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In Conversation With Karla Hiraldo Voleau

How intimacy relates to the new era of communication

For our JOYRIDE edition, we got the privilege of showcasing some of Karla Hiraldo Voleau’s work, The French Dominican photographer reimagining representations of “men” through an intimate lens. Using personal experiences as her starting point, Hiraldo Voleau explores (and reclaims) her own identity as a woman while reframing the societal gaze towards men. Her work has been presented at numerous photography fairs and exhibitions such as Foam Talent 2020 and the Olympus Recommended Fellowship 2020 as a laureate. Hiraldo Voleau is currently relocating back to Paris with an exciting upcoming project in the works. We got a chance to catch up with the flourishing photographer to learn more about her deep – and utterly beautiful – relationship to her photography.

Hey Karla! So nice to actually speak in real-time. How are you doing today, how has your day been?
Great, actually, I had in my mind all day I would be to talking to you at three and then ten mins ago I was like, oh my gosh it’s time! I had to rush but now I am ok, I am working at home you see.

A nice, chill day then? It’s also been quite a chill day here today…
Yes, and nice. Where are you currently?

Rainy Amsterdam
Amsterdam ahh right!

Could we begin by discussing your journey into photography? I believe you studied at ECAL right?
Yeah, I did my masters there. I did do a bachelor in Paris before I came to Switzerland. When I was doing my masters I really truly found my interests in art and I guess my overall style. Since then I have been focusing on the same type of subjects: masculinity, the female gaze, relationships, and everything under the umbrella of the world. Particularly how intimacy relates to the new ways of communicating of this era.. and stuff like that.

You mention working around the concept of the female gaze and alongside this, masculinity. What inspired this lens in which you look into the world?
Some of my favourite artists have been doing that forever. I was always really into the 70s conceptual art, women using their body and creating performances around their body to describe the world. I love artists who want to transgress male spaces and enter this forbidden world. That inspires me. 


It seems there are two aspects of your work and this gaze. First is the notion of gender performativity, the second, is divine femininity. Would you agree?
At first, I really wanted to find the answer to men desiring openly. I was looking everywhere for male nudes made by women and I couldn’t find a lot, or any at all actually. Now, it is obviously a very current subject but when I started I was trying to counterbalance the omnipresent male gaze. Later, I realized that it wasn’t researched, rather, it was an exploration that I don’t regret. I realized that it’s not mimicking the male gaze just because it is looked through the eyes of a female.

Exactly. it’s too binarizing.
I am finding my own ways to be a female and experience the space around me and relationships as a girl. 

Would you say that your work has helped you explore yourself more personally? Or rather, by exploring yourself have been able to portray that through your work?
That’s a good question. And to be honest, I’m not sure. However, every one of my projects has a ton of art therapy within them. I go through stuff and I use my own experience to then gain interest in something else, something broader let’s say. I use my own questions or problems, curing these problems by then engaging with them which helps to figure out who I am. 

It is very evident that your work is very personal and familial. I was interested in the way that you work with the subjects you photograph. Is there a collaborative element there or do you have a preexisting vision for the image?
When I do portraits that are not part of one of my photography series it’s just about observing and connecting. These moments come with no expectations at all, I may have what I like in mind… natural light, skin colour, there are some poses that are your go-to. You have to have some base when you enter the shoot, I like to be in control and I feel very powerful. It’s also not because I want to, I don’t know, control the person … but it’s because I realize that me feeling confident makes them feel more reassured and trusting. The worst thing that could ever happen is that both the model and the photographer are like…

“I don’t know what to do” haha
Yeah, then they are flaky. You need to be like a boss, but I am using, of course, what they give me and what they want to give me.

It’s somewhere in the middle of spontaneity and direction.
Before I shoot I always have to have a long conversation, a coffee, to get to know a person. 

You get to know them personally, feel their energy. Do you consider how their personality then poretays itself through in the image?
Yeah, I try to, because I always find my models beautiful (because otherwise why would I shoot them). Finding interest in something makes you find it beautiful somehow, at least when it comes to people. So, I always want to make them just as beautiful as I see them. 

I find that really interesting actually, the idea that there’s a focus on beauty. Whether that be internal or external or both.
In all my portraits there’s like, for example, no like big movements. It’s not about the dynamics, but rather, it’s very much more about gentleness. Something that is soft – but not cheesy. 

When I first saw your photos actually, I actually thought of you as the lover taking a photograph in the morning. Even though I know, practically, that’s not what’s happening. But I think it comes from being able to share the level of intimacy and comfortability you do.
Yeah, that’s a good thing that you say that. 

But not in a sleazy way, in an intimate and loving way.
Yeah, I love that.

My final question is, as we enter the new year, what are your goals or wishes for 2022?
Well, 2021 was very dramatic for me. But I am very very positive somehow, I don’t know. I am going to turn 30 this year so this is a big year. And I am also going to have my first solo show in Paris in June. 

That’s amazing
Thank you, It’s about a very cathartic break-up. It’s a very personal story, but I am excited to share it with other people who also went through these experiences. So I am very much looking forward to finally doing that exhibition. I am also moving to Paris in April, so it’s a lot of new beginnings. I am hoping for 2022 to be exciting. 

Yeah, the year of new beginnings. For sure. Well thank you so much for talking to me today, I really appreciate it. 

Words by Grace Powell 

Images by Karla Hiraldo Voleau

As seen in The JOYRIDE Issue