The photographer speaks about memory, culture, and making her people proud with the debut of a new series that takes her back to her family’s roots
“This is all know and this is all I want to do,” says Bronx-born photographer Renell Medrano. She’s reflecting on the moment when she realised her life’s work was to make images, an epiphany she had when a highschool professor observed that since she was never without her camera, she should apply to Parsons School of Design. She took her acceptance into the prestigious school as a sign that she was on the right path.
Last week, Medrano’s first European solo show, PAMPARA, opened for two days in London, with friends Bella Hadid, Kendell Jenner, Ciesay, and Medrano’s partner, A$AP Ferg, all in town to surround her with support on the night.
Medrano’s PAMPARA is a love-letter to her roots in the Dominican Republic where her parents were born and a place she spent her childhood summers. Made at the end of 2019, the series of photographs turned exhibition, book, and film – in partnership with WePresent – sees Medrano documenting the Caribbean country’s glowing energy and its thriving culture, as well as revisiting “nostalgic memories” to transform them into “artistic subject”. Below, the photographer speaks about how she hopes the images will make the Dominican Republic proud.
Your parents are from the Dominican Republic and you mentioned this was the first time you’ve explored those roots in depth – what made you want to do this now?
Renell Medrano: I’ve been so blessed and able to travel the world, being around so many different people has made me realise what’s really important to me. Many of us aren’t able to make it out, so to see what I’ve seen, makes me want to show the world my people, at the same time as showing my people what we’re capable of.
When you set out to make this series, what did you want to do with the images?
Renell Medrano: I wanted to shine a light on my culture, which is something that hasn’t really been done. At the moment, the Dominican Republic has been going through hard times and I felt like it was perfect timing to use my voice and platform to showcase our perseverance.
These images “transform nostalgic memories into an artistic subject”. Have you taken direct memories and translated these or are these blended in fiction?
Renell Medrano: This series is something that can’t be made up. In some images, I play around with exaggeration within my cultures identity. But the majority is showing the Dominican Republic as it is. I didn’t want this to be forced. I kinda took it as a walk through the park.
“(I wanted) to show the world my people, at the same time as showing my people what we’re capable of” – Renell Medrano
‘PAMPARA’ translates to ‘lit’ but what does it mean in the context of this work?
Renell Medrano: ‘PAMPARA’ means many terms, and right now it’s a popular saying in the Dominican Republic. As I was making this series, it was a saying that kept being said during my time there so I thought it was perfect for the series. It’s relatable for my people.
How does the film by Thuan Tran expand this story you’re telling?
Renell Medrano: Moving imagery has always been a medium I’ve loved and a way of expressing another emotion, and with this film, it gives the viewers a sense of location. It makes them feel like they exist with where I am and what I’m trying to portray.
What were the first images you ever remember taking?
Renell Medrano: I was taking photos back when I was 14. I just remember photographing my family and friends and everything around me. My professor back in high school would notice that I always carried a camera on me and would tell me why don’t I apply to Parsons. After being accepted into Parsons, I kind of told myself that this is all know and this is all I want to do.
What can we expect to see next?
Renell Medrano: I love the element of surprise but I can tell you I’m currently working on a short film.