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18 June 2020

The Struggles, Insecurities, and Daily Realities of Venezuela's Youth

18 June 2020 - Written by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

Venezuelan photographer Silvana Trevale sets off on another chapter of her project focused on the youth generation in her homeland in which she began to see her young self in the dreams of her subjects.

© Silvana Trevale, from the series Warm Rain

Warm Rain is an extension of Silvana's previous project, Venezuelan Youth. In this second chapter, Silvana captures three families who collaborated to work with her in the long-term. Each family represents a different reality to contemporary Venezuela, however, they are all equally affected by the challenges that the South American country has been facing in the last years.

Warm Rain occurs almost as a second chapter from your previous project, Venezuelan Youth. Could you tell us more about how the project came together?

After a few months of producing my project Venezuelan Youth, I travelled around different cities and towns in my home country, Venezuela. As I moved from one place to another, I met the youths portrayed in the project for short periods of time, our encounters weren't arranged beforehand. This way of working comes naturally to me, by seeing the kids in their usual environment I envision mental photographs, which I then ask them to make with me. However, I wanted to challenge myself by taking a different approach in my way of working.

In Warm Rain, I contacted several families beforehand, and instead of spending a few hours with them, I visited their realities for a couple of days. I aimed to gain a more intimate insight into their lives by getting a closer look at how their days go by and seeing what they face. Also, an aspect which I intend to highlight with Warm Rain is the severe social class divide my country has faced for many years by working with families with significantly different social backgrounds and showcasing an overview of their realities. Furthermore, making evident that regardless of social status, everyone in Venezuela is being affected by the crisis somehow.

© Silvana Trevale, from the series Warm Rain

Why did you decide to focus on youth specifically? What inspired/moved you about them to continue working on youth?

Since I left my country in 2011, in a way I believe the young innocent girl I was, stayed in Venezuela. By leaving my family and my comfort to move to a new country as a consequence of the lack of opportunities, I was faced with being alone in an unknown place. By coming back to Venezuela every year, I intent to search for my childhood innocence through the youth of my country. I believe we share similar feelings as they are in a constant shift from their innocence to a harsh maturity due to the crisis they are immersed within. Feelings I faced in a different circumstance, but the cause came from the same source.

Also, an aspect I continue to explore within my work back home is the idea of a Venezuela I have never lived. A Venezuela that none of the children in the modern era have lived, which is another aspect I share with the youth. From conversation with the older generation I hear a constant share of memories of a freer Venezuela, with less crime and as a consequence, a happier Venezuela for many. But a country which only lives in our parent's memories and our imagination. I feel deeply connected to the youth in Venezuela, and with the work I make, in some way, I reflect my young self. And at the same time, I intend to create a window into the realities of the youth who are in the search of a better future.

How's it been like gaining access amongst different socio-economic groups in Venezuela?

It has been a privilege for me, the journey of creating the projects has accentuated the love I feel for Venezuela and especially my people. I have had not only the opportunity to see many situations inside the complex spectrum my people face, but also I have been able to share their stories. To create awareness while trying to combine within the photographs the harshness of the crisis they are up against with their innocence and hope they carry every day.

I witnessed a significant contrast between the families I worked with, particularly during my time with the lower class family, the Fermin Reye’s. I found myself experiencing a mix of feelings, in many ways I felt thankful to be present in their lives and to have the privilege to help them in some way. But also, I felt heartbroken and angry as a result of their struggles, and the injustice my country is immersed in. Which is what pushes me to continue this project each time I return, this process represents a coping mechanism while I am far away and I feel the need to help somehow.

© Silvana Trevale, from the series Warm Rain

While being based in the U.K how has been like to work on your project, Warm Rain?

As I mentioned before , being physically far away from home has been one of the main reasons I continue to produce work in Venezuela. Producing Warm Rain took some planning, as well as lots of trial and error.

Whilst still being in the U.K, with the help of my mother with ideas and contacts, we began contacting several families who I thought would be interested in helping me. I packed all my bags with my camera and my photographic film and flew to Venezuela for two months.

Firstly, The Melean family I knew personally from many years back and they were happy to take part. They were in my mind since the beginning of the project as I consider them one of the most hardworking families I have shared time with. All of the kids in the family continue to follow their dreams and helping their mother Yesenia maintain their home located in one of the most dangerous favela neighbourhoods in Caracas.

A tough decision I had to make was while finding a lower-income family, I had more than five to work with. However, I decided to completely focus just on one family which was the Fermin Reyes. Half of my childhood I spent it in this small town called Mamporal at a family home we have, the Femin Reyes family lives just opposite our house. I never met the children before this project, but I did meet their parents and I was aware of their harsh reality. However, I knew very little about the magnitude of their struggles, not only they are facing extreme food shortage similar to many in Venezuela, but the mother of the house has been battling cancer for a few years and still is. Although, their toughest battle was when seventeen-year-old Wanda one of the girls in the family, was raped and became pregnant with twins. She is now the mother of two beautiful girls, keeping the family busy working hard to take care of two more members in the house.

It was the right choice to work with them as I would like to believe that by creating with me they had an escape from their troubles. The last day I spent with them, we went to the beach, which they haven’t visited in a while, they seemed happy.

Finally, another challenge in producing the project far away or even while being in Venezuela was to find the higher income family. I feared this as we were aware of the risks involved in sharing publicly a face and a name connected with the statement of having money in Venezuela. After asking ten or more families, finally one was willing to be photographed in their home, however, keeping their identity anonymous.

© Silvana Trevale, from the series Warm Rain

Have you considered equally focusing on the young Venezuelans who have left home like yourself?

Considering the climate of the current situation the whole world is facing as a consequence of COVID-19. My plans of going to Venezuela this summer to produce a new project are uncertain, which has allowed me to expand my attention to different subject matters. Such as Venezuelans who have left and are now based around the world. As the aspect of self-reflection is very much embedded with my work, perhaps it would be an interesting approach for future projects.

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Silvana Trevale is Venezuelan photographer interested in a wide range of themes including culture, identity, and social groups. Her work has been published in The Guardian, Rollercoaster Magazine, and Warner Music, among others. Follow her on Instagram.

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.

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This article is part of In Focus: Latin American Female Photographers, a monthly series curated by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo focusing on the works of female visual storytellers working and living in Latin America.

Written by

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

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