Landscape Stories: What poetry or artist influenced the most your beginnings? Where can the roots of your work be found?
Lorena Endara: Master landscape photographer Joel Sternfeld once asked me this same question. I answered that Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and William Eggleston were among my favorite artists and, in response to this, Joel commented that I probably had a very lively vision. Having said this, Joel became and remains one of my greatest influences – both in aesthetic sensibilities and level of engagement with the world. Other photographers that have influenced my work significantly include Walker Evans, David Goldblatt, Allan Sekula and An-My Lê.
Landscape Stories: Sometimes your research insists on subjects like "time" and "method". Is it a modus operandi?
Lorena Endara: When I arrive at a place for the first time I'll usually take note of what causes an impression on me. Then I wait for the newness or strangeness of a place to wear off before I actually shoot. While scouting (always) I might come across elements that are "photographicable" but they don't quite make a shot. This is when I have to remind myself to hold off and wait until the scene becomes more complicated or the light enhances the mood. Or sometimes it just takes several visits to the same place.
Landscape Stories: Do you do any particular research on the territory while working on the project?
Lorena Endara: I can be very dorky when it comes to this aspect. For starters, I'll do research on the history of a place but, most importantly, I'll study what other photographers have done in a particular place before me. Certainly, working within the context of history and art-history is much more interesting and allows for layers, complexity, counteraction, reflection... Nevertheless, my work is also informed by contingency and this involves talking to people and filtering the information they offer. Local people are definitely more keen to the idiosyncrasies of a place or particular events/places of interest that I would never access through other forms of research.
Landscape Stories: How much importance do you attach to the social, economic, or political aspects of what you exhibit?
Lorena Endara: I once heard Alfredo Jaar, another incredibly influential artist, say that he doesn't read fiction because the world we live in is so fascinating that he doesn't preoccupy himself with stories that aren't factual. I do read fiction but feel similarly about the subject matters that I pursue. I'm so engrossed by development studies and globalization, agriculture and food politics that I find it hard to invest myself in other topics. Of course, these topics are the bases of the world we live in and so the social, economic and political aspects are inseparable.
Landscape Stories: Lorena Endara is the founder and director of a non-profit organization, Fundacion Imaginer, dedicated to promoting contemporary art from Latin America. Could you tell us something more about this project?
Lorena Endara: Gladly. I started this project as a way to actively participate with the art scene in Panama. Although the organization is in its developing stages, we have organized and launched some great projects. These include publishing a booklet of photographs by street photographer Kenneth Pearch and developing a media and digital literacy workshop for marginalized youth in Colon, Panama. The purpose is to create a platform for all sorts of artistic endeavors, and simultaneously, establish partnerships with other non-profits, galleries, collectives, etc.
Landscape Stories: Tell us your stangest "landscape story"?
Lorena Endara: Not necessarily strange but definitely memorable was a time I was walking up and down the streets of Manhattan. I came upon a little urban haven with a waterfall and fresh breeze just about when the sun was beginning to set. I knew it was one of those "photographicable" scenes but it was missing something. Then a man comes along and sits by himself in the park and I instantly knew that the shot was complete. I approached him with grace and curiosity and asked him if I could photograph him. His expression revealed hesitance but he quickly said "Only if the captions don't read Lonely Man in NYC." I reassured him and carried on to take the picture. The experience, however, was extremely emotional; I felt his vulnerability and loneliness through the camera. We then exchanged a few more words which I don't remember but I hoped that our brief, happenstance interaction was at the very least a distraction from whatever was troubling him at the time. Personally, the image functions on several levels — I think it is emblematical of New York City and it highlights what I love about photography: a tool to approach strangers, confront the world and be attuned to the beauty of it.
Interview by Gianpaolo Arena