November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Karen Miranda / Photography-Interview

©2012 Karen Miranda

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The Ethnographic “I”

Interview by Mike Foldes

Karen Miranda studied photography at the Danish School of Journalism, in Arhus, Denmark. She received a BA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and a degree in philosophy and theology at Stony Brook. Her work combines the core values and insights of these studies to provide an intimate protrait of the people closest to her in life, and of those she’s reached out to, to understand better. This interview, begun last spring, was interrupted by Miranda’s summer session in New Mexico, and then her preparation for a show in September. We are pleased to present her work in Ragazine.CC.

 

Q) Karen, your Other Stories/Historias Bravas are captivating portraits of common people in everyday situations. Mostly, they are women, and the men appear to be almost incidental. Is that part of the culture of the area where Other Stories I takes place?

A) It is the absence of men that make them so present in these portraits. My work is not really about “women.” I photograph what is close to me, both physically and emotionally and it happens that at that time of my life, the females in my family played a huge role in my understanding of the world and my identity. As we recreated these memories, the images became the ground in which we reflected how we were, what we were going through and more often than not, wondering where my father and brother were at that time.

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Karen Miranda Other Stories

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Q) You have a bi-cultural heritage. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

A) My father was a businessman, he traveled all over the country buying and selling hardware. We, my mom and I, traveled a lot with him and sometimes we would do it on our own. I don’t consider myself from one city, I would say that I grew up in Ecuador and was born in NYC.

Q) You took up photojournalism in 2006, and have already produced a body of work any ethnologist would be proud of. Have you done the same kind of work outside of the Americas?

A) I have worked with the Mandaeans from Iraq and Iran living in Sweden and Detroit, and for a brief period with the Mam in Guatemala.

Q) You live in Queens, New York. Have you done much work recording the lives of people in your neighborhood, as you’ve done in other places?

A) Yes, on the series “Bliss St.” However, it wasn’t so much about my neighborhood but more about a home with a peculiar dynamic that happened to be in Queens.

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Karen Miranda Bliss Street

[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-01.jpg]20The Wait, 2009
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format PhotgraphyMaria waiting for her husband to pick her upLiving in Bliss/Bliss Street is a house in Queens, New York, Olga, 79, lives here with her mother Alba, 105, they both opened their home to friends, acquaintances and people "she meets at the laundry." Mostly women, they share a couple of commonalities; they have suffered some type of aggression, have undetermined legal status in the USA , and look for happiness fearlessly. This is them, their daily rituals, their inner economy, their constant flux, a look into a modern NYC household.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-02.jpg]20Maria 3am, 2011
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-03.jpg]30Bedtime, 2009
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format PhotgraphyValerie preparing for her first day of schoolLiving in Bliss/Bliss Street is a house in Queens, New York, Olga, 79, lives here with her mother Alba, 105, they both opened their home to friends, acquaintances and people "she meets at the laundry." Mostly women, they share a couple of commonalities; they have suffered some type of aggression, have undetermined legal status in the USA , and look for happiness fearlessly. This is them, their daily rituals, their inner economy, their constant flux, a look into a modern NYC household.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-05.jpg]30The Shower 2010
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-06.jpg]30The Prayer, 2009
Celeste, the neighboor praying with Alba to heal her.printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-07.jpg]20Election day, 2008
Obama gets elected as president of the USAprinted size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-08.jpg]20Bedbugs, 2006
Ivonne bitten by bedbugs in her roomprinted size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-09.jpg]20Homeworks, 2007
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-10.jpg]50The dot, 2010
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-11.jpg]30Little Pains, 2009
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-112.jpg]40Angela's midday reverie, 2009
Angela's midday reverie of one day returning to her home in EcuadorLiving in Bliss/Bliss Street is a house in Queens, New York, where people of legal and illegal status stay for a period of time. Mostly women who have suffered some type of aggression. This is them, their daily rituals, their inner economy, their constant flux, a look into a modern NYC household.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-12.jpg]30Saturday Night out, 2010
Ingrid getting ready to go outLiving in Bliss/Bliss Street is a house in Queens, New York, where people of legal and illegal status stay for a period of time. Mostly women who have suffered some type of aggression. This is them, their daily rituals, their inner economy, their constant flux, a look into a modern NYC household.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-13.jpg]160The Arrival, 2010
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-14.jpg]40First Winter, 2010
printed size, C-Print 15X15Medium Format Photgraphy
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/karen-miranda-bliss-street/thumbs/thumbs_karenann_miranda-15.jpg]40Heartbrake, 2009

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Q)  How did “Bliss” begin and evolve? Do you have a plan in your head in advance of shooting a series, or does a series come about incidentally?

