In conversation with Gabriella Olguin Peasey | Mexican Charreadas and Escaramuzas
NEST Ben: Could you please introduce yourself?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Hi, I'm Gabby, I'm 23. I'm from London originally, but I grew up in Mexico.
NEST Ben: Which year of study are you in currently, and what is it you’re studying?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I’m a third year photography student.
NEST Ben: How are you finding that?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I mean, it was great until it went sideways, and now it's been really weird; obviously because you can't do what you want to do.
NEST Ben: Yeah, it's been quite a weird time, especially with things like going into University and using the resources. I can imagine it’s been the same for photography as well. It’s just that little bit harder because it's hard to get what you need to be able to get things done.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Not just that, but even being able to go outside and take photos where you need and want to take photos.
NEST Louis: Yeah, it's just a case of having to adjust everything to fit this whole situation.
NEST Ben: How did you get into photography?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I did my foundation at the College of Art in 2016, and I started off wanting to do illustration or graphic design. At my school we were never really allowed to do photography, it was seen as an easy alternative to painting or drawing. So, when it came to doing my final project in foundation, I based it around graphic design illustration, with photography being the main element. After that, I ended up taking a year out to build a portfolio of photography and then applied to do photography at LAU.
NEST Ben: Oh nice. So it was almost just a moment in which you kind of fell in love with something else?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, pretty much.
NEST Ben: It tends to happen. You often feel like you’re pressured into a certain direction with your work, and then along the way you get exposed to different disciplines and get into new things as you go through life.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, definitely. The main thing I fell in love with was the darkroom.
NEST Louis: Do you do much film photography?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I do a bit. Some of my Mexico work is, but I don’t think the ones I submitted are, just because it's really fast paced. I really like to shoot in black and white when I’m over there, but I’m slowly trying to get into colour film.
NEST Ben: Yeah, colour film’s definitely the more expensive format. But yeah, we both absolutely love the series that you submitted. Speaking quite informally here, we were completely flabbergasted by it!
NEST Louis: Everyone in the Union was as well. When we were looking through all the submissions we were like, this is one we need, this needs to be the main one.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Ah, thank you. Yeah, I submitted it to NEST before for the culture issue, but it got stopped so I thought I’d submit it again just in case.
NEST Ben: We were very interested in finding out what the inspiration behind it was? We know from the little bit of information that you gave us that it's directly related to you, your background and your culture, but what inspired the series?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: So basically, my family is from a small town called Hidalgo in Mexico. My Grandad and all my Dad's siblings grew up doing the sport [Charrería], which is the national sport Mexico; and my grandparents both grew up riding horses (my Grandad has a farm) and competing in the events. My Dad and uncles used to do bull riding, and one of my uncles still competes, so like them, I’ve always grown up going to the events. Anytime we’re there we get dragged around the whole of Mexico, so when I got into photography I thought, oh my god, this is the perfect thing to photograph. From there I started taking photos to show my friends back home, and they couldn’t understand what they were looking at because it’s something people just don’t see, because when you think of bull riding, you think of rodeo and America, but it's really different. When I would try to explain it and how the events work, they seemed really interested, so I just sort of tried to keep going back to Mexico to take more photos of the events whenever I was there.
NEST Louis: Yeah, and I think they really do work well as a snapshot into a completely different culture because you are completely correct, when people think of rodeo, they think of it as an incredibly americanized sport.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, in America they tend to ride the bulls for eight seconds and things like that, but in Mexico, it's quite a different style of event.
NEST Ben: Did you feel it was almost kind of important for you to capture something that's embedded within your own life? Did you feel like you had a certain degree of responsibility to show people the true nature of an event that they may not be aware of?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I think I almost felt like I had the most responsibility to my Grandad because he knows most of the people that I photographed as they’re his friends When he would take me to an event he’d be like, ‘this is my granddaughter she's taking photos, can she go wherever she wants?’ so I essentially got to go wherever I wanted to go backstage and see where they prepare the horses and stuff. I’d say I felt like I had to sort of show people in a good light, which meant that I chose to exclude some scenes. For instance, in Mexico, the guys that compete (Charros) are sometimes seen in a bad light because they spend around 20 minutes in the ring, and then afterwards they're drinking and stuff like that. So it was things like that I chose not to capture, and instead chose to capture the event, their pride, how perfect their uniforms are and the precision in their movements.
