Renell Medrano embraces her Dominican roots in a nostalgic photo series
The Bronx-based photographer visited the Caribbean island to capture the places where she’d spent her childhood summers.
Photography Renell Medrano
“One of my most personal projects yet,” says photographer Renell Medrano, discussing her new series Pampara after its successful opening in London. In the series, a collaboration with WePresent, she revisits the Dominican Republic, the country her parents are from, and where she spent much of her childhood summer holidays. It had been quite some time since she last visited the place.
The Bronx-based photographer is currently busy making waves in New York and beyond, photographing acclaimed artists such as Solange, Dev Hynes and Tyler, the Creator. This time around, she embarked on a more personal journey to explore the cultural heritage that formed her, and pay homage to her parents’ home.
Whether it’s teen girls playing cards on the pavement or a grandmother sitting on the edge of her bed in a cool bedroom, Renell has captured the intimate atmosphere and community of the island, aided by her own Dominican roots. “People in DR can tell straight away when you’re American, or a tourist, but the moment I told them I used to run around the island in my youth, and started speaking Spanish to them, they were very open and inviting,” she says.
She compares the way she went about capturing the series to a walk in the park -- observing beautiful details and tableaux through the lens of her camera: “I got up every day, walked around to scout people I connected with, and just let things run their course.”
The result is a series which feels documentary in style, but in some cases rubs shoulders with heightened fashion photography. This has to do with the staged and stylistic choices made in some of them: a pregnant girl wearing huge earrings shaped like picture frames, a boy wearing a big domino hat. “I worked closely with my friend Nathan Klein, a stylist from London, and we wanted to exaggerate or highlight certain elements that are tied to Dominican culture,” she says “The domino hat for example refers to the game that we used to play a lot as kids to pass the time.”
Renell is part of a new generation of young image makers of colour that use a type of fashion-meets-documentary photography to discuss social or political themes that are personal to them. Take Tyler Mitchell, for example, who places his black, predominantly male subjects in a utopian, carefree world.
Renell’s mission is similar: to depict the island, its people and the environment as a subject of beauty. “It’s really amazing that me and my peers are being acknowledged and are gaining more visibility,” she says. “It is important, however, to point out we are not pioneers. There have been photographers before us who were carving out a space for themselves. I don’t want us to be put into this box of ‘black photographers’."
“This project was huge for me, and setting up the exhibition I realised this wasn’t even half of it,” she adds. “I feel like I need to tap into people’s stories more, so I am really keen to shoot a documentary -- making it more of a mixed-media project. This is only the beginning. I want to immerse the public into the Dominican Republic.”
PAMPARA, a collaboration between Renell Medrano and WePresent, WeTransfer's editorial platform, can be viewed here.