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Privacy & Cookies Policy
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The tongues.cc website is operated by Voodoo Voodoo Ltd (‘TONGUES’).
This privacy policy applies to TONGUES.
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You may request a copy of the personal information we hold about you by submitting a written request to info@tongues.cc. We may only implement requests with respect to the personal information associated with the particular email address you use to send us the request. We will try and respond to your request as soon as reasonably practical. When you receive the information, if you think any of it is wrong or out of date, you can ask us to change or delete it for you. 
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7. Contact us
If you have any questions about our privacy policy or our use of your information, please contact us at info@tongues.cc.

Juan Brenner

August 31 / 2020

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Following a decade working as a fashion photographer in New York City, Juan Brenner returned to Guatemala, where he started revisiting his personal past, and unpacking the layers of history that haunt his home country’s present

In his project and book “Tonatiuh”, Brenner approaches sensitive topics around colonialism that expose the conflicts between indigenous identity and imported culture.

 

Q >Tell us about your most unconventional project (even if it did not materialise). 

A >Good one! Wow. While shooting my project Tonatiuh (an analysis on the repercussions of the conquest by the spaniards in Guatemala 500 years ago) I wanted to shoot a picture of Alvaro Arzu (then mayor of Guatemala City and ex-president of the nation) in front of a painting of Pedro de Alvarado (conqueror and genesis of the horror of the invasion), Arzu would brag he was a direct descendant fro De Alvarado, and it was funny as he was the perfect representation of the euro descendant power that still rules in this country. I was really close to making it, but he died during my investigation.

Q >What inspires you?

A >Nowadays I’m mainly inspired to do stuff I’ve never done before; I’m really into shooting street photography and just driving around looking for interesting stuff. That is something I never did before; I was pretty much obsessed with control and direction of my work.

Q >Growing. Rebelling. Corrupted innocence — which moments in your life have helped to define or change your identity?

A >Definitely my teenage years. From a very young age I knew I wanted to be an artist; I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but I did know me and “academia” were not meant for each other: I could not deal with the teacher-student dynamics and art offered an escape. I tried everything! Writing, music, painting and even acting… I bumped into photography by accident and here I am more than 20 years later.

Q >Surprising contradictions — tell us about things that conflict you and inspire you at the same time.

A >It’s sad but it would definitely be money; it’s so sad to be always focused on trying to make it and knowing it’s a necessity that can’t be avoided; at the same time, it kills me to see reality and comparing myself to the general context. One can help, but to what extent? It’s never enough.

Q >Building connections with ‘places’ through presence and absence: tell us about your journeys and which places have triggered memorable emotions.

A >For the last three years I dumped all my energy and time on working in the Guatemalan Highlands. I had a fashion photography career in NYC for more than a decade, but for the longest time I wanted to get away from Guatemala both geographically and conceptually. Fashion photography was an escape valve from a lot of preconceived ideas I had about being a photographer and that kept me away from thinking of my own country as a source of inspiration.

Q >Which things do you think the people around you often take for granted?

A >How lucky we are to live in such a rich and kind territory; people here are amazing and happy, the weather is perfect and overall we have an almost perfect situation, people just choose to focus on the bad things and use their energy and creativity for their advantage. Corruption and poverty definitely come from that selfish behaviour.

Q >Could you give us an overview of your project “Tonatiuh”, and tell us which reactions, questions or perception-shifts did you hope to raise in the viewer?

A >Tonatiuh was my big first project after “retiring” from fashion. I tried to carry out an in-depth visual study of current Guatemalan society from the perspective of miscegenation and the incalculable consequences of the Spanish conquest. I established Pedro de Alvarado as a central figure not only in the conquest of Guatemala, which in fact he was, but rather as a key figure in the formation of a complex, segregated and deeply troubled society, I wanted to make a series of images that re-establish the lens through which both history and a contemporary Guatemalan can be looked at. Basically I wanted people to understand how the history that was written 500 years ago is still valid and mostly the law.

Q >Conversations around taboos — which topics should we be discussing more?

A >Well, the world just changed in the last six months; it’s amazing how thinking and actions have to shift and be analysed with a different stance. Personally I will be way more open on how to change my role on the topics of racism, gender injustice and corruption; we’re all active part of that crap and if we don’t accept it and change immediately it will never stop. I’m done with blaming my upbringing and past generation for my stupid attitude, and I think we all have to do that ASAP.

 

Brenner lives and works in Guatemala City.

Between 1998 and 2008, he worked in New York as a fashion photographer. His images have been published in international magazines such as Nylon, People, Oyster, L’Uomo Vogue and Anthem among others.

His work is part of collections in Belgium, Japan, Australia, Italy, the United States, Colombia and Sweden, and his photographic publications (MACÚ 1, MACÚ 2 and Tetano) are part of the permanent library of the MOMA and the TATE collection .

Santiago Atitlán, Sololá, 2018 — The "mecapal" has been a way of transporting heavy objects for more than 2500 years in the Americas, this particular one weighs 125 pounds approximately. A very large percentage of the population in the highlands doesn't have access to electricity or natural gas, these conditions have been a key ingredient for the slow development of the region.

Chimaltenango 2018 — Chimaltenango is also known as “the highland's gate”, it is one of the strongest agricultural forces in the country. A constant flux of merchants make this very chaotic city one of the main focal points in the sex traffic debate. María is a sex worker, I really struggled with whether to include this image in the final selection or not, but my project revolves around the analysis of the Spanish invasion in the 1500s, the conquest and the inevitable subjugation of the indigenous people. Being an uneducated Kaqchikel woman leaves María in tremendous disadvantage, her reality is the outcome of the unfair way our history was written; her story is a vivid example of why we need to speak out loud and demand equal rights for everyone in our colonised societies.

Zunil, Quetzaltenango, 2018 — These same natural hot springs were used by the lords of the K’iche’ empire more than 500 years ago, today they’re one of the main tourist attractions in the highlands, and a place where foreign visitors and local culture collide; most of the indigenous population won’t go into the main pool and prefer the secondary springs so they don’t mix with the tourists.

Chimaltenango, 2018 — Erik is a newly released prisoner from Chimaltenango’s jail, he’s trying to get back on his feet by cleaning streets and fixing potholes on the main road. Guatemala’s jails are immensely overcrowded, overwhelmed, home to violent prison gangs. Prisoners are known to run extortion rackets, black market networks and drug sales from within jails. 90 percent of extortions in Guatemala are linked to prisons, according to the police.

San Pedro Sacatepequez, San Marcos, 2019 — A girl waiting for her turn to have the "holy first communion" outside the San Pedro Sacatepequez Church in San Marcos, this ceremony is one of the most important happenings in the Catholic tradition. The Guatemalan highlands define our identity in so many ways, Im fascinated by the beauty of the region but more than anything by its complex reality. This new body of work focuses on a new generation, a new aesthetic, globalization and the inevitable abandonment of very old practices that once defined us as a nation; as a territory.

Espejo Carro — Guatemala City, 2019

Chichicastenango, Quiché, 2019 — After I finished shooting Tonatiuh, I needed to go back to the highlands and reach deeper into a new aesthetic developing up in the mountains, those densely populated towns are a vast source of images, images that document how the new generation understands their origins and are shifting to new trends, specially for their attire, their way of absorbing globalization and the genesis of a new “bourgeoise”. Gold is still very important, or at least the idea of it, my research is in progress and I'm fascinated with the extent these individuals would go to look opulent, to play the part.

Tanque de Agua — Quetzaltenango, 2018