Mendez & Kaplan’s exploration of the Columbian water crisis

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Mendez & Kaplan to investigate the impact of climate change in Colombia  in a new collaboration between WaterAid and 1854 

Please note, artists’ project proposals for the WaterAid Climate Commission may be subject to change due to COVID-19.

Cadáveres Exquisitos by Marisol Mendez and Monty Kaplan is less a collection of photographic diptychs and more a tongue-in-cheek game of visual ping pong. This is not surprising, given that the ongoing series is based on the game commonly known in English as ‘Consequences’. Taking the premise of the game – where players take turns drawing on a sheet of paper, folding it and then passing it onto the next player – the photographic duo’s series is a playful questioning of narratives. One half figurative and the other abstract, the images in Cadáveres Exquisitos work together to balance each other out in a kind of syncopation.

After meeting during a masterclass for Folio in 2020, the pair “hit it off immediately” and began discussions around the future of their work. “We both had all of these questions around photography and what we should do with it after the pandemic,” says Mendez, who is Bolivia-based, of their first encounter. Pretty soon, they realised that existential questioning wasn’t the only thing they had in common. “We have a very similar background,” Kaplan explains from his home in Buenos Aires. “We come from a very lucky few and we have a lot of opportunities…” He peters out, searching for the right word. Mendez chimes in: “We recognise our privilege.” Finishing each others’ sentences seems to be another match in their ping pong game — something they’ve no doubt perfected over countless Zoom calls while working together over country borders. 

© Marisol Mendez & Monty Kaplan

Travel taught both photographers different ways of understanding both culture and communication. “We both returned to Latin America after living abroad for quite some time and, to us, it’s very weird to come back to your birthplace and find that the way that you’re seen is very determined by foreigners,” says Mendez. This spurred in both artists a desire to construct “a new narrative and new visual style,” offering “a glimpse into what Latin America is now”. Kaplan confirms: “It’s an interesting change of perspective. You really see things with a different set of eyes and, as a photographer, you can use that to inspect your own identity as a Latin American.”

Although they may come from similar backgrounds, Mendez recognises that in terms of photography, they look at things very differently. Much of Mendez’s work is wonderfully saturated; ripe-for-the-picking tomatoes radiating light. So strong is the colour, you could almost touch them, transforming her photography into a kind of synaesthetic art. With a style that entwines filmmaking and photography, Kaplan’s work similarly investigates how we perceive reality, albeit in a more satirical way. “I think photography is this tool to question what we see, why we see it and why we take it as reality,” he comments. “I have a good eye for seeing what’s not so nice to look at. I’m very drawn to mundane scenes.”  

© Marisol Mendez & Monty Kaplan

Ahead of their trip to Colombia to photograph some of the country’s most vulnerable communities where WaterAid works, how do the pair foresee their different approaches working together? For Mendez, the dissonance will help them capture the complexity of the water crisis in Colombia. We like to look at our images side by side to see how this third meaning is created with the mix. I think that responds to the idea that we have such a mixed continent,” she proffers. Kaplan echoes this belief, highlighting that they’re “dealing with a very big problem” which can be best depicted with a conscientious eye. “We don’t want to shy away from reality. Marisol’s work, with all its colour and humanity, balances mine out.”  

© Marisol Mendez & Monty Kaplan

Central to the commission will be powerful human-led stories: nuanced and emotive visual narratives that shine a light on how women in particular are impacted by the water crisis — both directly and by way of knock-on effects — as well as how they are adapting and responding. Both the themes and structure of Mendez and Kaplan’s photographs, which explore identity and multiculturalism, will be revisited in this new commission. 

Marisol Mendez

@marisol__mendez

Monty Kaplan

@monty.kaplan

The WaterAid Climate Commission is a collaboration between Studio 1854 and WaterAid. Want to work with major brands and NGOs on compelling, cause-conscious campaigns? View our current commission opportunities.

Alice Finney

Alice Finney is an arts and culture Editor and Writer, based in Berlin. A graduate of the Central School of Ballet and Sussex University, she specialises in writing about dance, design and popular culture. She has written for titles including SLEEK Magazine, INDIE Magazine, Mixmag, gal-dem, HuffPost UK, and Dezeen.