This week, we're exploring the sense of Sight with iconic photographer Anita Calero. A true visionary - and the eye behind our most emblematic images - Anita's career began when she moved to New York City in the 1970s. Today, she is one of the most sought after still-life photographers, shooting regularly for the world's top luxury brands and magazines in exciting projects (you must explore her remote shoot of J. Balvin's home for Architectural Digest). Anita is just as skilled at finding beauty in her backyard at home in Cali, Colombia, as in the top studios in New York. Just look at the stunning images she created of our products, that transform our natural ingredients and bottles into true sculpture. Read along for her lessons on how to see beauty in everything, the power of perfect lighting, and her secret to the most vibrant skin and spirit.
What is your hometown, and where do you live today?
I’m in between Cali and San Andres in Colombia, Barcelona, and New York. Wherever the wind goes, I go with it.
What drew you to photography as a craft? Did you always know you were an artist?
I was born to parents with great aesthetics. They were artists in their own right. My father was a civil engineer, who very proudly graduated from MIT. They constructed our house together. They built it with an architect, but they actually designed the house themselves. So I was born to artists.
My mother always had a camera strapped on her neck. Always. I think if I was breastfeeding, I remember seeing this beautiful case of leather. It was a Cannon - a professional Cannon, not a Mickey Mouse Cannon. I remember the magic of just capturing this and concentrating on what she was doing. Of course, she wasn’t taking pictures of a still life - she was registering everything from when we were born to when we were old. It was just magic.
I never finished high school. The visual in the house was so potent, that it was like I don't need Chemistry, I don't need Religion, I have it already in my genes. My parents were the biggest teachers, and that’s what made me discover I was an artist. My hands were very crafty, with common sense, I was very hands-on with things I knew. We all inherit. For me it was from both sides; they awoke my eye.
How does being a photographer make you see things in a different way? What are some things that catch your eye that others may miss?
Being a photographer is having a curiosity that wants to freeze the moment. To see like a painter. It's another medium that makes you just want to capture and freeze that moment. The process is there. You see it, you take a picture, and it stays forever. Let’s freeze that history – instead of reading it, you’re freezing it as an image.
I think everyone is a photographer, but some of us have made it into a profession. We're all artists, its just that we photographers are drawn to that process. Now with social media, you see such beautiful images from anyone. It’s there, it’s palpable. It’s not something that people take all the way through as a profession.
Photographers have a passion to establish ourselves as that. The eye is a camera. Some of us process it differently and just say, "That's so beautiful!" For us, it's "That's so beautiful – let’s just capture that beautiful thing."
Nature plays a key role in your work, and is combined with so many other cultural and artistic references. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
God is my inspiration. Nature spells God. He was the creator of everything. I’m religious and Catholic, and I see him everywhere. So I think Nature spells God. My inspiration comes in the form of everything, but for sure, give me nature, and I will make millions of images.
My inspiration comes in the form of everything. But for sure, give me Nature, and I will make millions of images.
Tell us the story behind your favorite picture or eye-opening project in recent years?
I recently tapped into fashion, which I have done slightly. I am more tranquil when it comes to photographs of nature, as nature, or anything like a still life, doesn’t speak back to you. And when it comes to fashion, it’s too interrupted by too many people, and it's too much gossip. I just lose myself in translation. I need my quiet and my one-on-one. I have been tapping into fashion, and it's been really great, but not something I necessarily want to continue. I’m actually leaving to do something tomorrow that is fashion-oriented, with [Colombian designer] Olga Piedrahita and a brand of textiles that are made in Colombia, which is why I wanted to do it.
Doing fashion was eye-opening, but there is one image that really, every time I see it, I shake or feel great emotions... it's something that I can’t even describe. I mean, how can you describe an orgasm? You can’t! You feel it, and that’s it. I had just come back [to Colombia] to charge my batteries after September 11th. I came back to my mom to rest my mind, rest every part of me.
I wanted to do an image that would capture New York and September 11th. I thought, How can I do this? It’s through nature, it’s nature. My mother had a beautiful home. I said to our gardener, "Joaquin, can you find a dead leaf or a branch or an animal, or something." And he just came back with these two bluebirds that had just been crushed by a car. The beauty of these birds is that they mate for life. I took the birds still warm, and formed a little cocoon for them, like a heart shape. I thought, "This is the significance of September 11th. " And these birds mate for life - it's the most beautiful love story.
