As published in Issue 1_2019 of Mid-point Magazine
Ivan Gabaldon has lived in Mexico for 10 years and in Merida for the last five. During that time, he’s photographed whale sharks off the coast of Quintana Roo, exotic birds in Calakmul, led National Geographic photographers on the hunt for jaguars and, more recently, collaborated on several pieces for the Palacio de la Musica. We met up recently to discuss the direction his photography is taking, his love of Merida and her culture, and what he’s on the hunt for next.
What led to the shift from nature photography to capturing performance artists in Merida?
Shooting bands and musical and theatre performances is something I’ve done since I started as a young photographer. When I became a professional journalist, I was hired by magazines and newspapers to do the same, so you could say it’s second nature.
What were the first concerts you saw when you moved to Merida?
Salif Keita (Teatro José Peón Contreras) and Teresa Salgueiro, the amazing Fado singer from Portugal (Teatro Daniel Ayala), made us realize the level of international performers who were coming to Merida, and how accessible it was to see them. We decided immediately to start documenting these artists and to date, have captured over 40 performances.
How do you find out who’s coming and where they’re performing? There doesn’t seem to be a singular arts and culture portal with all the information.
This is where Rose comes in; she’s a producer with a background in radio, TV and film, so her research skills are invaluable. She has her antenna working all the time, and searches online for festivals and cultural programming. From there she curates the information to help us decide what to shoot. Some performances are more visually dynamic so our research helps us determine what best to document. Even then, events slip under the radar and many of the shows we see are sadly half empty.
Taking photographs of moving subjects, at night, under varied lighting and weather conditions must be hugely challenging. What do you do to prepare for these shoots?
Having great equipment and fast lenses help, while a new generation of LED stage lights can hinder, but the technical challenge is only one element in the equation. Framing and composing while working around the action, the audience and all the stuff on the stage is really where it gets interesting. My focus is simple—capture the emotional moment—if the artist and the audience are feeling it, then we’re feeling it, and that’s usually when I get my shot. To be invisible is also part of the challenge. We dress in black so as to not take away from the performance, we’re mindful and respectful of both audience and performers, and we move quietly to minimize our presence.
Ivan, that sounds not too dissimilar to photographing in nature!
You’re right! (laughs)
Tell me about one or two performances that really stood out for you.
One musician who was new to us, Ala.Ni, a jazz singer from the UK, is an incredibly unique performer, and was a real revelation for us as music enthusiasts. On a beautiful night at the outdoor stage in Parque Santa Ana, accompanied solely by a guitar and harp, Ala.Ni showed us all that night why she is a rising star in the world of jazz. And I just have to say—these beautiful outdoor plazas in centro historico are one of the great things about the cultural scene in Merida.
Another memorable performance we photographed was a contemporary dance company from South Korea. The K Arts Dance Company performed at Teatro José Peón Contreras during the Festival Yucatán Escénica, and for one magical evening, flew their bodies across the stage in choreographic splendor. It was exhilarating to watch and very challenging to capture in pixels.
Do you ever get to meet the artists you’ve photographed?
Artists are more accessible now than ever, but we prefer to stay in the background and just do what we love. Sometimes we get to hang out with the performers but it’s pretty organic when it happens. We had a great night with the uber talented Orquesta 24 Cuadros from Mexico City, and spent another evening with the musicians who performed with Dutch jazz trumpeter, Maite Hontelé. We also post our images to Instagram (@kinetropico), which has led to some new friendships.
What’s coming up for you in 2019?
We’re excited about Mérida Fest, which runs from January 5th to 27th. With 140 events showcasing 600 local, national and international artists from Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, China, Japan and Spain (among others), I think we’ll be busy! The Culture and Tourism Offices are doing an excellent job in bringing diverse world-class talent to Merida, and best of all? It’s very affordable or free!
On February 16th and 17th, I’ll be taking part in the 2019 Merida English Library Artist Studio Tour. Although this is my second year on the tour, I’ll be teaming up this time with fellow artist and collaborator Ric Kokotovich. With 40 artists in 32 studios, the 2-day self-guided tour will be a great opportunity for people to meet all kinds of artists in their own environments.