Ignacio Umana interview
Amidst a bustling moving city like San Francisco, photographer Ignacio Umana decided to look to the sea, searching for a sense of calm and quiet.
Angela Chen talked with Umana over the summer about photography and his most recent project Quietness, after his recent graduation from the MFA Photography program at the Academy of Art University.
Angela Chen: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Ignacio Umana: I’m a Colombian photographer living in San Francisco for the past three years where I was pursuing an MFA in Photography at the Academy of Art University. I came to San Francisco to begin my professional career as a photographer after having worked in ad agencies producing events and also in a magazine as a photo producer. In San Francisco is where I started to deviate from the commercial work and explore more artistic work with conceptual bases. As a photographer I’m interested in people and landscapes, in exploring expressions and layers. In my fine art work I’m interested in understanding myself through self-portraits and also landscapes that speak of my inner thoughts.
AC: How would you describe your relationship with art?
IU: Tumultuous. I’ve always been fond of art because of my grandmother and aunt. My grandmother painted a lot and as for my aunt, she herself is not an artist but is in touch and friends with many artists in Colombia and gallery owners. As a creator and artist I always felt art was the best way to express myself but never quite accepted this path and didn’t have too much support from my family. It wasn’t until I came to San Francisco to pursue my MFA in Photography that I discovered being artist to be my path. It was the way I approached projects, ideas and my aesthetic. It was also here that I got the chance to discover artist which I had never seen before while living in Colombia. Art has become an integral part of my life now.
AC: Why photography?
IU: I chose photography because it allowed me to observe and make a capture in time of what I was seeing. There was also something about the process that felt like magic and it appealed to me. Recently, I shot my project Quietness with a large format camera with 4x5 film and I felt enticed by this camera because it is a process where you have to be detailed to get the perfect shot. Also, shooting with this camera, the process is slowed down, in complete contradiction with this current world of instantaneity and fastness.
AC: How would you describe your style?
IU: It’s deadpan and clean. I like to have a clean composition with normally more of monochromatic look. When it comes to portraits I want to show who the person is but without dwelling into a specific story or a psychological aspect of the persona. My images almost always work with layers and having a minimalist approach to the space.
“As a creator and artist I always felt art was the best way to express myself”
AC: What are some of your inspirations?
IU: One of my biggest inspirations is the deadpan aesthetic which emerged in Dusseldorf, Germany with Bernd and Hilla Becher. This style and way of approaching a subject was subsequently implemented by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff who studied under them at the Kunstakademie. This aesthetic in which the viewer sees what it is and there is no intention of showing anything more about the subject is visually fascinating for me. I also feel in harmony with this aspect and also with the palette of color they use.
Other inspirations include Hiroshi Sugimoto and Boo Moon, whose art is about contemplation and passage of time. Their work has a poetic quality which I resonate with. Also, their minimalistic approach to composition and geometry speaks to my style.
AC: Please describe Quietness.
IU: This series, specially, meant a lot for me because I spent two years working on it. It is a fine art project, photographed on film with a large format 4x5 camera. The images are presented in a circular format that acts as a shape that enables the observer to focus on the experience similar to seeing through a telescope. It’s a project in which I worked on its concept for a long time to have a strong basis for the images. Also, regarding the aesthetic quality of it and how it is framed, it was a process that took me time and trial and error to get to the final product which I enjoyed. Finally, this project became a process of self awareness and introspection that lead me to know more about myself and the path I have chosen as an artist and photographer. The final images of this project, although they are landscapes, have also become self portraits. (More about Quietness on Umana’s website)
“The sounds the waves crashing and the wind passing by, combined with the cadence of the movement in the waves helps to provide a calming effect for me.”
AC: What are some challenges you face as an artist?
IU: Some of the challenges that I face as an artist is to continue to find inspiration. For this, I do a mix of things, such as watching movies that spark my interest, going to galleries and museums, and finding places and moments where I can be quiet. Another major challenge is finding the outlets and people that believe in what you’re creating to give chances to exhibit and get your work known.
AC: What kind of other work are you interested in creating?
IU: I’m interested in creating more photo based projects but involving aspects that give a three dimensionality to them - such as adding embroidery or painting to the imagery created, or altering the resulting prints with a manual process. Something else I would be interested in doing with photography, is developing spaces where the music and space play along with the concept of the image and thus creating a complete experience for the viewer.
AC: What are your plans for the future?
IU: I’m moving back to Colombia this summer and will start outlining new projects I have in mind. I’m having a show with my Quietness project in November, this will be like the debutante party for this project. It will be a solo show at The Atelier Gallery of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Ignacio Umana is a Colombian-born photographer who has been living in San Francisco, CA for the past three years, pursuing an MFA in Fine Art Photography at the Academy of Art University. He has worked in all mediums including, digital, film in various formats, cyanotype, and Van Dyke. Having recently completed his degree with his thesis, Quietness, he is now pursuing further fine art opportunities in both San Francisco and Colombia.