Above: ‘Light through water, Corfu, Greece, August 2020’
Silvana Trevale’s images show hands held in friendship, couples embracing and youthful, relaxed faces, all set against a maritime backdrop.
Aproximaciones, a series shot at beaches across the world by the London-based, Venezuela-born photographer, feels far removed from a time defined by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was begun during 2020, in response to a competition launched by Aperture magazine which asked photographers the question: ‘What does tomorrow look like?’
In search of hope and joy at a time when travel and physical contact were being restricted, Trevale did what she has done periodically throughout her life – headed to the seaside. She visited beaches in Ireland, Greece, Venezuela and Italy, and when global lockdowns began to bite, turned the camera on herself.
Just two years earlier, and with her beloved Venezuela in political and economic turmoil, Trevale returned home to Caracas to document the lives of young people and families for her acclaimed long-term project, Venezuela Youth. She had been supported by the 2018 Joan Wakelin Bursary, offered by the RPS in partnership with the Guardian newspaper to help produce a photo essay on an overseas social documentary issue. Trevale was already building a successful career as a fashion and commercial photographer, with clients including Sony, Warner Music and British Vogue.
Here, she describes the impact the Joan Wakelin Bursary has had on her practice, and ponders what the future holds.
You were awarded the 2018 Joan Wakelin Bursary by the RPS. How did it affect your life and work?
Thanks to the Bursary I was able to produce a piece of work that was crucial to Venezuelan Youth, a project that continues to be prominent in my career. I believe having the recognition from the RPS has affected my life positively – I am privileged to showcase the lives of the young and families I had the luck to work with. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to raise awareness of the reality of my country.
Tell us about your beachside series Aproximaciones (2020–21).
I was fortunate to be chosen by Aperture and FUJIFILM with four other photographers to make a piece of work in response to the question: ‘What does tomorrow look like?’ Once I read that sentence I imagined a world where we could hug, kiss and express physical affection with the people around us without worry and restrictions.
This piece began with the search for physical affection between others around me. I found myself making my way to the sea each time I sought these photographs, and the piece also became an exploration of my relationship to the ocean. Water is hopeful – it’s an opening, a relief, and it’s beautiful.
As I continued to make work for this commission, facing the restrictions we are still under due to the pandemic, I turned my attention to myself. I then began to explore self-portraiture and a different relationship with my body wherever I was. During the months I made this work I travelled to Italy, Greece, Venezuela, Ireland and the UK. Exploring these concepts in each place [showed] we are all together in this.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your work and ambitions?
It slowed my way of working – I was lucky to still be able to have commissions and make work. I worked on Aproximaciones, a project for my MA, and some other pieces. In terms of my ambitions, the restrictions and not being able to return to Venezuela, in a way it made me want to make more. Realising how easy things can be taken away, once I had them again I haven’t stopped making work.
Where would you like to be right now?
If you asked me six months ago I would have said Venezuela, however I was able to go back for three months at the beginning of 2021 and I made lots of new work. Therefore I will say here in the UK. I am excited to see the work I can make now the restrictions are being taken down.
The series Aproximaciones, by Silvana Trevale, was originally commissioned for 'Creating Stories for Tomorrow, a partnership between Aperture and FUJIFILM.
Images above left, top to bottom: ‘Flujo de mar, Corfu, Greece, August 2020’; ‘Hands in water, Corfu, Greece, August 2020’; ‘Transforming flower, Corfu, Greece, August 2020’
Images above right, top to bottom: ‘Irish teenagers, Dalkey, Ireland, September 2020’; ‘Mother’s hand, Venezuela, February 2021’; ‘Mariposa, Corfu, Greece, August 2020’
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THE JOAN WAKELIN BURSARY 2021
Administered by the RPS in partnership with the Guardian, the Joan Wakelin Bursary offers £2,000 for the production of a photographic essay on a social documentary issue.
The Bursary was launched in 2005 in memory of documentary photographer and Honorary Fellow Joan Wakelin. Entries are free and open to all. Find out more.