NEST Ben: Do you end up going into your work with a strong sense of intention knowing exactly what you want to showcase, or is it more a case of capturing something that's spontaneous and in the moment?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I’d say it's more the second. I normally go and I’m like, right, I’ll just keep my eyes open. I’m constantly looking around trying to see what's happening, trying to work out where people are moving and what sort of repeated actions are happening, and sort of try and look for situations that would make a good photo. But I also try to keep an eye out for that split second where people are grouped together. For instance, in the ring when they start calling out all the teams, you see the guys behind waiting in the wings cheering each other on, and as much as everyone's competing, it's quite nice to get those facial expressions when everyone’s getting prepared at the gates. Once I stand and watch for a bit, I work out what photo I want to take, and what sort of thing I want to show that I think is interesting to look at.
NEST Ben: Yeah, some of the singular moments that you managed to capture in the series are almost quite cinematic in a way like stills from a movie. They seem like they were quite orchestrated, but they also walk the line between that idea and being a spectator or fly on the wall almost.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: That's the thing. For me, they're so gorgeous, and then other people read into them more, but when my Grandad looks at them, he goes, ‘oh yeah, whatever'. For him it’s just an everyday thing, it happens once every weekend, it's nothing particularly interesting. So when he sees them, for instance, the one where they're trying to bring the horses out and they pull back as if they’re trying to stop, he looks at it like, ‘that guy’s done it right, that guy’s done it wrong’, because you're judged on the way the horse look. So, if the horse opens its mouth, you’re deducted points, if he lifts a foot up, you’re deducted points, so he looks at it like that as opposed to actually looking at the photos.
NEST Louis: I think what's so great about them, coming from a completely western point of view, this isn't something that somewhere like Britain or parts of America really have in their culture. It seems so community driven. Do you think that the photos you've taken do a good job of representing the community within the culture?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Oh definitely, but I think I've still got a lot more to take. I was meant to go back to Mexico in May and spend three weeks with my Grandad, going from event to event to take photos and build up more of a portfolio and collection of photos. I guess there's still so much more I want to do with this series. I want to create more personal portraits and interact more with people.
NEST Ben: You've mentioned that the photographs document and celebrate vibrant colours and the life of these events that have been a key part of your family's life for many generations. Is this something that’s a constant theme or through line throughout your work that makes it personal in some way, or do you vary themes within different projects?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I think it varies, but I’ve just done a project on car boot sales, and a lot of it's very colourful and vibrant. It’s never static, everyone’s always moving about and living their lives. I don't like to stop someone and be like can you pose like this? I’d rather get them, you know, candid and caught in a moment.
NEST Louis: So you feel like the photos are more of a documentation of a scene that you don't have any control over rather than crafting something?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, I like it to be more like I’m snatching a moment, as opposed to slowly composing a scene. That’s generally how I work I think.
NEST Ben: Who or what inspires you and your practice in general? Are there any artists, photographers, designers, or even people that aren't necessarily related to the arts but are rather general sources of inspiration for your projects?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I have to say I'm a big fan of classic black and white photographers. For a good two years or so, I was fully set on wanting to do something to do with war photography, so for a time, I was obsessed with Marjory Collins and people like that. There’s also a Spanish photographer called Xavier Misoras. I went to an exhibition in one of the houses, you know in Barcelona they've got beautifully decorated houses, I went to an exhibition there. When I saw his work I was like, I want this guy's career. He's shot everything from protests to communities to fashion, he’s literally done everything, so, I guess that's kind of what I want to do. I don't want to be just a documentary photographer or just a community photographer...
NEST Louis: So just kind of taking photos of everything?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Pretty much. I’ve got photos of some protests that I took when I was in London which I enjoyed doing, and I’ve also got photos of some kids that I met at an orphanage in Cambodia when I went travelling last year. I just want to take photos of whatever comes my way I guess.
NEST Louis: That's a great way of just finding stuff that you wouldn't have thought you would have seen because you don't want to look for a certain thing.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, no, I prefer to just sort of have a location in mind I suppose rather than an actual objective or style of photograph I guess.
NEST Louis: For my own intrigue, what is the actual technical process of taking the photos, because you captured some incredible scenes within high speed situations? How do you set up the camera to get photos with such high definition?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: For a lot of them, I begin by trying to suss out the lighting. The problem with the events is that they're normally under an arena, so half of the arena will be in complete shade, and the other half is in bright sunlight. I usually have to make sure that I’m shooting into the sunlight, but then also at a good angle to make sure that no one's going to walk in front of my lens at the moment I want to take a photo. I guess that's where it came in handy that my Grandad knew the organisers. They kind of would just let me go wherever I needed to get the shot. I didn’t particularly have the greatest of kit with me, I just had an 18 to 135 millimetre lens, and I was probably shooting at like 125 or 150, something like that.
