From the moment Erika Morillo took a camera in her hands, she started to photograph her son Amaru tirelessly, connecting with her emotions and facing her own childhood. For all of us who were watching, we thought these images were just photographs that would go in her family albums.
Over time, we realized that she was building something else entirely, creating her own Umbral, a gateway that we can cross to connect with her, as a mother and as an artist, and what better place to do so than in the island where she was born.
What does Umbral mean to you?
For me, Umbral is a door, an opportunity to enter another stage in our lives. When I started editing this project, which covers 10 years of photos of daily life with my son Amaru, I realized there was a connecting thread between the images. I noticed that in many of these photographs he appeared with his eyes closed, in a kind of limbo, a state of not belonging neither here nor there, and I immediately recognized this feeling as my own.
With this project, I look to portray my motherhood as that door that took me from one state to another, helping me to resignify experiences from my childhood through my son’s childhood.
What inspired you to document your son’s first years?
I was inspired by a desire to investigate my new experience as a mom. Photography for me is always a vehicle to better understand what I think, to clarify my opinion and feelings about certain things. Also, devoting part of my time to something creative was my way of rebelling against my new reality, as I was terrified that my whole identity would be reduced to just being a mother. Photography awarded me that balance.
As a mother, how does it feel to see all those moments with Amaru documented?
I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am happy to have a registry of so many moments and to show my son that I am present and deeply involved in our relationship. But on the other hand, when seeing the images as a whole, with the exception of one or two images, I feel these photos do not portray his essence at all. They are not a reflection of who he is, but rather a total projection of my own feelings onto him. It is as if he were a mirror allowing me to confront aspects of my own childhood. In these photos, I feel that the limits between his experience and mine dissolve and become the same thing. I am still processing how I feel about these photographs.
What do you love about documentary photography?
Personally, I experience documentary photography as an exercise against forgetting, a way to preserve memory. I tend to forget a lot, and that frustrates me deeply. Lately, I am fascinated with the subject of memory, and how when revisiting our experience we tend to reinterpret it from many defense mechanisms or from our desire. Memories easily become what we wish our experiences had been. By documenting my life, I feel that I am honoring the ephemerality of the moment I am living, knowing that I will probably interpret it very differently in the future.
In August you will have your first solo photography exhibition in the Dominican Republic. How does it feel to exhibit your work in your country?
I am very happy to show my work in my country, it feels like a coming back to my roots. And I am also really excited to have this exhibition at Casa Quién, a gallery that represents a new stage in the art scene in the Dominican Republic. Casa Quién is spearheading really refreshing initiatives in the island, from well-curated film screenings and literary talks, gastronomy experiences rooted in local biodiversity and critical thinking, to the first artists’ book fair in the country. Their goal is to disseminate and promote emerging art in the Caribbean, and I am proud that my work is part of these efforts.
“Umbral” opens August 9 at 7:30 PM in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at Casa Quién. A space managed by and for artists, which serves as a platform for supporting, promoting and disseminating emerging art from the Caribbean and Latin America.