June Canedo finds home in documenting daily life in Brazil and the American South

The photographer's new book ‘Mara Kuya’ is shaped by her memories of both countries.

by Jack Sunnucks
09 March 2020, 10:17pm

“Every so often my dad retells the story of the day he decided to leave Brazil,” writes photographer June Canedo in her first book, Mara Kuya. Named after the passionflower, the book is a study of her family and their surroundings in Brazil, the country she left as a child, and the United States, specifically South Carolina, where she grew up. A tattooed bare shoulder, an older woman dying her hair, wash hanging up to dry in the yard -- Canedo chronicles everyday family life, interspersed with her musings on time spent in both places. “Being the only Americana in my family means that i also get called on when a hospital is involved,” she writes of her American experience, in between pictures of palm trees and Southern live oaks.

Tomorrow night, Canedo will be launching her book alongside limited edition prints at Larrie, a gallery on the Lower East Side. Ahead of the event, Canedo, who photographed NY label Awake for the last issue of i-D, talked to us about her beautiful, yellow-covered book, and her memories of both Brazil and South Carolina.

Tell us about why you chose Mara Kuya as the name of the book.
The day after I had gotten diagnosed with PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I went on a plant walk with a friend who is an herbalist. I had been prescribed medication and didn’t feel like it was the right choice for me. This was also around the time I had finished selecting the images for this book, so my mind was now on the language. We spent hours learning about the different trees and plants around the neighborhood, and after the walk we looked through books in an herb store as she was thinking about what to prescribe me. As we’re flipping through books, she was asking me about my favorite flowers. Honeysuckle grows wild in South Carolina and it had been my favourite flower for many years, but I no longer felt an attachment to it, and it didn’t seem to fit the description of what I was looking for. As I started answering her questions about my emotions and current state of mental health, the book opened to passionflower, and it’s as though my entire childhood came rushing back into me. Passionflower is native to Brazil. Passionflower was exactly what I needed.

Why did you choose the distinctive yellow cover?
Passionflower is yellow in Brazil, but it’s also a colour well-loved in our country. It represents optimism, joy and loyalty. It has always been my favourite colour.

June Canedo Mara Kuya

What was the impulse behind making the book?
I’ve been thinking about this book for years, and it was important for me to take my time making it. The images are shaped by my memories of Brazil and South Carolina, and the intimacy of my home experience. I didn’t want to posture any of the images, so I learned how to practice patience in this process. When I think of home in Brazil and in South Carolina, I think of time moving very slowly. It’s like those two hours after you’ve had a big lunch in the middle of summer heat, everything slows down and if you lay down you may fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon, that’s what I wanted this book to feel like.

What was it like photographing your family?
It’s always followed by, “Vou ficar famosa em Nova Yorke”.

What was it like writing such personal work?
It was like cracking open my deepest insecurities and fears, and rebuilding myself from scratch. I spent a lot of time alone in 2019 because I was so vulnerable and I didn’t want anyone to see me. It was a very quiet year.

What do you want to say with your book?
That honouring my own experience has been my pathway to healing from it, and that real growth happens very slowly and intentionally.

Canedo will be at Larrie from 6-9 on March 10. Mara Kuya is available for purchase here.

June Canedo Mara Kuya
A woman on the beach talking on her cell phone
June Canedo