NEST Louis : What camera do you predominantly use?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I have a Canon 80D, which is my digital camera that I just stick to, but I'm slowly getting a collection of film cameras.
NEST Ben: So, how have you been keeping yourself busy recently, especially throughout lockdown?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I've had my project. We submitted like four days ago or something, so I've been working on that non stop this lockdown. The last lockdown though, I guess I just did a lot of walking and I also do a lot of drawing. But yeah, I haven't done that since the first lockdown to be fair. I just love watching films.
NEST Ben: Yeah, Louis and I have loved doing that. What’s been the best one you’ve watched?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: That’s a tough one. I don't think I could give one, but the last film I watched that I absolutely love was City of God. I absolutely love that film.
NEST Ben: There's a great photographer you should check out called Sebastião Salgado.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Oh I know of him. His work is amazing and so controversial.
NEST Ben: Yeah, he’s just incredible. I would have thought you would have heard of him obviously given the fact that you're into photography.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: You just reminded me, there's another photographer that I've seen called Eugene Richards. He’s done some work in Mexico and he did some work across mental institutions and how bad the facilities are. One of the mental institutions he looked at in Mexico is 20 minutes from my house. He literally walked through the front door, took photos of people, walked out and no one said a thing. It wasn’t even that long ago, it was like the early 2000s or something.
NEST Louis: His work reminds me of…his name escapes me and he’s probably one of the most famous American photographers. Ben, I gave you a poster of him.
NEST Ben: Oh, Gordon Parks. Yeah, the way they both capture some really unbelievable moments.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I absolutely love his photos and would love to create something along the lines of that, if possible.
NEST Louis: Would you want your photography to make a difference in the world?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, I guess I've done a lot of my essays throughout uni on the ethics of photography. Like how far can you go? Should you take the photograph and then help, or should you help and then take the photograph? But then the moment might have changed and the photograph you take might not have as big an impact or make as much change.
NEST Ben: Yeah, there's a certain power that photography and art definitely wields, but then also like you said, it does open up that question about the ethics behind it. Do you do something to actually help a situation and remedy it, or capture it and make it public knowledge?
NEST Louis: It raises a lot of questions about ethics and consumption of art for sure.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, it’s taking the context into consideration.
NEST Louis: So, why or how do you feel this series embodies the theme of colour?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I think that obviously, just the plain and simple of it is the outfits that get worn. Each team has a designated colour, it’s the same in the women’s as well. The women have similar events (that are less risky and dangerous), but they’re judged so much on the colours they choose to wear, their coordination and a combination of everything. I guess every time I think of Mexico, I just think of it as such a colourful, bright, vibrant place. You go to the market and there's just colours everywhere, it's insane.
NEST Louis: Yeah, I think that's what's so great to me about this series is that it's such a vibrant representation of Mexican culture, whereas you watch like a Netflix film, or Marvel film that's set in Mexico and there’s an orange haze, and it’s kind of grimy.
NEST Ben: What piece would you say you’re most proud of across all of your work to date?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I'd have to say my Mexico work is my favourite. If someone asks to see my photos, I instantly go to that work to show them. I'll show them the other work that's not just the sports; like I have this one that I absolutely love of a woman who sells cheese. When we came across her, she was walking around with a German Shepherd and I just took four to five photos of her, and I just absolutely love them, they’re my favourite. But then I also love one of the photos I submitted of a girl who’s slightly turned around, she’s really close up. I was sitting on the row behind her and I said to my Dad that she would make an amazing photograph, so my Dad said to just tap her on the shoulder and I couldn’t do it; so he ended up doing it. He tapped her and said, ‘excuse me, do you mind if my daughter takes your photograph?’ I’d already taken the photograph I wanted so I just took a few more.
NEST Ben: That's so good. What would you say are some of your aspirations for the future?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I don’t know if I want to carry on taking photos. I’ve kind of come to like the process of creating books, so I’ve just started to put together a book of my photos from Mexico. The idea of it is to show the overlapping of the play side, and work side of Mexico and the different parts within that.But yeah, with this current project, it’s creating the book that gets me most excited. I think. I kind of want to look more into creating narratives with the photographs.
NEST Ben: So, getting it down on paper and documenting your work in a physical sort of place?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I guess so. Also, with my photography, I kind of want to start telling stories as opposed to just capturing life as it goes past me, like creating more of a structured narrative. For instance, with the horse riding events, I wanted to talk to the people that run them. When I graduate I’d like to go to Mexico and spend about six months there across the summer period when all the events happen so I can become a frequent figure at the event, so people feel more relaxed around me. It helps that my Grandad is so well known, so when people see me with him they sort of just relax. I want to create this book on Mexican sport culture. Ever since I went for the first time and took photos of the event, I’ve just kept wanting to go back to Mexico and build a proper collection of photos to make it into a book.
