In Gods That Walk Amongst Us, Artist Camila Falquez Captures Heavenly Beauty
Welcome to Ways of Seeing, an interview series that highlights outstanding talent in photography and film—the people behind the camera whose work you should be watching. In this week’s edition, senior content editor Michael Beckert chats with the artist Camila Falquez, whose first solo show, Gods That Walk Amongst Us, is now on view at Hannah Traore Gallery in New York City.
Congratulations on your first solo show. How did you come up with its title, “Gods that Walk Amongst Us”?
The title came from this capacity to, and it’s not something I do consciously, see the goddess quality in humans. I live and work in Bushwick, and I’m not a huge fan of the graffiti there, but there is this one piece that I love of two Indigenous people. It’s really beautiful, and the title of it is “Gods That Walk Amongst Us.” When I read that, I was like Oh, wow. The truth is, there are people walking among us, who are gods or royalty. This show is so not about me, it’s about presenting something that I’ve realized is overdue: presenting these gods and goddesses as they are. Every photo is someone looking at the viewer and not questioning their presence in that beauty and on that pedestal for a second.
I’m curious about how you invite people to collaborate with your work. Do you formally cast subjects?
I would never call the process “casting.” I would call it a process of falling in love with humans I see and whose beauty I don’t question. It’s something that is extremely intuitive—I see someone and I’m in awe of their beauty.
Take us back to how you arrived to this point in your career. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
No, I did not. I was born into art through my mother, who is an artist and sculptor. Her way of carrying herself, me, and my sisters through life was art. We grew up as Colombian immigrants in Spain in this very creative household. Originally, I wanted to be a Flamenco dancer. When college happened I got a little lost and studied communication. Slowly, I started just photographing, taking a camera. But we were practically born in my mother’s studio, painting; I was always full of paint, I still am, if you look at my clothes.
This is something I also want to insist on, regarding the show—I don’t think people are aware of how much of the work I do is more the work of a painter, and not a photographer. I paint all my sets, I create all my props. I create with fabrics. It’s this very manual process that I learned from my mother. I called her the other day and I was like, “Wow, I’m you.”
What was your first job when you landed in New York City?
I moved here 11 years ago. Initially, I was working in filmmaking. I found this affordable filmmaking workshop, but really what it gave me was a Visa. I ended up finding an intern job, where I would take this photographer’s kids to ballet. Slowly, he started teaching me and then I was like, “Okay, I want to do this,” and then I quit him. I do have to admit that I had the mind-set of, I have stuff to say. I can’t be wasting my time here. Got to go. [Laughs.]
You also work in the editorial world, in a great capacity. Is there an editorial commission that stands out to you, as of late?
I have one person. In your journey, you have these angels that arrive, that see you, trust you, guide you, and give you opportunities. I have this one woman, Eugenia de la Torriente—I could not have done editorial work without her believing in me. When she met me, she was the editor in chief of Vogue Spain, and she immediately gave me big commissions. She gave me my first Vogue cover really early in my career and she’s still commissioning me to do what I want, and I’m so grateful for all of that. It gives notoriousness to my work. People come to my page more and if they come to my page more, they end up seeing more of the people I want to portrait. It’s a beautiful flow of energy, that it gives to my work.
I like this idea of energy flowing. I see that in your pictures. There is this stillness in your work, but it’s not static. Your pictures glow.
People are also not aware, but in every photo I take, there is either salsa or flamenco music. It’s a huge part of my process. I really believe in the transportation power that music has. It’s almost a way for people to arrive at the same mental space as me. It’s as important as the camera to me. A shoot I don’t have music, I don’t know how to think, I don’t know how to arrive to creative conclusions.
The energy on a set is really important. Whether or not a picture goes well is such a big part of that.
Definitely. That’s why it’s been so important to recently open my own studio, Delicia Studio. I feel, in order for the work to keep growing, I need to be able to provide an even safer space for my collaborators. I need people to feel like they’ve arrive in a space where they’re comfortable—a temple. I’ve never used that word, but I love it.
The photographs in your show feel like they’re about apotheosis—each person being photographed in their most perfect, final form. Does spirituality inspire your work?
I hope the Internet has space for this answer [laughs]. My family is Colombian. I was born in Mexico. We were immigrants in Mexico, and then I grew up in Barcelona. What happens when you grow up in Europe, especially with an artist mother and especially wanting to understand the culture around you, we went to all of the museums. You can imagine: Paris, Nice, Milan, with my mom. I grew up surrounded by European art and understanding beauty through that Eurocentric lens. Lately, I’ve realized that art gets away with a lot. It gets you to buy into certain things, through this idea that they’re putting gods in front of you. I used to think, “How would they get away with showing so much nudity?” It’s because these artists are saying they were portraying goddesses and I guess that’s fine. I’ll apply the same thing to what I’m doing. I’m portraying gods and goddesses, no questions asked—it’s a good tool to present beauty.
Last question: what are you most proud of so far on this wild and lifelong journey of being an artist?
I’m proud of being able to have a conversation of this level, being so assertive and knowing what I’m saying. It’s not only creating the work, but being able to defend it and standing by it. That comes with a lot of talking, reading, opening your eyes, having good people around you. I definitely feel ready to stand by my work and not doubt it. I feel extremely sure—and that, my friend, is an incredible achievement, for everyone creating art.