A) Bliss St. began with a very receptive state of mind. I had just moved to NY, at that time, I was studying at SVA (School of Visual Arts), and within the “Arts” there were so many majors one could choose, photography was never central in my work, but it was always the medium I liked to come back to when I was getting frustrated with painting or drawing, and Bliss, well it was there, it was impossible not to look.

Q) In both of your series , “Bliss Street” and “Other Stories,” you are a part of the photographs, starting back when you were quite young. How did these photographs came about? 

A) It may look like it has been very long, but actually I began “Other Stories” in 2008 and “Bliss St.” since 2001 (before I considered myself a photographer).

I think I have some type of “chameleon ” look. I may appear young but I was 26 when I posed as my teen and/or child self. At the end it is all about the expression and what the image conveys. “Bliss St.” was straight documentary.

©2012 Karen Miranda

One of Miranda’s new works from New Mexico.

Q) What are you working on now, and what is the motivation for the latest project?

A) I am in New Mexico at the moment, the landscape, the contrast, the space between our private world and our communal world, inspires me. Not sure what will come out but I am working on it.

Q) What subjects would you like to cover in your next couple of projects? Do you think that far ahead, or do you try to finish one project before letting another take it’s place at the head of the line?

A) It’s natural for me to bounce through ideas and visualize different projects at the same time, whether long or short term.  At the moment I am trying to do the very opposite; focus on one thing at a time. I let the other ideas float around “not minding them.” I think that if they stick  for days and weeks, then they are important to pay attention. Its easy to multitask, its more of a challenge to do one thing perfectly right.

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Artist’s Statement:

 “Since 2006, I have been working on projects that deal with identity and intimacy. I have been collaborating with native communities and my relatives as subjects for various photo-based projects.  I have worked with the Mam (an indigenous group close to the border with Mexico) in Guatemala, with the Mandaeans (an ethnic group in the south of Iraq and west of Iran) living in Sweden, and with the Waoranis in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and lately in the Andean Mountains. Through the experiences of living and working with indigenous and/or minorities, my current body (of work) deals with personal journeys and heritage – one that I invite the viewers to travel in.”

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Q) I see a lot of photography that appears sterile – nothing is happening emotionally that would make the viewer stop and think about what they are looking at. What is the most important thing that you seek to capture or define in your photographs?

A) I cannot say that my photography is sterile, that’s up to the viewers, I search to express ideas, then I direct my attention into finding the best way to manifest them. My work tends to be reflective, and yes about stopping, looking, questioning, wondering, searching. I find that those questions only arise in moments of stillness, thus, what I try to convey, if you call it sterile, I call it stillness.

Q) Your work doesn’t appear to have a lot of commercial value, by which I mean, can you make a living doing the kind of work you do, or is your work underwritten by grants? How does a person doing fundamental, creative ethnographic-journalistic photography make a living?

A) Well one thing I’ve learned is never to think for the viewer, you may be a viewer, but not all the viewers and that is a lot of different perspectives. [To my] surprise, some of my prints are part of private or museum collections, it all becomes relative. The way I deal with the logistics, I support my work through grants, commercial/editorial work and teaching. There is no one way to “make a living,” I stay open to all the possibilities.

Q) Do you – or have you – spent much time in a darkroom, or are your images all digital?

A) All my work is shot on film, I don’t process it myself, so depending on the time and other variables I choose between going to the color darkroom or scanning the film but at the end I do both.

Q) What kind of equipment do you use?  Film or digital?

A)  What I use always varies, from large format to digital, but overall, I would say that my Mamiya 7 has been largely part of most of my trips and the Canon 5d is slowly (very slowly) catching up.

Ragazine: Thank you, Karen.

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About the interview:

This interview was conducted  via e-mail. You can read more about the interviewer in “About Us.”