Interview with Claudia López Ortega and her daughter Victoria about "The Three Corners of the Ocean"

The Three Corners of the Ocean is a deep and personal story of family relationship. And we wanted to get even closer and talked to Claudia López Ortega and her daughter Victoria about how the project developed.

Yana Kruse: What is "The Three Corners of the Ocean" for you personally?

Claudia: It's a testimony of love to my daughter Victoria. Even though we are not that close as I wish we were, there is a lot of love, compassion and care between us; we have shared very difficult situations as a family and the relationships in our linage are as well complicated, I wanted to be honest with her about myself, my roots. This was my way to understand what was going on in her mind but mostly in her heart. This book is my way to let her know how much I love her and how much meaning her presence has in my life since she was born.

Y: You made the dummy together with Calin Kruse [publisher at dienacht] at his Workshop in Mexico. Could you tell about the process of putting the book together? How did it take this shape?

C: Well at the beginning I was in total chaos, there where 3 years of shooting. Ana Casas Broda from the Hydra platform offered Incubadora de Fotolibros program where we had the chance to make a book guided by Ana and a great team of guests as editors, designers, etc. At the time I had already made several dummies but I wasn't convinced about the results. At first when I met Calin he showed interested in the project and took his time to talk, ask questions and understand the project as much as he could. He asked me to show him all the material that I had and as we talked he went really deep in details and immediately put a lot of energy and work to make it happen. We had very few days to work live, we went from choosing the pictures that work best going through the papers selections, editing the files, and printing tests, we wanted to do as much as we could before he went back home yet there where details that we knew were impossible to make at the time but we never gave up with the ideas. Finally the dummy took shape and we where happy with the result. The dummy was ready.

Y: How did the project develop?

C: Before starting this project I explored the women linage of my family and the impact of education on their relationships. In the end, I realised that mother-daughter relationship was repeatedly damaged and that mine was as well. I wasn't close to my daughter and knew her so little that I felt that I needed to do something about it. I didn't want to repeat the pattern. As we didn't have good communication, photography and the beach was a good way to motivate her to spend some time together and to get to know each other. It began very organically and as a game. We were exchanging talks and the ideas started to come up.

As the shooting progressed, we learned more and more about each other. Facing reality was not easy but we did not give up even if it hurt. Every time we felt the need we went back to certain sites, and with time the project started to take shape.

"I realised that mother-daughter relationship was repeatedly damaged and that mine was as well. I wasn't close to my daughter and knew her so little that I felt that I needed to do something about it... As we didn't have good communication, photography and the beach was a good way to motivate her to spend some time together and to get to know each other. It began very organically and as a game".

Y: Is it important for you that the project took the form of the book? If yes, why? Does it add anything? What do you think of the double shape that it has?

C. Well, in the beginning it was with the intention of creating a connection with Victoria, and it started to work for us like a story that we play, it was kind of fun sometimes. I used to edit right on the wall, so I started hanging out the pictures that had already been taken one after another. And after a few years I felt that it had to be a book because of the story but also because of the tangible memories that I was going to be able to offer to my daughter and that had a lot of meaning to me. Then as I was making my first dummies I felt very excited because it was the beginning of something that could have a really nice result.  I think it adds balance to the work as a book.

I think that the double shape was Calin's idea as a result of my need to make Victoria's voice present as a character and as photographer. She took some of the portraits in the book as well, and in this way there are two voices in the same book.

Y: The book has this special element, cut-out images from the retro magazines of the 50-60s, featuring families. Why was it important to use this element in the book?

C. I think it was a period when stereotypes about women were usually limited to taking care of the family and their house. And my grandma and mother grew up guided by the Opus Dei literature. It was important for me to reveal that difference between generations in the perception of motherhood, family, sexuality, education, way of thinking etc.

Y: Could you tell about the place where it was photographed? What is this picturesque and at the same time decayed area? Did you chose it on purpose?

C. Most of the project was photographed at el Paraíso [Eng: Paradise], a beach in the Mexican Pacific in the state of Colima. Due it's geographical location it's constantly devastated by natural disasters and even though the conditions run against human presence, there is a small population that lives there by offering services for rare tourists. I chose El Paraíso because since the first time I got there I felt it so surreal, special and with a touch of nostalgia that caught me. It worked perfectly as a personal escape and immediately identified with what was going in with life and myself at that time.

