The Technicolor Vault of Cristóbal Rey
We promised you some technicolor treats and promises are things we like to keep.
This winter was hard. Things slowed down. Darby Mae went into hibernation mode and our skin (and spirits) went too many days without sunshine. Luckily, those days have faded into oblivion and Slow Culture is back with new rays in our eyes. Everyone meet Cristóbal Rey, a Chilean-born, Berlin-based world traveler, multi-instrumentalist, analog-obsessed photographer, and dear friend of Miss DM.
And if we made one promise, we’ll make another: the time you spend reading this will be so much more fun and inspiriting than the time you’ll spend scrolling through your morning news or lunch time newsfeed of other people’s [otherwise mundane] lives. Enjoy 🙂
DM: Bom día querido…cómo estás? Alles gut?
CR: Na paz, muy bien, alles wunderbar, et toi?
DM: Alles wunderbar ! Je vais très bien. Paris est béni avec du soleil aujourd’hui…que apropriado. Você, eu, sol. What’s not to love?
…so let’s stop right there. Enough code switching and small talk ;). Today, I have come to explore the technicolor vault of your creative innerscape (in other words, I’ve come to investigate your artistic spirit). Photographer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, weaver of words, raw food chef-turned-vegetarian, and the list goes on. But let’s focus on your main crafts – photography and music.
It was about this time last year, in April 2017, that I first met you. Or perhaps I should say discovered you. We discovered each other! It was beautiful! It still is beautiful! And here we are, finally sharing what the world ought to know: your story and your art.
So first thing’s first: give us a bit of background…
DW: Where are you from?
CR: I am flattered with your words, thanks; and first of all, I have to say that I am grateful with life for taking me through this endless journey of arts, beauty and emotions that one finds today. I am surrounded by people who bring the colors of the world and inspire me to build my art every day.
So I was born in Santiago de Chile; I am number 3 of 4 siblings; my parents divorced when I was little, then my mother married a very good man who gave me love as a father. That being said, I still have a good relationship with my birth father, which I am very grateful for.
What about your upbringing – your family, your environment, the zeitgeist, the weather – led you to walk the path of the artist?
CR: Your question is big so I will do my best to make it short…
I had a happy childhood. My family could afford to give me a good education in a private school, in a country that was completely divided. At the time, the social classes were very well defined due to the tyrant neoliberal system, being led by a tyrant dictator (Pinochet, who seized power with the help of Nixon and the US government.) He was murdering and torturing people for 17 years, ever since he came into power in 1973.
Even having security and love around from my family, I still grew up in an environment of violence and strong political conflict, which later became an important part of my character and very present in my lyrics about social injustice. My family was very involved in the left-wing movement.
I spent a lot of time in nature—in the mountains or on the beach with my family. I also used to go camping with the boy scouts in the south of Chile, where I started feeling connected to the native American people, and the elements of fire, water, earth and wind. This experience became another big source in my life, opening up a spiritual path that makes me a seeker of truth and a wanderer through different worlds. I like to see myself as a music shaman that gives a concert as a ceremony, where the audience and I can travel together through different spaces, physically and emotionally.
DW: Yes, a loaded question indeed, thank you for sharing. From what I’ve read thus far, I see a lot of juxtaposition – polarities even – in your upbringing, between the macrocosm and microcosm. Growing up in a divided nation under immense political strife and being a child of divorced parents; being surrounded by horrible acts of barbarism, and yet, still having the fortune of experiencing a happy childhood—having love and being loved by both your stepfather and birth father. The fact that you could still find joy and spiritual fulfillment: in nature, amongst family and friends, and of course, once you discovered and connected with the sacred spirits of the native American people. All of this makes for some powerful, inspiring brute force.
On another note, isn’t it interesting how some things come full circle? Allende’s socialist government was overthrown on September, 11th, 1973, which as we know, was backed by the U.S. all the way. Twenty-eight years later, the U.S. experienced their own kind of September 11th, a.k.a. “9/11”. Isn’t it ironic? Despite the fact that Chile had nothing to do with it. (September 11th also happens to be your birthday!!!!!!)
