Focus on Self-Portraiture: Juan Cristóbal Cobo
Juan Cristóbal Cobo and I were paired together for a Leica talk on photographing at home during a pandemic. I had never seen his work before, and I was blown away that someone so new to self-portraits could be so inventive. Many of us dip our toes in the water and slowly inch in. Juan dove in headfirst. This pandemic has forced many of us to spend time with ourselves and look inward, and Juan immediately channeled this into a creative endeavor. A background in cinema and street photography had already trained his eye to observe. The circumstances of confinement forced him to use photography to process and understand. A big challenge in self-portraiture is how to portray ourselves and our lives in ways that haven’t been seen before. By making photographs daily, Juan was able to fly through the expected and free himself up to the surprises. I especially admire the poet’s heart that allows him to translate light, shadow and gesture into palpable feelings, self-contained yet also part of a larger story.
Juan Cristóbal Cobo was born in Cali, Colombia. He worked for many years as a cinematographer and commercial director until his passion for still photography finally took over and decided to make it his full-time job since 2015. As an autodidact he allows his years of knowledge in movie making to imbue his photographic work, combining his understanding of light and composition for an appreciation for stories of human interaction. His work has been featured on National Geographic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Science Magazine, Leica Fotografie International. Art Magazin, The Ground Truth Project, among others. Instagram @juancristobalcobo
Before the pandemic, I was mostly working as a documentary and street photographer. I usually found myself photographing in situations where I didn’t have full control, especially on the streets where everything moves at once and very fast, and decisions are made in the split of a second. Once we were ordered to a full lockdown, I no longer had the possibilities to travel or go outside to work as I was used to. I also decided to bring my father to stay with me. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to be doing any photographs, but that only lasted a few hours. I started to look and look again within my own home, something I had almost never done before. I started to look and photograph in a much slower way, taking the time, waiting for the right moment of light, using a tripod, carefully arranging things in front of the camera. I then became curious about myself and started to do self-portraits.
The idea of doing self-portraits was new to me, and it was the result of not being able to photograph other people out in the world. Being in confinement confronted me and allowed me to start thinking not only about the present events but also about myself, my relationships, my family and life in general. It was like looking at myself in a mirror, and I actually started by photographing everything through a mirror as a tool to examine myself and as a way to look at the outside world from the safety of my own home. I suddenly realized I had been trying up until now to understand people through my lens, unaware that I was a strange subject to myself that needed to be explored. Self-portraits are a powerful tool for self-discovery and expression. – Juan Cristóbal Cobo
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