07 October 2018
07 October 2018 - Written by Giuseppe Oliverio
Noticing how difficult it was to find the work of female photographers from Latin America, Verónica Sanchis Bencomo founded Foto Féminas in 2015. The platform is now a growing showcase of works from the region, quickly evolving to achieve its mission.
© Rochi Leon, from the series Aguas Populares
W hile I was living in Buenos Aires from 2011 to 2015, I noticed a couple of interesting aspects regarding the continent's photographic circuit. On one hand, the beautiful and rich heritage of authors continuing the visual tradition of the region while pushing the limits of their mirada. And on the other, how the circuit was closed in itself, with only a few photographers well-known outside of the continent. While working on how to tackle this issue with my colleagues at PHmuseum, we all welcomed positively the birth of Foto Féminas, an independent platform aimed not only at promoting Latin American photography, but also work from a female perspective. As fan of the platform, I have followed its development since then and I recently exchanged a few words with the founder Verónica Sanchis Bencomo.
Hi Vero! What motivated you to give life to Foto-Feminas and how did you start the project?
I have always had an interest in Latin American photography - since I was a student - and so researching photographers from the region was always a natural response to my interest and background. However, from a young age, I did notice it was difficult to come across women’s works from Latin America and the Caribbean. Years later after university, I began a monthly section in a Latin American culture magazine - Ventana Latina - where I interviewed Latin American and Spanish photographers - I did this for about three years. I soon realised again how challenging it was to find the works of my fellow female photographers. Yet, it wasn’t until I moved to New York, while interning at the International Center of Photography (ICP) Library, that I realised I needed to take action towards this lack of representation. At the time, I was taking care of the library archive, and this experience exposed me to great content, and many works I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. A truly inspiring and motivating experience.
In the autumn of 2014, I began my own independent research to start Foto-Féminas. Since January 2015, Foto Féminas has been featuring a new photographer every month. My main motivation remains to gather the works of female photographers from the Latin and Caribbean region. The idea is to create a strong voice and give people the chance to find multiple visions from the territory. I also hope that as a community we can become stronger, and grant, therefore, more chances for each individual photographer to be noticed.
© Paula Abreu Pita, from the series Buena Vista 504
How does Foto-Feminas work? What photography do you showcase and what is your editorial line?
Essentially I find a lot of the works myself through research and social media. Later, I invite the photographer to be featured with a body of work. That said, lately I have been receiving more proposals from photographers, since Foto Féminas holds a continuous open call. Sometimes photographers have also been suggested by colleagues, editors, and curators. I mainly look to feature photographers who are well engaged with their photographic language, whether they are students, emerging or well established. But what's most important to me is to see a project that has a coherent narrative and a strong voice. I don’t judge according to CVs or what school the photographers attended. To me is all about the project.
The platform runs monthly features and I select about 10 images per project, including the photographer’s biography and statement - both in Spanish and in English - in order to reach a wider audience. Only last year only, I opted for a slightly different approach. I indeed invited or selected the first 6 features of the year (January > June) and later asked each of the photographers to invite a fellow female photographer for the second half of the year. In this way we created a collective selection and generated and interesting dialogue and outcome. It exposed me to other photographers that some were out of my loop.
© Fabiola Cedillo, from the series Los Mundos de Tita
Like PHmuseum, Foto-Feminas starts as an online initiative. How's the project evolving? Is it eventually having an impact also in the real world?
Indeed, the platform began fully online, not only to promote the works of Latin American and Caribbean but also to give life to a digital archive. Somehow we create an online mapping of the region. Over the years I have been able to organise offline events such as talks, projections, and exhibitions that look to equally showcase the photographer’s works, and independent voices, as creatives and women. We have showcased projects at international festivals such as Pingyao International Photography Festival (China), GuatePhoto Festival (Guatemala), San José Foto (Uruguay), and Just Another Photo Festival (India), among others.
The newest chapter is Foto Féminas’ María Cristina Orive library, named after the Guatemalan photojournalist. The library, like the website, looks to archive photo books by Latin American and Caribbean photographers, and I have also been exhibiting the growing collection at photo book fairs. The motivation is coherent with that of the website - promote and showcase the works - yet through a publication.
A few weeks ago you presented your new monthly feature for PHmuseum News: In Focus: Latin American Female Photographers. Which worlds will you be showing us month after month and how is this related to the work you carrying ahead at Foto Féminas?
I will be highlighting photographers with a similar angle to that of Foto Féminas. I am looking for photographers who are engaged in long-term projects - who present a creative and analytical approaches to their stories - as well as for unique voices. In terms of the genre, I look to include diverse practices from journalistic to documentary or conceptual. I wish to avoid falling into stereotypes of the region. I hope the audience will discover stories that offer a bigger picture about Latin America.
Foto-Féminas is also a partner of the PHmuseum 2018 Women Photographers Grant. Why did you decide to support us, and how do you think it can have a positive impact on our industry?
It’s really great to me that people are highlighting more women in the industry, and any kind of grant for women photographers is to be applauded for. I also believe that through competitions photographers get the chance to showcase their works and skills to a jury, which hopefully will increase their opportunities to get new work and opportunities.
© Betty Laura Zapata, from the series X-Rays
What do you think of gender equality in our industry? Where do we stand and where are we heading?
I think that there has been a great improvement in the last few years in terms of gender equality. It has definitely been thanks to all the women platforms across regions such as Women Photograph, Fire-Cracker, Fast Forward: Women in Photo, etc. who have given a greater voice to female photographers. I believe it takes men and women to make a real change and it’s great to see organisations like the World Press Photo who have acknowledged the inequality and are taking steps to reach out to more women professionals in our industry. I think photography schools also run an important responsibility in the way they are training future photography practitioners. Again, this is an issue that involves many of us, but I am optimistic that we, women, are making already a change. Of course, it's not easy, and we need to keep advocating for women in the professional field.
Any recommendations for young female and non-binary photographers who recently entered photography?
Stand by your beliefs and work ethic, give your heart to the work you care most about, find and follow those professionals that you respect and push yourself to excellence.
© Isabella Lanave, from the series Fátima
Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Giuseppe Oliverio is an Italian entrepreneur and filmmaker who founded PHmuseum in 2012. Follow him on Instagram.