Caribbean-born photographer Denisse Ariana Pérez is obsessed with the human experience. Photography is her way to get closer, to create a space for dialogue, and to honor the beauty she sees in others—a beauty she’s captured in Agua, her first photographic book, set to be released in March 2021.
Despite growing up near water, her connection to nature’s most important element didn’t come until she moved away. In an interview with Atmos, Perez reveals what water means to her now and how that connection feeds into her life and her work.
Why are you so drawn to water?
Denisse Ariana Pérez
I was born on an island. However, I never really had a profound relationship with water until I was an adult. In my childhood, water was there, it existed, it surrounded me, it poured on me softly and fiercely—but it didn’t mean more than just that, another element I learned about in biology class. As I grew older and moved around the world, water began to speak to me in an almost spiritual way. Water allowed me to connect to the deepest parts of myself and to deeper matters beyond the limits of my physical body. This new dialogue with water took me on an aquatic pilgrimage, from the colder currents of Scandinavia to the warm pink lakes of Senegal. In these versatile waters, I captured women, men, siblings, people living with albinism, and non-binary beings. Agua my first ever photographic book, will be the materialization of this nascent yet endless journey/relationship.
How does nature inform and inspire your work?
Nature is my favorite photo studio and theatrical stage. It can bring silence or unpredictability. I let nature guide me through the photographic process. It forces me to learn to adapt, to listen, to play, to forget about control—and it also invites my subjects to let go of their lives for a moment and use their senses in a different, more expansive way. I use natural light even in volatile tropical environments, as light is also part of this unpredictable dialogue with nature. To me, nature can also be found in an urban environment—in parks, patios, gardens—not only in far away lands.
What are the stories/messages you hope to tell through your photography?
I want to tell human stories. I want them to feel real and tangible but also to carry a sense of fantasy. I want to invite people to see a bit beyond what the eye sees. All I can hope is that people can feel something when they look at my images—be it curiosity about other forms of life, tranquility, contradictions to their own beliefs, duality, empowerment, discovery, questioning, empathy, and even love. Why not?
What’s the importance of centering humans in these photographic stories?
I’m obsessed with human beings and the human experience as a whole. I love to observe them/us and get closer with the hope of better understanding our complexities and create more empathy and intimacy amongst ourselves. Photography is a way for me to get closer, to create a space for dialogue, and to honor the beauty I see in others. The camera is merely a physical icebreaker.
What do you think is the connection between water and humans?
We come from water. We floated before we walked or talked. I think water can disarm even the most armed of facades. Becoming one with water is not about rushing but rather about flowing. And flowing is the closest thing to being.