Genesis Cabrera

July 2019

Williamsburg, New York

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As I changed to the L train, heading towards Brooklyn, I imagined what Genesis would look like. I wondered if any of the collages and photographs I had seen online were self portraits. Not long after, I arrived at Genesis’s space, where she lives and works, greeted with a warm welcome, my first thought was, “No, they weren’t self portraits.”

From collage series: Who I am; Who I want to be


I first encountered Genesis’s photographic works online, where I was immediately drawn to her clear perspective, and later to discover a series of interesting; almost grotesque-looking collages. I knew immediately that I wanted to interview the artist behind these works and photographs. When we finally met for the interview at her studio, my second thought was, “wow, she has really beautiful hair.” The type of natural curly hair that I had once dreamed of having when I was younger. One may wonder, how hair has anything to do with an interview about art; as Genesis and I talk, I come to realize that hair is a huge part of her works, her identity and area of exploration within her artwork. 


A few days after, listening to the recording of our conversation, I was able to process her vision of photography, artmaking. Many times as I recollected the exchange, I was presented a clearer portal into Genesis’s world. From photography to cinematography, portraiture to collage, her openness to experimentation is a hard shove at the “rules”. And through our interaction, you come to find that sometimes the photographer is also camera shy, maybe a little helpless in front of somebody’s gaze, but a contrast to the woman behind the camera, exuding confidence as she looks through her lens.

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I'm open to more possibilities. 

What is your approach to photography?

I’m very experimental, when I moved to New York City, I studied photography, and then cinematography. Which is a really different field, but it compliments photography. I realized that there were many restrictions with cinematography because there was a whole production team, lots of guidelines and a lot of money involved. So I couldn’t be as expressive as I wanted to with that field. I get inspired by many different things, and I want to shoot whatever that is, it's a lot more exciting when you don't have a specific shot, I'm open to more possibilities. 


I really liked the piece with paint smudged over a girls face, How do you work with collages?

I had lots of photographs I had previously taken, all of which had the potential to become pieces of artworks when explored. I print them, deconstruct them, and use a bunch of materials, glue, stickers, colors, and paint. These collages are narratives ways to present my ideas. 


I guess it's more like an artist investigation, rather than just pure photography, which is more direct. I noticed that a lot of your work is on matte paper, is there a specific reason?

They are good papers to work with, easy to cut, rearrange, blend. They resist a lot of things. 


The series Who I Am; Who I Want to Be, is self reflective. These collages are explorations of hair. I had a moment in my life where I became someone that I didn’t want to be. Growing up in Venezuela, I felt that I had to look a certain way, to look like someone who isn’t from there. I had naturally curly hair, which wasn’t what was considered beautiful, so I started wearing extensions. It's normal for people to wear extensions, but you see the way I wore it was obsessive, I was very aggressive to myself. So I cut up these images, creating patches of skin on the scalp of these photos as a representation of the damage done by the extensions. I have areas on my scalp that are bald because I was carrying these extensions on my head, they were really heavy, and I was wearing them every day for eight to nine years. Now, I’m happy with the way my hair looks, it's who I am, finally. But I’m still working on healing the damages done. 

I’m still working on healing the damages done. 

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*from: Who I am; Who I want to be

How do you want viewers to interact with your work, do you want them to come to interpretations on their own, or do you like to be direct?

I like it when people have to stare at an image for a really long time. Trying to figure out what is going on, it's abstract, but there is a meaning behind it. It’s more personal, but also free to their own interpretation. 

In my last show, I presented this* image and when people saw it, they looked at it before they moved to read the description. I like how this image was an invitation to my works, where they got to know the world of the artist.


Everyone’s approach to paper is different

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How did you get started in photography? 

When I was younger, I was given a camera to take photos on family trips because my mom liked to print them out, frame them. It was a different feeling then, listening to what other members of the family telling me which photos they liked, but I never took it seriously. 


The camera was a Canon point and shoot, I took it everywhere with me, bringing it to school and taking portraits of my friends during break time. They were taking it more seriously than I did, and I would see my friends changing their Facebook profiles to the pictures that I took of them. And during the summer, I took a short weekend class on black and white photography, and that was when I knew that this was something I wanted to pursue. 


