely fashion photography is one of my main interests, it was one of my first interests in photography. I really love how it can come together with my other work. As a photographer, I’m constantly thinking of ways to complement fashion, personal, and editorial work into one big body of work.

Maryam Nassir Zadeh x Make Beauty Backstage

NB: What do you find most interesting in a subject? Why?

MA: I’m very drawn to the true form of a subject, I like to get to know whatever subject I’m working with on a deeper and humane level, and to a certain extent creating an emotional/personal connection. As a photographer, I’m very attracted to the usage of color and shapes, when approaching a subject that is one of the first attention-grabbers. Whether it's working with a model for a fashion story or traveling around Colombia, color, and shape are an important tool to convey a feeling or a thought into a story.  

Olvido Para Recordar

NB: You began traveling back to Colombia to rediscover your country and find connections to it, yet found that you weren’t the person you were when you left. The series “Olvido Pa’ Recordar” came from this. How do these images show your personal journey of moving to Colombia to New York?

MA: Olvido Pa’ Recordar started three years ago when I went back to Colombia after seven years away. At first, I felt like I never left. I thought everything was still going to be the same, but as I “re-explore” Bogota (my hometown) and traveled the country, I quickly discovered that everything changed a lot, time is something that you can’t cheat. The feeling of not belonging, feeling strange in my country was something that struck me deeply, which ultimately transitioned into a mix of emotions; sadness and loneliness which I convey in the images of this series. a feeling of “knowing but not knowing” where I was. Seeing sometimes a foreigner is something that I will continue to challenge, I will continue to work on this series as I reclaim my life in Colombia. There is still much more I need to discover until I find that meeting point where the 15-year-old Mateo that left his life behind meets with the present day Mateo. Olvido Pa’ Recordar is therapy for me, it is a way to come to terms with life.

From Olvido Pa' Recordar Series 

NB: Tattoos interest you a lot. How do you relate to tattoos and photography?

MA: I’m a very melancholic person interested in people’s stories and traditions. Tattooing is one of these great traditions that have been with us for many years, the constant evolution that tattooing goes through along with its mysticism interests me a lot. I love walking around New York stopping older people with traditional tattoos to hear about their 40-60-year-old stories about how they got those tattoos. Those stories are so foreign and distant for us now that with photography I find a way to link and present them with the beautiful imagery and craftsmanship of tattooing.

NB: In your opinion, what details make the best photographs?

MA: I believe the best photographs are those that provoke something in you, whether it's emotion, a thought, a feeling, making you comfortable or uncomfortable for whatever reason. I think a photo is successful when after you look at it, that initial reaction sticks with you. 

From Olvido Pa' Recordar Series

NB: What photographers have influenced you and how have they played a role in your way of thinking?

MA: I am influenced by various different photographers but to name a few, August Sander, with his honest approach to portraiture that depicted the Weimar era Germany impacted me early on, seeking that same easy and honest approach to my subjects. Nereo Lopez is my biggest inspiration, as he was one of the first (if not the first) to introduce Colombia’s everyday life and popular culture to the world with a very sympathetic and real take on photography. His visual poetry is something that definitely influenced my way of thinking. Also, more contemporary photographers like Sian Davey, Doug DuBois, and LaToya Ruby Frazier with their intimate, familiar, and very layered work impacted the way of approaching my personal work, letting my subconscious be revealed through images by constructing a bodywork deeply rooted in my feelings, family and life experiences. Lastly, I would say Rich Gilligan is someone I admire infinitely. He has been my mentor and friend for years now, the way he works with his subjects by constructing a sense of familiarity that provides confidence in making the image as truthful or close to what that subject’s true nature is. Rich has taught me that sometimes less is more in the sense that you need to trust your gut and always be honest with who you are.

From Olvido Pa' Recordar Series   

NB: If you had the opportunity to pursue any creative project right now, which one would it be and why?

MA: Getting together Colombian artists, writers, and thinkers into a long-lasting conversation where we approach various topics that affect our daily lives as Colombians and Latinx Americans in Colombia and abroad. We are people full of prejudice and social standards that for good or bad, we have inherited from our families, country and society. I would like to expose what is it that makes us Colombians and challenge all these “traditional” views in a nonjudgemental way that can be accessible to many. 

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