Jc Candanedo | London Issue Eight cover artist
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work
I'm a London-based photographic artist, and in my work, I deal with the social issues that matter the most to me like Human Rights, Mental Health and National Identity. Alongside my projects, I also work commercially in Fashion, Beauty and Portraiture.
I also write a blog about my experiences working in the Creative Industries where I talk about the industry and the business of photography through interviews to other creatives, features on fellow photographers and opinion pieces on social issues.
I am a member of the Association Of Photographers - AOP, of Humanists UK - an organisation that campaigns for Human Rights (LGBTQ+ rights, Women's reproductive rights and the rights of non-religious people), and of PhotoAid - an organisation that links NGO's in need of photographers with photographers willing to volunteer their time for the causes that they believe in.
Ultimately, my goal is to use my work as a photographer to help make this a Better World.
What set you off as an artist?
Before becoming a photographer, I was a Project Manager for 20 years, and I always felt like a fish out of the water in that industry. I had a creative side that I felt needed exploring, but I didn't know how. It wasn't until I was about to become 40, when the thought of working in project management for the rest of my life sent me on a mid-life crisis, that I decided to start exploring that creative side.
Tell us about De-Stress
De-Stress is a project that I did in collaboration with The Trampery, a social enterprise specialising in shared workspace and support for entrepreneurs and creative businesses. I am a member of their community, and when they asked me if I wanted to be featured in their social media in the form of an interview, I suggested creating a photography project with the rest of the members.
That's how the project was born. For this project, I took portraits of some of the members of their community and explored how working in a creative environment surrounded by a supportive group contributes to the success rate of entrepreneurs and their well-being.
I shot the portraits on film and distressed them using household chemicals. The project title is a play on words, "distress" being the technique used to create the images about the "de-stressing" offered in the supportive environment created in the co-working space. I have been experimenting with distressing negatives for a couple of years, and this felt like the right project in which to use this technique.
After having their portrait taken, the participants were interviewed about their experience working in the different co-working spaces that The Trampery has in London. They were asked questions like how did they think that working in a co-working space affected their well-being, or if working from a co-working space made them feel less isolated than working from home.
The film was then sent to the lab for developing, and once it came back, I proceeded to distress the negatives using household chemicals. Before distressing the negatives, I blocked the eyes area with a gel so that they were the only part of the image that was not affected by the distressing effect of the technique. By doing this, every part of the image around the eyes is distressed conveying that, even though running a business as an entrepreneur can surround our lives with uncertainty and stress, working in a supportive community helps us keep clarity and stay focused. After dipping the negatives in the chemicals, I let them drip-dry, and then I scanned them to reveal the final image.
Working on this project has taught me that, when you have a group of highly creative and motivated people in the same space, the synergies between the members of the group produce an environment where they can thrive. When interviewed, the majority of the participants in the project agreed that the combination of a supportive community with a space in which the primary purpose is to make great work contributes to keeping them motivated and energised throughout the day.
Being in contact with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds working in different ventures and industries, with whom you can bounce ideas around, gives you a different perspective on your challenges, expands your way of thinking and refreshes your work. As one member pointed out, the worst thing about starting a business on your own in your bedroom is that you've started a business alone and in your bedroom. Creative communities like this one provide members with the right environment to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions.
What do you feel the role of artists and photographers is in society?
I think that we are living in times when, no matter if you are an artist or not, our role in society is to ask ourselves everyday 'why' do we do the things we do. What is our purpose in society? How does my work contribute to making this a better world? What impact does my life have on society and on the environment? The times when we lived passively, just waiting for someone else to change the world are long gone. This is the time to act, and you don't have to be an activist or an artist to make change. We can all have an impact on the world.
Our role as artists and photographers is to look around us and try to make sense of the world we are living by studying it, interpreting it and presenting it to society to offer a different perspective on the issues that we care for. We have a powerful and effective way of engaging with our audiences, and we must use it to encourage others to question their own realities.
What first got you interested in photography?
I was always the relative or the friend who had a camera, so wherever we went, people always expected me to take photos. But, I never considered it as a possible career. I come from a part of the world where the arts are not valued and where family encourages you to pursue careers in science, technology or law instead.
However, in spite of this lack of support, I had the perfect teacher at school who always encouraged me to read, write and appreciate the arts. Since I was very little, I've always been an avid reader and writer, and for a long time, I thought that if I ever left my day job, I would become a writer. From poems to short stories, my early life is documented in writing, the majority of which has never seen the day of light.
Looking back, I can see that it wasn't about writing or about the medium. It was about telling stories. That is why about ten years ago, while I was studying in France and got to visit so many museums and galleries, that I came to the realisation that you can tell stories without words by using visual mediums. And that's what made me think that I could use photography to tell my stories.
It's funny because so many years later, I am now exploring writing again and experimenting on how to use text to create images that have never been seen before. I guess I am just a storyteller, and I use different mediums to bring the stories in my mind to life.
How would you describe your approach to photography?
This is a fascinating question because my approach to photography has changed massively as I progress in my career. When I started, my work used to be informed by the medium and its limitations. Because I started my artistic career in the digital era, I accepted the medium of digital photography as the de facto way to tell my stories. However, as I've progressed, I've realised that some of the stories that I want to tell require a bit more than just a DSLR and some photoshop.
Some time ago, I decided to delve into film photography, a medium that I had used in my youth but had never worked with professionally. But soon I discovered that everyone else jumped on the wagon of the comeback of film and everywhere you looked photography looked the same. That's when I came across the work of a Canadian photographer who shoots landscapes on film but then distresses the negatives. The first time that I saw one of his images, I thought that they were the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen.
I then started experimenting with distressing negatives but didn't really know what I was doing. I was just playing around with film and different materials and basically just having fun. One day, I went to a portfolio review where I met with different photo editors and buyers from major publications in the UK and one of them looked at my work and told me that my work didn't have a soul, that it lacked personality and that I should consider doing something else for a living. In spite of getting excellent reviews from the rest of the reviewers, the words of this person really got in my head, and when I got home, I took some negatives from a shoot that I was working on and I put them in the sink and covered them with bleach.
My attempt to destroy my work resulted in such beautiful and colourful images that I was left mesmerised. Since then, I've been using this technique in my work.
Tell us how you organise, plan, and prioritise your work
Although my background as a project manager makes me a very organised person, the majority of my projects have started very organically. Sometimes there is an issue that I care for so much that the only way that I can process my emotions is by translating them into photographs. Other times, I witness something that doesn't give me much reaction time, and I start taking photos with whatever I have at hand (mobile, DSLR) without giving it a second thought. In the case of the distressing of negatives, I had been experimenting with the technique for a year before I used it for a project and that is why when I was presented with the opportunity I used it to explore the theme in De-Stress.
As you can see, the motivations to start any of my projects can be very diverse. During my mentoring sessions with other photographers where I help them turn their ideas into photography projects, this is one of the first things that I always tell them: there isn't just one way to approach a project.
Are there any upcoming exhibitions or projects in the works?
At the moment, I am in the middle of organising the exhibition of the De-Stress project portraits. They will go on a touring exhibition through all the sites that The Trampery has in London, finishing at the soon to be opened Trampery Fish Island Village in Hackney Wick where they will be hung permanently.
Also, I am collaborating with Art Sense Studio on a project where we are using distressed portraits to explore displacement, sense of belonging and relationship to the community of people living in London who are trying to cope with our ever-changing political, economic and social climate.