I’ve personally always had a passion for photography, but I’m never satisfied with the photos that I take, I feel that maybe you have an unconscious view, and image in your mind that you try and capture. 


Yes, maybe. I feel that my photographs have changed a lot. Sometimes people follow the rules too much, “this is what I should shoot in order to become …” When I went to school, I discovered collage artists. I wanted to experiment, it becomes much more of an artwork for me when different elements are added. A lot of people can get the same angle, go to the same places, but everyone’s approach to paper is different. 


How do you feel about the digital age, with social media, has that impacted your work?

I think I am very aware, I spend a lot of time on social media, and it definitely has a positive and negative impact on my work. I don’t want to be too influenced by other people, forgetting about what I want to do. But I also see it as a positive platform, for inspiration about anything, from sculpture, to fashion, to color, fabric, paper, everything. I used to do a lot of fashion photography, but I came to realize that there were so many rules to follow to really be featured in certain magazines. Especially with the impact of social media now. I’ve been in situations where I’ve shot a set of works with an amazing team, produced photographs that I really liked. But when we presented them to magazines, they would say that it wasn’t a good fit, or it should have looked this way. 


With fine art photography, there's a lot more freedom, I want to produce works that not only show the end product, but also the process. But I still love classic photography.

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Was school a very big part of your artistic development?

I do feel that learning about the different techniques, about cameras, photography is really important. But technical stuff can also push you away from your creative process. I was really against shooting mindless subjects in school, it didn’t make too much sense to me of why I was shooting these subjects, and have to explain why. When you like something, you don’t have to explain too much, people will see your interest in the subjects that you chose. 


Do you have certain artists or people that you really admire?

Yes, Harley Weir is a photographer I really like, she shoots many different things, but she has an aesthetic, that even if she shot you and me very differently, you could tell that it is her work. She really has a brilliant mind. 


And there is a singer called Rosalia, she is such a curious artist, mixing different cultures, music styles together. Her last album was a fusion of all the cultural impact she’s had in her life, it was really inspiring to see how she can combine Flamenco with hip hop, or music from my country, and personal experiences. Her music really came at the right moment in my life. 


I can see that in your process, how you are inspired by all sorts of things, I guess when you find someone who works similarly to you, it’s easy to resonate and be inspired. 

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Red is a loaded color 

How do you engage with your subjects?

I have been lucky enough to shoot with a lot of models, which is something I want to change, I want to shoot regular people. People that I have to direct, talk to, and get to know them more. Models are trained to pose, angle, I want to branch out from beauty, I want more rawness in my images. 


Is there a way to create intimate photos?

I think you have to be very clear in your concept, what you want to shoot and communicate that to the subject. When I see someone, I imagine how they are presented in my photos, it’s not superficial. With regular people, they always wondering why? Why me? Why I find them interesting. But with models, they know why.

What are your preferences in different shooting locations?

I prefer apartments, living rooms, lived-in spaces that are intimate.


I noticed that a lot of your work has a red light in it, is there a specific reason?

I love adding red to pictures, it's powerful, it adds a presence to images. I think it goes along with anybody and any photo. Red is a loaded color. 


What is your selection process with photos?

I used to shoot so many photos that were all the same angle, now I really try to shoot so that every photo is different, that I capture all the angles, whether it is front, back, side, etc, I love low angle images. I want to be able to choose from different perspectives, and really hone in on the ones that I see potential in manipulating or working with. 


Most of the subjects of your works are female, is there a specific reason why?

I used to shoot a lot of male models because I knew an agent who gave me so much freedom in how I wanted to shoot, so I got to experiment with a lot of male subjects in my photography.

However, I realized that I really wanted to explore the subject of hair, and unless the male subject had long hair, then I saw more possibilities in female subjects and hair. 


Have you noticed a difference between shooting different genders?

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a non-binary subject, which was amazing because there were no limits or boundaries or social images that needed to be preserved. They could be anything. 


Do you carry your camera everywhere?

Honestly no. I don’t like to shoot things to keep private. Every time I shoot, I have to share something, even if it was one photo. I don’t like taking it for myself, who’s going to see?

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Photos taken by Cookin' Up Magazine, July 2019

Artwork images courtesy of the artist


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