NEST Louis: Do you think you can ever see yourself segueing into moving image?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: I don't know. On photography, we did a project last year on moving image, and I did really enjoy it. But I feel like there’s been so many times where I’ve wanted to do moving image alongside my photos, but every time in my head I kind of automatically feel like if I film something, then I’m going to lose the opportunity of the photograph. So, I think I'll probably just stick to photography. Obviously, I want to try and do some moving image, but that sort of mindset sort of stops me sometimes. I feel a photograph holds so much more even though it’s just a snippet.
NEST Louis: I guess that because it’s so fast paced you could get it on film, but then you don't get the chance to get the great photo.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, it's the moment, the framing, I don't know. I feel like a photograph can be more powerful than a five second clip. It can direct your opinion a lot more.
NEST Ben: I agree, you can spend more time just taking it in as well. You can always build your own narratives and imagine what's happening within the scene from a photograph. They have a certain power to them that you don’t necessarily get with moving image.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, I definitely think I'll stick to it because I want to explore more with film, so I want to try and slow down my process of taking photos. I feel like I've got a big habit of taking every photo that I see. I definitely want to slow it down and consider scenes, try and predict scenes, in a way. Kind of predicts the moments.
NEST Ben: Yeah, it definitely helps the creative process to really sit down and examine what it is that you’re wanting to convey through your work. If you could work with one artist, photographer, designer, or someone in any other discipline, who would it be?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Like a specific person?
NEST Ben: Yeah, either one or a couple of different people.
GABRIELLA: One person I really want to work with is Tom Wood, the photographer. He is very non existent online, he doesn’t even have a website. I actually met him at Paris Photo three years ago now. Then through another photographer that I started talking to I got his [Tom’s] personal email, and I managed to get in touch and have a phone conversation with him. I was meant to go meet with him this summer, and he was going to mentor me, but it obviously fell through because of covid.
NEST Louis: Did he do a lot of British photography? I think we’ve seen his work.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, his work’s amazing
NEST Ben: Where have we seen his work?
NEST Louis: We saw it at that gallery in Newcastle, the little one.
NEST Ben: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah he’s amazing. So he’s friends with Martin Parr, and he studied with him and stuff, and personally, I got the feeling that when MartinParr’s career took off, he sort of got pushed slightly to the side. But when I actually started talking to him, I have to say he wasn't the friendliest of people. Yeah, he was a little bit grumpy.
NEST Louis: He’s an older man now isn’t he?
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, he’s quite a bit older now
NEST Louis: Martin Parr’s work is amazing anyway, so that’s a hell of a connection to have.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Well, I actually got in touch with Tom Wood because of another photographer called Paddy Summerfield. I was doing my essay last year on loss, and coping with loss, and how photography helps, soI contacted Paddy Summerfield because he'd done a project called ‘Mother and Father’. I emailed him and I was like, ‘oh I have a bunch of questions and I was wondering if you could answer them?’, and he responded saying, ‘yeah sure fire away’. I was just amazed he responded, to be honest, I sent him 15 questions and he answered every single one and he ended up saying that if I was ever in the area, I was more than welcome to come to lunch, and I was like, oh my God. He’s from Oxford and I happen to be going home, so I emailed him saying that I was going back to London and could drive to him for lunch, so I ended up going to meet him.
NEST Louis: That's a great opportunity I must say. It’s nice to hear that someone who’s been around in the industry for so long takes the time out to talk with students.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: It was insane! He knows, Don McCullin, Tom Wood, and he had all these funny stories of casual meetings with all these insane photographers that I absolutely love. We went through his work and he gave me some signed books, but I think the most valuable thing was that he went through a lot of my work and a lot of my street photography from London. He sort of started creating links and was like, ‘Oh, you've got these themes of this and this’, and I was thinking, wow, I’ve never seen this, but he was seeing my work in a whole new light.
NEST Louis: Stuff like that is priceless.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, it was absolutely amazing!
NEST Ben: You get so much more from talking with people in real life. You get a lot more personal insight into their practice and them as individuals.
GABRIELLA OLGUIN PEASEY: Yeah, meeting him was something else. I think we were meant to be there for like two hours and it ended up being five hours of us just chatting nonstop. It was incredible.
NEST Louis: I don't know if maybe you guys feel the same but, being artists, designers and photographers during a lockdown, you lose that sense of a connection and being able to talk to someone. In a perfect world, we all would have met up to do this interview!