Born in Philadelphia and currently based in Atlanta, photographer Santiago Vanegas has navigated in and out of America and his native country of Colombia throughout his life. Inspired by his painter mother, surrealist art, Latin American magic realism, music and cinema, Santiago creates work that looks at both the darkness and the light of existence. He says, “I see the world in a way that even to me is a bit strange, but very real. The world is complicated and fascinating. I’m constantly drawing metaphors out of how I see the world and its future. My images are about the relationship between reality and perception.” Although Santiago considers himself pretty open-minded and does his best to not funnel himself into any particular genre, he broadly prefers dividing his photography into two categories: “Places” and “Concepts”.
Places may incorporate extreme environments (Antarctica, Iceland) and busy cities (Los Angeles, Paris). Since Santiago has constantly travelled back and forth, questions of physical space have become a defining component of his life and work. He is comfortable with approaching and portraying others and enjoys exotic landscapes. “Antarctica happened by accident,” he says. “Honestly, it never occurred to me to go there. I never even knew it was possible, just like traveling to the moon is not on my bucket list. One day a colleague asked if I wanted to join him and a group of photographers to go there. The timing was right, and I jumped on the opportunity. Going to Antarctica had a profound impact on me. I could talk about it all day, but in a nutshell it made my realise and feel down to my core, how small and insignificant we are in the universe, yet how great a threat we are to something so vast and monumental. Everything we do, great or small, has a profound impact on our Earth. An impact that will make or break it.” Concepts are explorations of various themes – toxicity, technology, mortality, among others.
Santiago has been inspired by a wide range of visual artists (painters and filmmakers) – Storm Thorgerson, Andreas Gursky, Ernst Haas, Dali, JMW Turner, Gerard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kenro Izu, Roger Dean, Richard Misrach, Bill Henson, Ridley Scott, Terrence Malick. Instrumental music has also influenced him. The parallels between sound and image have always been a part of his thought process. His job as a photographer, he says, “is to document time and personal expression, statements and questions.” He has always felt that the camera is an extension of his mind – “When I have a camera in my hand or am editing images on screen or in a darkroom, it just pours out of me as if I didn’t really have any choice.”
He has too many ideas for future projects. “In my 17-year career,” he continues, “all of my photography has been very personal. It’s been about my reflection of a situation, a location, or an idea, but never directly about me. Right now I’m working on a new project that is 100% personal and very much about me. It’s challenging because not only am I putting myself under my own microscope (a microscope that will later be passed on to my audience), but I’m also having to constantly ask myself “why?” and “who?” am I. The “who am I?” is nothing new in the art world, but it’s definitely new to me in my photography.”