Calgarians may be unaware of the power that creating visual art has. The physical act and practice of art can be very therapeutic, which is why one photographer is showing others how she’s using her art to heal.

Carolina Vasquez-Lazo, is a young Calgary-based photographer who always loved the visual arts, despite not seeing herself or people of colour represented. Vasquez-Lazo is now using her photography to destigmatize difficult subject matter and share her personal experience with trauma to help others.

“Being a person of colour is hard,” the photographer explained, noting that the feeling of not being represented in the media can make viewers feel alienated and isolated.

Vasquez-Lazo’s family comes from El Salvador and as a first-generation Canadian she values having a strong sense of culture within her household. The artist believes that her culture has influenced the type of art she creates.

“The stuff that I grew up watching was so much of, well, not me,” Vasquez-Lazo recalled. “It was so hard to see myself, my friends and my family represented.”

LDCJ5Carolina Vasquez-Lazo in her element: the spacious photography studio at the Alberta University of the Arts. Photo by Lily Dupuis

Vasquez-Lazo uses people, extreme close-ups and vibrant colour schemes to share her personal narrative, which is the message behind her imagery.

Her work often features herself, her friends and her family members as the subjects of her portrait-style photography to reflect a more personal attachment to her photos.

Vasquez-Lazo is not the only person who believes in the importance of representation in media. Montana Finn, a photographer who is achieving her Bachelor of Design degree at the Alberta University of the Arts alongside Vasquez-Lazo, agrees.

“It made me more comfortable to see somebody else like me — a woman of colour — making things like that,” said Finn, describing the body of Vasquez-Lazo’s work.

“It’s inspired me so much to push myself.”

Making it Personal

Finn also feels a close connection to Vasquez-Lazo’s ability to explore her personal struggles through her imagery.

“It’s so easy to push down your feelings,” said Finn. “It’s been so awesome to see her using her artwork as a way of letting people in on her personal experiences. People can relate to them and they appreciate that.”

The task of turning difficult subject matter into something beautiful is the foundation of Vasquez-Lazo’s art.

“I’ve been making a lot of stuff that, at face-value, is maybe very aesthetic to the viewer,” said Vasquez-Lazo. “Once you read my artist statement, or hear me explain the work, you start to see that there are layers and dimensions to the photograph.”

By exploring the secondhand struggles of substance abuse within her family followed by growing up in a single-parent home and her personal battle with mental health issues, Vasquez-Lazo’s work is deeply intimate and emotional.

“A lot of people don’t even realize that my past is my past,” said Vasquez-Lazo, when explaining how she has dealt with experiencing traumatic events throughout her childhood. “It’s definitely a part of me that people don’t see every day.”

The importance of letting others into her personal life by sharing deep-seated information is important to Vasquez-Lazo. It creates a safe space where people can share trauma and destigmatize its effects.

She describes her style of photography as conceptual and multi-faceted; her imagery intends to blur the line between fine art and design.

LDCJ6The photographer sets up equipment for a creative photoshoot. Colourful lighting is something often seen in Vasquez-Lazo’s photography, as the artist frequently uses colour schemes to create a cohesive visual aesthetic within her photos. Photo by Lily Dupuis

Vasquez-Lazo explains that the intensity and meaning is developed through the audience taking time to explore each element of the photo. She doesn’t want her imagery to be too heavy upon first glance.

The emotional dimensions of Vasquez-Lazo’s work reinforces her belief in the importance of coping with adversity and deepening relationships with others.

As the viewer takes time to dissect the imagery a bond is formed between the artist and the audience. Vasquez-Lazo wants her work to create conversations that destigmatize intergenerational trauma and connect people who share similar hardships.

“Now that I’m older, I’m starting to use [photography] as a means of working through my trauma, and it’s almost therapy,” said Vasquez-Lazo.

“It’s definitely helpful, because once you’re done the project, you’re like, ‘Ah, yes, it’s all good. We can talk about it now.’”

Technical proficiency enhances art

John Gaucher, an instructor at the Alberta University of the Arts and a commercial photographer for over 20 years, explains that her work is just as technically proficient as it is creative and open-minded. He believes that Vasquez-Lazo’s work creates a very personal experience for the viewer.

“She’s so strong in terms of being able to create narrative in her imagery,” said Gaucher. “Young women are finding their voice in a lot of different artistic ways and that’s a nice thing to see.”

Gaucher emphasizes the importance of young photographers being able to find a balance between not only the technical aspects of photography, but the artistically creative side of it as well.

LDCJ4 A collection of a few of Vasquez-Lazo’s vibrantly coloured and highly conceptual photographic artworks. The vibrant flowers, part of a series titled “Pynk,” is currently being featured at the Creig Gallery at the Alberta University of the Arts. The photographer is holding “Divine Femininity,” a photo that explores the concept of virginity. Photo by Lily Dupuis

Vasquez-Lazo’s work sets an example for creators everywhere. The artist is a catalyst for the importance of starting conversations about trauma to comfort and unify people from all walks of life.

It is through her creative career in photography that she intends to share her vision with the community and advocate for the therapeutic relief that can come with art.

“Keep shooting,” said Vasquez-Lazo, sharing some advice for other young photographers. “Don’t delete anything, either!”

Vasquez-Lazo intends to break the mold for young artists. She hopes the future of photography will be sculpted by artists and people of colour who are willing to share their own personal experiences in order to pave the way for inclusivity and acceptance.

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Editor: Chelsey Mutter |

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