By: Camila Álvarez
I met with Diana a.k.a. Parcialmente Nublada at Butter Gallery a couple of days before the opening of Wild Streets—her solo show, and asked her to come upstairs with me and tell me the stories behind some of the pictures she had selected for her exhibition. The first one she pointed at was a bird’s-eye view photo taken at nighttime in Dominican Republic. A beautiful composition in which you can see three motorcycles parked on the street, lightning up a house where Hox was painting a mural. A group of locals, including some kids, had gathered next to the bikes, most of them looking at a big woman with a pony tail who was sitting on a chair in front of the house…
Hox, Rio San Juan, 2014
Diana Larrea: This was a street with no light, zero light. 2Alas and Hox had finished their mural and Hox, kinda crazy like always, was saying “I want to paint now, I want to paint,” so we walked a little and we found this woman who we had seen that day while she someone was dying her hair on the street. In Perú, we call La Mami (The Mommy) the woman who is in charge of a bunch of prostitutes. The fact that this lady looked so strong and that she was always bossing around made her seem like a Mami. She wanted Hox to paint a mural on one of the walls outside her house, but there was no light at all, so people started calling a lot of people with motorcycles and they came and illuminated the street so Hox could paint.
I climbed an unfinished house that was next to La Mami’s house and I was able to take this picture. It was cool to see how people got together and collaborated so Hox could paint. They didn’t have much, but they were willing to share everything they had with us. This is definitely one of my favorite pictures. Not only because of the shot, but because of everything that happened that night. There was a guy who started singing in front of us, another one who started reciting, Hox painted the bike of some people. It was so much fun.
That day I hung out with 2Alas and Hox all day. They were painting a mural with the face of a kid who people called empacha’o (stagnant, stuck). He was a kid who supposedly can’t grow anymore. He looks 13, but he says he is 19. Nobody is really sure how old he is. Anyway, the guys thought the kid was a very interesting character and decided to paint his face on the wall. When they projected his face on the wall, everybody from the town came close to them and started screaming: “empacha’o”! “empacha’o”! They couldn’t believe it was him on the wall. Now empacha’o is the star of Rio San Juan [laughs]. And he was such a good painter, Andrew from 2Alas made a video of him. He said he thought he was going to oust Jacopo (2501) because his lines were so perfect! [laughs].
After I came back from the Dominican Republic, I felt a new necessity. Before, it was more about photographing the artistic process of the artists, but now it’s more about mixing the art with the people and with the mood of each moment.”
R17: Why do you photograph street art?
Diana Larrea: When I went to Europe for the first time, I met up with a friend in London. He really liked street art. In Basel 2010 I brought him to Wynwood and we did a small tour and he loved it. In 2011, when we met up in London, he told me London was one of the best places for street art, and he invited me to take a tour. I was like “ugh, are you serious? But we ended up taking the tour. My friend is a big talker. He’s a Cuban American that has nothing better to do than talk [laughs]. At the end of the tour he was talking with the guy that gave the tour and told him that I took pictures, that I took street art pictures. He said that because I had taken photos of Wynwood in a few occasions. But yeah, he tells the guy I was a street art photographer. It happened to be that the guy had the idea of making this app, like a map, which already exists in Wynwood, but like I told you this was back in 2011, which was before it existed. So this dude already had the app in London, which is called Street Art London, and he had already come up with the New York one, which is called Street Art New York. This guy asked me if I was interested in taking some pictures for the app in Miami, and I said, “Yeah, sure”. Then we met at his office and he explained to me what he wanted.
What happened after that?
He told me what he needed and he made me sign a paper saying I couldn’t say much about the project. It was ridiculous, because the app boom was just starting, so anyway, I come back and as soon as I get here I start taking pictures in Wynwood more than anything.
I still lived in Davie, so I’d come all the way down here for a whole day to take pictures. I couldn’t really shoot. I really didn’t think about architecture or the lighting. I was shooting with my old camera, which had a wide-angle adapter, and now when I see the pictures I can’t believe how bad they are. So yeah, that’s how I started.
