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Old Skull, tattoo studio in Barquisimeto.
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Teaching Photography as a Lifestyle with Ramón Méndez

To talk about photography in Barquisimeto, would be to describe infinite artistic experiments, main characters, trends, styles, and ways of communicating. It would be going back to a universe of anecdotes and forms of seeing the world. The best way to condense that knowledge is to look at it from the living perspective of its performers.

Yo Amo Bqto had an enjoyable conversation with Ramón Méndez, an artist who identifies himself mainly as a professional photographer, but who has also worked on radio. He is one of the producers of the television show Suite Subterránea, broadcast by Globovisión, and has been a cultural promoter of the city. He is currently the professor in charge of the Photography course at the Center for Comprehensive Studies in Audiovisual Communication (CIECA for its Spanish acronym).

“My approach to photography is given by the love for the cinema”

His passion for photography comes from his parents. “My mom always took pictures of us. My father also had that approach to photography in his youth. He worked with a Rolleiflex camera, but I never saw him taking pictures. I remember that when I was 19 years old, inspecting my grandmother’s memorabilia, I found a brown paper bag with photos taken by my father in his teenage years and that set a precedent,” says Méndez.

However, photography has always been a bridge to reach the cinema. “I always liked cinema, and then I discovered that photography was important, but it is a tiny task in this great process of making audiovisual productions,” he says.

He started studying photography formally at the age of 24 when he enrolled in a workshop led by Enrique “Chacho” Urteaga and his son Martín Urteaga. There, he had his first encounter with the physical-chemical process required for the development of the pictures that were taken during the course.

“The creation process is the same when working with analog and digital photography. The difference lies in that part slightly’ magical’ or little alchemist when you copy. It is an exciting process, and I enjoyed it very much, because the practices were in the street and we had to build stories with a limit of 12 photos that gave you the roll, so I have to make the most of it,” describes Ramón eloquently.

With his experimental style, he has been able to express irreverence in alternative spaces. The use of color was the first element that distinguished his character. While it is true that he has taken black and white photographs, the use of color was the element that made him stand out among others in a time (in the 90s) when his colleagues worked with the “artistic” black and white photography.

“I’ve never liked conventionalism. I used to work with monochromatic trend photographs, destructured certain things in color and worked a lot on the light shades. I made self-portraits where the light ‘pulled’ towards blue or red, in addition to the suggested movement.”

Although he has had exhibitions in halls, such as the I Bienal de Fotografía José Sigala at Ateneo de Barquisimeto, where he participated with his work Obelisco Virtual (Virtual Obelisk), Méndez is not passionate about the formal exhibition of his work in galleries, so he has migrated to an entirely new universe. His work has been shown in covers of band albums, exhibited in the most select underground parties of the city, and has had contact with the Venezuelan cinematographic and artistic culture.

Ramon Mendez “The Teacher”

This passionate photographer has been working at the CIECA for eight years, where he gives a one-year Photography Course. He arrived to work on the still-photo and script for Amábilis Cordero’s short film. Ramón recalls that his first contact with CIECA was due to his friendship with Isabel Caroto, director of this institute and filmmaker, who urged him to create a short photography program.

“I remember that the hardest part was designing the study plan because you always want to teach the way you would have loved to learn. I was very nervous, and my first group was made of 4 people, 3 of whom were CIECA workers. It was a litmus test,” he confesses laughing.

What he enjoys the most is being able to establish through the course a group of colleagues and friends who pay real attention to trade union solidarity. “I have very good friends, people you know you can count on and that I am willing to continue helping. It’s very nice that after having gone through the training process, they still consider me a partner to whom they can ask for an opinion on a project.”

Taking into consideration his life philosophy “knowledge is the only thing that, when shared, it does not break, but multiplies.” Méndez considers beautiful the fact that some people he has formed have the mysticism of also being teachers to avoid pettiness.

The current photographic “boom” from Ramón Méndez’s point of view

In the last five years, with the advance of technology and multimedia devices, and the creation of the Mass Media career in Barquisimeto, which have allowed students to get closer to this art, it is normal that there is an increase of amateur photographers.

Ramón considers this advance to be assertive because it allows the formalization and transformation of this group of workers into a guild that deserves to have all legitimacy. “Because of the social function they perform, photographers, not only in a cultural and artistic level but also photographers who work in social events, should be considered as one more guild, which by law can receive insurance and have an organized group to back them up,” he says.

He also explained the work of the event photographer: “Although some artistic photographers do not consider them their colleagues, this worker has been working on the street for years, with an educated eye to catch the child or graduate in a second. You have no idea how much of the story is lost there. Those photographers certainly have a photo of Gustavo Dudamel in preschool going into first grade, imagine the number of anecdotes and historical records they have. And that has value.”

Likewise, Méndez believes that it is essential for the guild to unify to take over the spaces in the city and achieve change through what they know how to do. “It is not difficult –because I have done it– to gather a lot of colleagues to exhibit our photos in a square, in a park and make it an attraction for the city. There is strength in numbers, and we can all give great things to our country. We just need the will and buddies to do it.”

In short, Barquisimeto has potential in many artistic, cultural and tourist areas. It also has its people, a group of Guaros we are pleased to show at YoAmoBqto. Follow us at @yoamobqto and find out about these characters that take your breath away and make you love Venezuela very much.

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