Renell Medrano’s vision of the Dominican Republic

The Bronx-born photographer and Parsons alum turns her lens on the people of the Caribbean island as a means of exploring her heritage.

There’s been much comment upon the status of photography in the digital age— particularly in a world where so many of us document aspects of our daily lives on Instagram. Now, more than ever, we know what makes a good image and many of us are well-versed in how to “read” a photo. Yet, living in the image-saturated culture that we are, might it not be more for difficult for a photograph to resonate with us deeply or to carry the same emotional weight as it might in a pre-Internet age?

These are questions to keep in mind when approaching the highly personal work contained within Renell Medrano’s digital exhibition PAMPARA. The NYC photographer is known as much for her 348,000-strong Instagram following as she is for working with the most relevant names in contemporary culture; from Dua Lipa to Megan Thee Stallion. Yet the body of work contained within the We Transfer-commissioned exhibition reasserts Medrano’s status as a fine art photographer, rather than a celebrity-adjacent “it girl”.

Across 18 images and a short film, Medrano revisits the Dominican Republic: the birthplace of her parents and the site of frequent holidays as a child. Photographing locals — a woman and child in matching bright pink dresses, young girls with balloons in their hair or children relaxing on the beach — she offers the spectator a simulacrum of daily life on the Caribbean island. With so much photography proffering up a vision of the region as focalised through the white gaze, the work on display feels like a necessary counterpoint and an important celebration of the photographer’s own immediate heritage. 

For the photographer herself, the project served as a way of exploring her connection to Dominican culture, having not lived there permanently, and examining how her early experiences have shaped her artistic sensibility as an adult. “PAMPARA is me going back to my Dominican roots and exploring that in depth for the first time, my adult self returning to the culture and community I was surrounded by growing up,” she says in a press release for the exhibition. “I wanted to pay homage to the loving energy and beauty of the Dominican way of life and let it shine for the world to see. My Dominican roots are embedded in my being and now I’m older I can see they are the reason why I shoot the way I do.”

Even as photography becomes ubiquitous through social media overload, PAMPARA is a vital reminder of the medium’s ability to show spectators the world from another’s perspective. The highly subjective nature of what draws the photographer’s eye, as in Medrano’s showcased work, is an indicator of how rich and varied each person’s interior life can be. 

See further images from PAMPARA via the gallery below. Find out more via WeTransfer’s editorial platform, WePresent

21 February 2020