Venezuelan born Oscar Aramendi’s journey to photography saw him forgo a burgeoning career as an architect for an artform which he states allowed him to find another ‘way of communicating’. In Oscar’s world he communicates his interpretations of worlds where he embraces the, dystopian, fraternizes with the marginalized, captures the dark recesses and takes us to worlds literally and metaphorically.
Environment has an effect on the individual-how has your Venezuelan heritage impacted on your work?
I’m not sure, I guess it’s being able to see the fascinating features of chaos in the decadence. We live in failed cities, where there’s contradictions between the sublime and the grotesque, people are fighting to survive and even though there is social inequality and violence they are still able to be happy-you can go to Caracas or Rio de Janeiro to prove it.
Venezuela has a rich and varied history of photographers-name any photographers who have influenced your work?
There have been many photographers who have set an important legacy in different aspects, from social documentary photography to conceptual art. I could name Paolo Gaspararini, Vladimir Sersa, Daniel Gonzalez, Claudio Perna, Nelson Garrido… Garrido in particular founded La ONG (Organizacion Nelson Garrido) years ago a School which has been an important space for photography in Venezuela and a sanctuary for those who like to break the rules.
While Venezuela is your home land-you moved to the charismatic and wonderfully diverse Brazil where you have been taking some powerful yet slightly obscure images.
I came to Brazil because of the political chaos and economic crisis in Venezuela and at this moment in time unfortunately I’m not thinking of going back. In terms of my art it has not affected the way I photograph. I’m still photographing the same things but I think that it has affected me in less definable ways. Brazil is an enormous and diverse country with many talented artists and photographers. There is a lot of activity, research, art market, things flow… especially in Sao Paulo. I’ve had to do a lot of research to settle and find out where I’m standing. In 2015 I earned a scholarship to study visual arts and even though it was very intense it made me mature as an artist and most of all, showed me the long way I still have to go.
Are there similarities between the two countries?
There are things about Brazil and Venezuela that are very similar, for example the precarious and fragile nature of certain spaces, generating atmospheres that I find very seductive. I love situations of intimacy it’s something that comes very natural to me. I am interested in images of my routine inside the city, spaces, friendships, strangers, generally at night. It’s the journey that excites me as I see what I will find but I really find it exhilarating to go to the places where the majority of people do not go because of fear or because it is a world that is alien to them.
Let’s talk about your flirtations with red in your images explain that more.
I like red, it attracts me a lot. It has extensive interpretations and meanings. Personally I use it as a catalyst, an enhancer of my images, like an explosive detonating in your face, it yanks the viewer from reality, takes them to a pure sensation. Red also helps the person to connect with the image more giving it different meanings emotional, political…it’s strong but there are people who can’t tolerate it.
There’s a real sense of you just catching a moment rather than some thought out intricate process?
Darkness, low lighting, no matter how much control you have over the camera increasing the ISO if you don’t use the flash there won’t be enough light and that will usually happen. I use simple cameras without a tripod. I don’t worry too much for the technique I just go in depth in the experience.
Talk more about the documentary aspect of your work.
In general, I photograph my everyday routine, sometimes I take a detour from the ordinary to find new things, approaching people or being part of certain situation that interests me. It is nothing set up, if I see something I like, I go and photograph it, the important thing is to first observe, I’m always observing. Especially being on the lookout for things that can shake us up, the precariat lifestyle not the sugarcoated lifestyle on TV and the social media. Generic formulas for success and self-accomplishment don’t exist, I’m on the lookout for those type of things. I expect with my pictures people can construct more personal interpretations thinking outside the box so they can let go and really feel life.
That leads nicely to the next question regarding your images of prostitution which we love for their raw evocative power.
It’s something I run into, it’s part of the dynamic of the city and it’s been like that for centuries. What happens in those tolerance zones interest me-not the prostitution in itself but the taboo behind that topic, those moral boundaries. Generally, these areas are in constant instability, conflict and in permanent organic transformation. I like photographing the dark and focusing on those areas people cannot really see from a literal perspective but further than that, I like meandering with the undervalued, marginalized, rejected charged with shame and prejudice. Society pushes ideal life, the moral lifestyle, the good life and I think that’s pure hypocrisy. Societies are ever more deranged and at the same time turning more conservative. I find many interesting things living in between the absurd and the contradictory.
Your project (Nocturno) really captures the dystopian nature of society?
Nocturno is a project I did in my native city Valencia, in Venezuela. It was way to find myself again in a city I had left for some 6 years. When I returned things (rather like me) had changed so much. I was able to enter the city, experience the dynamism and metamorphosis of the spaces and in a sense co-exist with the inhabitants and the whole chain of events that derive from that. I strolled along like a “flaneur” drifting and pushing myself to live certain experiences to unmask, reveal, to live and beat fear. Hopefully not a generalisation but in many South American cities they are terrorised by violence and cannot leave their homes for fear of being killed it is scary but very typical of cities in Latin America.
You seem to revel in the process of being a lone wolf as it were.
It is very personal placing oneself in that type of challenge. On the other hand, the night grants other meanings to the street and urban space, most people are sleeping, so that’s where the internal space is more intimate, wandering into a bar then meandering to another one, ready for something new, meeting new people or just simply being and observing. This is evidently what I call “true intimacy” that moment 20 or 30 minutes before falling asleep, where our passions confront our frustrations.
You have some projects you are working on what can you tell us about them?
I like getting close to people and taking something from them in my pictures. In my research, portraits are something I’m getting more into; I have a project related to identity, portraying contrast between the tourist and the working residents. I have another project where I’m doing research on a type of local sexual advertising produced and placed in parts of the city where it is generally very chaotic places. People only see a fragment of the pollution generated, behind it, there is a whole structure and I’m investigating that dynamic, how it works, how it’s produced revealing that micro world…we will see how that ends up.
An image you captured that has had a lasting memory on you?
I used an old Slr Minolta which my father bought while on a trip to New York in the 70s. The picture was taken in a bank that went out of business and the building was abandoned, it was a decadent scene. There were trashed atms, graffiti on the walls, broken glass and chairs everywhere; I remember I took a picture of one piece of graffiti which said “VILLAIN”.