CR: It is crazy… there is something with this date for sure, my birthdays were always a day of chaos, demonstrations, and death; in Chile, no one could go out that day. Until today there were many things going on in the suburbs on September 11th. 11 is a master number in numerology, associated with faith. I see it as a number of transformation through division, where the 1 becomes 2 (1+0=1 / 1+1=2) of that, is a number of polarity and conflict, necessary in our human process of learning.
DW: Numerology is only something I’ve touched the surface on, but I found it to be a fascinating perspective to view the happenings of time. But let’s keep on track…would you tell us how you got involved with the arts?
CR: My family was not very into arts actually, but at my school most of my classmates were young artists, and our conversations were always about music, films, books, etc. When I was 12, I was listening to The Beatles and a lot of blues and progressive rock; when I was 14 I was listening to crazy stuff like Magma, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, Mr. Bungle, or Beethoven, and of course, also Inti-Illimani, Los Jaivas, Congreso, Fulano and other outstanding bands from Chile.
DW: Sounds like a pretty cultured group of lads. Are those the kinds of artists you were hearing on the radio? Or was it your friends’ parents that influenced these tastes and furthered these discussions? I find it beguiling how music could spread so extensively before the days of the internet.
“Colors of my childhood…” – Cristóbal Rey
CR: Actually, my friends’ parents weren’t into music that much either. It was more like a self-powered snowball: you were cool among your friends if you were bringing cool stuff to share, so we were all always going to alternative small theaters to watch art movies, or indie music stores trying to unveil the ultimate composers from wherever they could be from. Trying to nourish our ears to be able to understand other styles of music that maybe we were not used to. In some way, pushing the boundaries of taste to educate ourselves. So, if you were not able to talk about Nietzsche, Tarkovski, Jodorowsky, Miles Davis, or any other great artist in the globe, you were not fitting into this group of friends. And outside of school, we were going to parties, camping in nature, going everywhere together. The amazing thing was that from a class of 30 students, at least 1/3 of us were a part of this… very uncommon I guess. All of them are great artists nowadays, so we were really nourishing each other on a daily basis.
DW: That really does sound like an amazing childhood, or happy as you said. Band of brothers-and-sisters-type-generation. That’s really special.
What, then, inspired you to get behind the lens, to start capturing – or as I like to say, “immortalizing” – moments? Were you always using analog?
CR: I was always with my analog camera taking photos of friends and the trips I went on. I was always inspired by the people around, so it was natural for me to focus on portraiture more so than anything else. I did, of course, take some photos of nature, yet I was finding them boring when humans were not in them.
Ever since I was a child, I always felt ‘people’ was my calling. Then it was film, and later it was music that took over my life. I was absolutely engrossed in it. Yet once I started living in New York I began working with a filmmaker and using a camera again, feeling comfortable and taking it back as a serious tool of expression. I was working with digital for a couple of years until I got ahold of some medium format analog cameras…and there was no way back after that.
DW: Your portfolio brims with an eclectic, and quite stunning array of photos – in both color and black & white; tell us a bit about your muses and mediums when shooting film.
CR: I shoot a lot of old, expired films that are not produced anymore. Also, a lot of Polaroid, and also, a kind of Polaroid film that is not being made anymore. So, I have a stock that will last for a while (I bought a lot), and later we will see. About my muses I don’t know, I love women, of course, and I try to find the elegance in them in their nudes. But my best muses are probably dancers…I love to freeze an instant of a beautiful movement.
DW: I remember seeing your [impressive] collection of film cameras (and stock of film, my god) …I’m curious, is it more of an affinity for the craft that compels you to own so many various cameras or do you feel each camera is kept for specific purposes?
CR: I get a little bit horny with old beautiful cameras I guess, I am like a collector, and you can find purposes for all of them, but finally use probably 4 of them the most.
DW: Take me back to when you first began shooting film as a freelance? Who were you working for – what kinds of clients?
CR: First I was working mostly for musicians, then some magazine called me to do fashion, which I did for a couple of years. Now I do some fashion, but mostly portraits and shoots with dancers…and yes, as you might have guessed, mostly analog (with a few exceptions).
DW: You? Working for musicians? Haha, we’ll get back to that. But, Cristo, as I’ve seen and witnessed, you not only specialize in capturing the rawness of human emotion or form, you also specialize in capturing the ineffable essence of a place – travel photography, as one may call it. You’ve depicted scenes from Brazil to Berlin and everywhere in between. Do you have a go-to camera when traveling? And will you share some memories from the places you’ve captured?