So, in the beginning you didn’t think about the technical aspects of your pictures at all…
No, I didn’t think about that at all. I wasn’t conscious of light, and besides that, I also thought to myself “it’s for an app, it’s not like I have to take these pro photos, and I’m not going to see a cent until this is over anyway”.
But this project was what paved the way for you to become an insider in the street art world…
Yeah, I started taking photo after photo and then I had to look for the coordinates to see where the murals were located. That’s what gets me to start finding out about artists’ names because I took the pictures but I didn’t have the slightest clue who the artist was, unless it clearly said who made it, but how I had to look for the names was crazy. I would google “Basel 2010”, to see if someone had put up a mural or something, so that’s when I started matching photos with each other. That wasn’t my job, but I liked doing it. It was in Basel 2011 when I met all the artists whose work I had seen in pictures. It was an amazing year. I didn’t know how to explain to them what I was doing, I didn’t even have social media yet, I didn’t have anything, so I would tell them that I was photographing for an app, but I wouldn’t give them any more info.
When did you realize this was your real “work”?
By Basel 2012 I knew a lot of locals, and I was already connected with a lot of international artists because of my Street Art Miami facebook page. Artists used to contact me asking me for walls and for tips for the Bastle hustle. One time the guy who owns Street Art News, the biggest digital street art platform, sent me a message asking me for a couple of walls for DALeast and Faith47. I had no idea who they were, but I looked them up and I loved their work.
I had just met Evoka and some other people at the Wynwood Cigar Factory and one day I told him that the guy from Street Art News was asking me for walls for DALeast and Faith47, and he opened his eyes and he was like: “DALeast? Wow, I’ll get him a wall!” Then all these people came to Miami and they are really the first big people I got to know from the street art world. Then I met Andrew and Filio from 2Alas and got to know a lot more about the local scene. That’s when I started taking my job more seriously.
In 2013 I went to Europe again. This time I went Switzerland and Milan. This time I didn’t want to go to touristy places, I asked my friends to take me to the places where there was Street Art.
That same year I left one of my morning job. I was really frustrated to not be able to attend all the events that were going on at the moment. I went to Living Walls in Atl, to NY, to Puerto Rico to Los Muros Hablan. Then in November I went back to Europe. I went to Milan, I went to Torino, I hung out with Pixel Pancho’s girlfriend—because now I’m friends with all the artist’s girlfriends [laughs] and she took me to a lot of places that had street art, to a really cool bunker…then I went to Trento (pic with mountains). So yeah, I’ve been going on all these trips with that intention.
What incites you to photograph?
What I like is the interaction with the city and the people. I don’t feel like it happens in Wynwood anymore. Here people photograph a mural and then leave. You don’t really get kids telling you how cool the murals and the photographs are. Street Art here doesn’t really have an impact like it has in places like Dominican Republic, for example. That’s why I want to travel more, I would like to see how Street Art can change different cities and neighborhoods, how people interact with it.
What do you mean by “change them”?
Painting a wall, putting some color on a neighborhood that doesn’t really have a lot of color, makes people very happy. At least in Dominican Republic people were super hyped with the new murals.
So what you like is the interaction of locals with the artists while they’re painting?
It’s the whole process, since the artists start painting until they finish, and also how the city and its people receive the final product. In Dominican Republic, which has been the last and best experience I’ve had so far, 30 artists changed the town in 2 weeks, and the locals were extremely excited to see the new colors, and they were always trying to help the artists, and the little they had, they would give it to us.
I think the same thing can happen in many other places. In Wynwood people don’t get excited anymore, but maybe we can take street art to other neighborhoods where people take it differently, maybe some of these people won’t even know that Wynwood exists.
What’s your opinion of Wynwood?
I don’t want to hate the changes because I feel that’s how cities evolve, but I think the new Wynwood has to learn to respect the things that made Wynwood popular, and what gives it its character—street art, graffiti, etc. If a new business is going to open up, or if they’re constructing a new building, they should embrace, implement, and play with the street art do Wynwood doesn’t become a place with just glass windows without walls artists can paint on, exactly what happened to the Wynwood Block. And I also hope prices won’t go up anymore [laughs].