"I keep coming back to water scenes. I keep coming back to lakes, rivers and oceans. I like to explore the interaction of people with water. 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."
Dominican-born, Barcelona-based artist, Denisse Ariana Pérez's first ever photographic book,“Agua”, is the materialisation of a nascent yet endless journey and relationship with water. Water allowed Denisse to connect to the deepest parts of herself and to deeper matters beyond the limits of her physical body. This new dialogue with water took her on an aquatic pilgrimage, from the colder currents of Scandinavia to the warm pink lakes of Senegal. In these versatile waters, she has captured women, men, siblings, people living with albinism and non-binary beings.
We speak to Denisse about her new book and the different relationships communities across the world have with water. Driven by the climate crisis, it is evident that this relationship is heightened and pulled to the forefront of our minds when we view her photography in "Agua". We are reminded that water is the giver of life, something we need to protect in order to be nurtured. Without it, we are unable to grow. Without it, we are none.
What have you noticed with local communities across the world and their connection to water? Is there a deeper appreciation and respect for the sea?
I have observed that in some cultures people have a very profound relationship to water, in others, unfortunately, it is taken for granted. I got to witness how in some areas, like in the magnificent Lake Victoria region, some of its shores were covered in plastic and trash. In others, I witnessed the abundance of water and the scarcity of it. I spent an entire day looking for a body of water to photograph during a drought season in Dodoma. I ended up photographing in a tiny, miniscule pond, which was the only vestige from a bigger river.
In some communities that lived by rivers, oceans or lakes people respected and feared the water. They understood its power in a very profound way, they knew that water could give life and nurture but also that it was a powerful force.
Your project spans multiple countries and communities around the world, what was the whole experience like for you? Where was your favourite place?
There were many favorite experiences during this aquatic pilgrimage. A special favorite for me was exploring the Jinga region of Uganda with a local friend's father who was a geography school teacher. He knows so many special corners within that lush landscape. He became my sidekick and assistant. One day we spent 8 hours on a motorcycle with a third person driving through crop fields and land and in order to travess a small river we, along with the help of several other men, had to place the motorcycle on a small wooden boat and paddle to the other side. It was an adventure to say the least.
Also, when shooting in Nordic waters, in Denmark. I got to witness the resilience of the female body. Some of the photos were taken in the Fall or Spring, and the water was quite cold. Women were always able to stay much longer in the water than men from my experience. At least double the time in some cases. It was fascinating, I was once again in awe of the strength women's bodies possess when dealing with pain or adversity.
What’s in your camera collection?
I shoot with a Nikon F2 and sometimes with an Olympus mju I for more candid shots.
Is there anyone you met on your trip that’s made a lasting impression?
Yes, there were several lasting impressions, but Baye and Cheikh, two Senegalese young men, first come to mind. I met them on the street as they were walking somewhere.
Photographing them was one of my favorite shoots of all time, they were close friends and had such bright energy. They were so open and willing to really lean on one another, which to me is the most beautiful thing to capture, create some intimacy among two people who already have a bond while getting them to step outside of their comfort zone. One of their photos ended up being one of the two covers of the book, so that should say enough about how much I loved photographing them.
Why do you travel, what does it mean for you?
I don't think I have ever felt like I belonged to a specific place, no place has felt fully like "home." I feel the most "at home" when I am out in the world, when I am transiting and flowing through it.
"Agua" is available here.
The special limited edition is available here.
10% of the proceeds will be going towards the organisation FACE AFRICA, which is working towards clean water distribution in Africa.