CR: I have traveled a lot the past 12 years, and I always take photos of places, but almost always with people inside of them; it’s kind of a necessity – to me – of having a human perspective or a witness of the scale of beauty on this planet.
Or maybe the people in my pictures are the silent storytellers that take us for a ride.
My travel camera before was a Rolleiflex, because I love medium format, but lately I am carrying an Olympus OM-1, because I am also carrying instruments and my baggage tends to get heavy J.
DW: I can definitely agree with you about the silent storytellers in your photos. You recently had an exposition in Berlin “Janganda” that showcased a mirage of photos from your recent trip to Bahia in Brazil…
CR: Yes…it was an amazing opportunity to show a glimpse of this secret paradise.
Now for your music…let’s rewind a bit. Where did it all begin?
CR: I started playing an instrument at 14, recorder (instrument that I hate nowadays) at 16, then I finally convinced my mother to get me a trumpet, and at 17 the piano, which later became my main instrument as a composer. I think there was always a sensitivity within me pulling me towards the arts, but my surrounding of artists really built the foundation to be strong and brave and to devote my life to the arts beyond consequences.
After high school, I studied composition and arrangement at the Modern School of Music in Santiago, and after a couple of years I quit to keep taking lessons only with the people that I liked. I continued studying with people that I admired in Rio de Janeiro and in New York, cities where I lived for 3 year each, from 2007 until 2013. I got a scholarship to study in NYC, and in 2014 I moved to Berlin.
Of course, if I talk about my inner world I cannot talk only about Chile but also about Brazil. Brazil was love at first sight; since high school I started listening to Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethania, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina, Djavan, and so many other great artists that this land nurtures.
Then I was going there quite often until I took my stuff and moved there, where I got deeply in touch with its culture and people until now.
So deep that I consider myself as an adopted child of this green country, as life gave me a lovely step father, it also gave me a step motherland where I found not only beautiful nature and beautiful native American cultures, but also the strong presence of Africa.
DW: Do your artistic expressions intertwine at all…do you hear music in your photos?
CR: For sure, photos are pieces of time, and music is a time maker that is always inside of all my memories. Every place has a different light, a different color, a different taste, a different smell, as well a different music that freezes in time with every picture.
DW: When you think of your first album and then your latest album, Danguje (which is Lithuanian for ‘In Heaven’) what are some of the similarities and differences you see and hear? You’ve played with numerous musicians from all walks of life…how do your musicians influence the way you write music? What is your musical process?
CR: I have 7 albums, so the journey has had many curves, all of which have made me learn, suffer and grow. I am always learning, and I am always open to move in a different musical direction if my soul calls me there. I am very eclectic. The musicians working with me make the final fingerprint of my music; I write the song and the arrangements, however, my band is not comprised of robots pressing keys. They are beings of light who bring their own background to weave with mine.
DW: Beautiful. Well, I could go on and on…but let me ask you two last things. Where can we buy your album(s) and when are you going on tour?
CR: You can find my music on most virtual platforms, and physical copies of my last vinyl through my website. I am working on preparing a tour in Europe, but as you know, it’s not easy being independent, so I’m also trying to get more contacts and hopefully a booking agency to make it possible. Thank you so much for your work and the passion you put in it!!
DW: Wunderbar, beautiful, bueno…and thank YOU, my dear, for opening up the gates to your magical innerworld and taking us on a colorful journey that ultimately reflects the mosaic of your mellifluous outerworld.
And thank you, (merci, gracias, obrigada/obrigado, danke, grazi, etc.) readers, enthusiasts of art, beautiful beings who have taken the time to go on this long journey of many words as we know it is not an easy thing to do these days. If anyone has contacts in the music industry…has connections to an art gallery or an art space in your respective places…or would like to learn more about Cristóbal, please feel free to send him or us here at Slow Culture your thoughts.
Are you a photographer? A musician? A dancer? A dreamer?
We’d love to hear from you, write about you, or better yet, feature something you wish to write and share with this kooky, cultural world. Send us a message!
Words and interview by Darby Mae.
Stay updated on Facebook! (Or don’t!)
Show us some love on Twitter! (Or don’t!)
Get inspired on Instagram! (Or don’t!)