Once you encounter something that is magnificent that you create, you have to sit yourself out of your body and look at it from some other dimension, and go, "How the fuck did I do that? Who did that?" I can’t even give credit to myself, because it's too magnificent. And of course I come up with other images that make you go, "Wow, who did that picture?" Your ego has to come down, stay there, and say, "Oh my God – someone did that picture, was is it me?" But this image was definitely the image and still vibrates to a lot of people. It was my remembrance of September 11th, I froze it that way. [The anniversary] really hit me hard this year. It put me to bed, it made me weep. Every year I celebrated it. I never went back to see where it happened. But this year.... all kinds of emotions happened.
What makes an image beautiful to you?
The light is the priority for any photographer, any painter, even any dancer. Lighting is the key. You glow in the light. Light is essential.
For me, photography is not photographing apples and pears. Anybody can do a beautiful picture. It’s like Irving Penn – it’s seeing the beauty that exists in everything. You elevate. Look at Avedon, when he did pictures of his dead father, and Proust has been photographed dead. It's a beautiful image that you buy in the Metropolitan Museum. It's elevating that moment. Everything is beautiful. You see the beauty in everything, even in the mundane. Es un reto [it's a challenge] – nothing is ugly.
Beauty is beauty, it’s everywhere. You need to accustom your eye to see it. And with an attitude of already seeing it – not "I’m going to find it." I see beauty – it’s there! Can you see it? I smell it! I hear it! It wakes all of my senses. All of the senses are awoken by beauty!
"Beauty is beauty, it’s everywhere. You need to accustom your eye to see it."
In a few words, what does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is a feeling of great high. It goes everywhere – North to South, East to West. It embodies so much. It's joy. It’s an invasion, it’s like “Aaah!” It wakes up everything.
"Beauty is a feeling of great high. It goes everywhere – North to South, East to West. ... it’s like “Aaah!” It wakes up everything."
What beauty lessons have you inherited, from your mother, family, or culture?
For me, [the lesson] was you are what you eat. The genes that you inherit are also part of that. Then I complement it with your Hydrating Glow Oil that makes me glow.
I have been a vegetarian since I was 22 – it has been 47 years. A lot of people compliment me on my skin – constantly people go "my God, your skin, your skin! It's so supple, whatever!"
Now I am using your wonderful oil. In the past, I have always being using a nature-oriented product from a store in New York called “Live Live” in the Village – they are true, true, true, no chemicals, pure nature. I have been using it since I was living in New York back in the 90s.
What are the highlights of your skincare routine - any products or ingredients you can’t live without?
Water, and I wash my face with a soap for the skin. For me, products are a complement, but it is mostly what I eat. It surfaces in my skin. If I eat too much oil, then a pimple comes out. My routine is eating well, and using things to give the glow your oil gives me.
Most of it is the genes of my mother. My mother died at 94, but she looked pretty good. She walked until she died at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. She had lunch and took a nap, went to sleep and that was it. It’s definitely genes. My mother had beautiful skin, and so does my sister, Maria Cecilia. All of us have made, how do they say in Colombia - “Tu hiciste un pacto con el diablo” [You made a pact with the devil].
But definitely the ritual is eating well and complementing it with your oil and nature. If I overdo it swimming in San Andres, I put aloe right from the plant. I open it up and I smear it all over my face. It stinks like hell, but I put that and it's like baby skin.
I sometimes put avocado as well, and if I eat a mango, I smear it all over my face. I eat it with passion. It's enzymes - papaya, all of these fruits have enzymes that go back to your skin. Sometimes if I put mango for too long, the carotene gives a little bit of orange color to my skin, so I have to watch it. But other than that, if I see something that is nature oriented, I smell it, I smear it, I eat it, I bite it. Just rub it into me, I'm part of you guys, just get in there. And then I get a picture of it, of course!
Favorite self-care or mindfulness ritual?
I have been doing yoga for 28 years. Meditation. Tranquility. To be caring and loving to the people that surround me. And that’s pretty much my mindfulness and ritual. Be nice, be peaceful. Be here, present, and around me. And how does one treat people as they want to be treated. Be very much in the presence of others. And of course yoga 3x, sometimes 4x a week.
Favorite destination in Colombia?
Casa Pucha, which is my house in Cali, and Casa Ocho, which is my house in San Andres. And Barichara.
Follow Anita Calero for more inspiration at @anita_calero_arboleda