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03/24/15 Photographer Cru Camara

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

Cru Camara’s work seems to exist on another plane of reality. Wielding shades of neon and pastel, the New York- and Manila-based photographer transforms the everyday and the mundane—from plastic chairs and CDs—into fresh, contemporary art pieces.

The 21-year-old’s first foray into the craft was quite the contrast to inanimate objects, often featuring her peers as subjects treated in nostalgic, dreamy filters. The shift of Camara’s lens from another time to another world has proven much more striking; her eye-popping color combinations are so stark in their beauty that they might as well be reverse negatives. In effect, her work has found its way into the pages of several local publications in the Philippines, as well as a succession of online zines. And while there’s no telling where her unmistakable style is heading, it’ll certainly be a journey worth seeing.

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Fresh from a holiday in India, Camara speaks to NOUS about the narrative of her distinct style—from finding inspiration in longing for home to looking into the future.

Your style is quite distinct. Could you describe how it all came together?

I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out which direction I wanted to go from the time I started shooting back in high school. I tried a lot of different things but my work wasn’t where I wanted it to be. When I started photo school, I just bucked up and did the work because I really wanted to find my own voice. I went outside and shot a lot every day to get a good sense of the light and composition that my eye was drawn to.

Did your inspiration come when you were in Manila or when you went to study in New York?

I found the aesthetic in New York, but I reference a lot of Manila in the color, especially in my older images. Right now, I’m more interested in expressing things in color and using the subject matter to inform the palette.  A lot of the early work came out of anxiety and homesickness, and I found that pastels were comforting, soothing to the eye. I use the work to remove all the dissonance I experience in reality.

Do you see this aesthetic as something that puts you on a definite track? Does it keep you open to exploring something different?

Yes, the aesthetic keeps me on a certain track — that’s what I hate about it. It’s extremely limiting. But the limits are good in a sense, as they’re a jumping off point to other ideas. It gets pretty redundant, so I have to keep pushing to make something different. There’s always a push and pull regarding what I can and can’t photograph because the aesthetic is so particular, but I’m working on being more flexible with it. It’s just a ton of experimenting at this point.

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Do you visualize what it’ll look like before snapping a photo, or do you just gun it when you finally get down to post-prod editing?

I pre-visualize to a certain extent, but I’ve learned that I can’t control every aspect of the image. The look of the images comes from a balance of both lighting and post-processing, so if I get the lighting wrong, the images aren’t going to look right in post. I try my best to create the perfect environment to get the look right, then I play around in terms of composition. Once I shoot something, though, I usually have an idea of how it’s going to look like. I’ve also made enough mistakes to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, but it’s still a constant learning experience.

How do you see your work evolving from here?

Hopefully, I’ll get to throw the colored paper away! (Laughs). I’m looking to do more environmental or outdoor work again and let go of the whole pastel background thing. I also want to try other palettes and focus more on subject matter and narratives.

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Last year, you founded Future Zines with some friends. Any chance of it coming back soon?

Future Zines is actually Nante Santamaria’s project. He was kind enough to recruit me as one of the featured artists for the first round of zines, but it’s essentially all him. I do hope to collaborate with other photographers and artists on other projects, though!

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