Y: How did your daughter Victoria perceive the process of shooting? Did she make suggestions? How does she perceive this work now?

Victoria: I thought that it was rather unusual, at the time I didn't understand it’s purpose. I just sat there, sometimes there was an idea behind the shoots, but most of the times it was organic and fluent throughout the process. I used to love going to the mangrove, so I always coaxed my mom into taking me there for a quick trip. I found her work to be ravishing and bewitching at first sight, there are too many pictures that hold a special place in my heart.

Y: How did the process of making the project feel like for you and Victoria? Was it fun? Tough?

V: The process was hard at times since we didn't see eye to eye in certain situations; we've always had a complicated relationship, and I think that is never going to change. I was a kid and as a kid you want to explore and have fun at the beach, the least you want to do is to get into the most strange places to take pictures. But I guess the project opened a door to explore the possibilities of solving a complex mother-daughter relationship.

C: It was mostly like a rollercoaster, not all the times it was fun and personally for me it wasn't easy to face the truth of the situation. We had very special moments in the process.

Y: The project addresses your experience of motherhood and the relationship with your daughter and your mother. Did the project change anything in the relationship in your family? Do you think in general art can be therapeutic?

C: With my mother there has been a real change of life, we went into the process and I found her honest and open to do something about it. I feel that she showed me her human side and I finally understood her story, nature and her way of showing love. There were no more expectations from my part and I just started to accept her and love her as much as I can. Before this project we had a really bad relationship and now I can say that it's not going to be easy but I deeply love and honour her, the way I had never felt before. So it was therapeutic in this way. With Victoria it's a bit different. Yet, I can say that it's the beggining for us to work things out.

It was mostly like a rollercoaster, not all the times it was fun and personally for me it wasn't easy to face the truth of the situation. We had very special moments in the process.

Y: Why was there a big break in your work after 2018? Could you share?

C: By the beginning of 2018 I had some health and personal situations that didn't allow me to keep working as I was used to. After a little more than 10 years it was the first time that I made a pause with photography.

Y: Tell a bit about your background and your previous projects? What were they about?

C: I'm interested in topics that explore the psyche and family relationships. Before starting The Three Corners of the Ocean I worked on the project named Hanami. In the Japanese culture people honour life and death by taking time to observe and understand the natural process of life when the Sakura tree is blooming. It was kind of a personal exercise to go deep into the roots of my heritage as an observer and then as a member of my linage. I was working on the project at the Seminar of contemporary photography by Centro de la Imagen and Centro de las artes San Agustín CASA, Oaxaca México.

Sketches for non sleeping is a small project that talks about my fears, thoughts and states of mind while going through insomnia. It took place in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico.

Telos is a documentary work about the impact of hotels specialising in sex services all around the country on the society. it's an exploration of the place and the atmosphere they all have. As the final result, I choose the pictures of a hotel based in Morelia Michoacán México.

El Ultimo aliento is a short film made with a scholarship by World Press Photo and Fundación Pedro Meyer. it's a story about the situation we went trough as a family when my older sister tried to suicide and ended up in a mental institution.

Significant Adjacents is a personal point of view on the folk and rhythm of the city of New York. Using double exposure images was my only way to represent the feelings I had at the time I was there.

And my first formal project Utopia is a merge between big cities and their residents seen as actors playing a role in a huge scenario while they live their lives. I was interested in finding similarities and differences as well as catching the atmosphere that big cities represent in the most common human lives and their habitats. Most of the work was made in Mexico city, Toronto and Paris.

Y: Are you working on something at the moment? What are your plans?

C: At the moment I'm putting my energy into the book "The Three Corners of the Ocean" and promotion of my work. I have two projects on the table that I have started, one being a recovery of a photographic archive from a German family that I found at a flee market in Guadalajara Mexico; and the other is an exploration of my mind states and the process of living with a chronic disease. I plan to continue working on the projects that constantly question myself and talk about memory, family, heritage and personal bonds.

**You can order The Three Corners of the Ocean by Claudia López Ortega here **

A collaborative work of the Mexican photographer Claudia López Ortega together with her daughter, that addresses the notion of motherhood.

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