Adél Koleszár: New routes of faith

Foam curator Zippora Elders interviews Adél Koleszár, a Hungarian artist with a fascination for Mexican gang-related religious cults. 

Devotee of La Santa Muerte, Tijuana, Mexico, 2014 © Adél Koleszár

When in Budapest this autumn, I was introduced to Adél Koleszár’s book, New routes of faith. The book, which was published this year in an edition of 500, reflects upon her findings in Mexico in the form of an overview of pictures she posts on her Tumblr, plus more: drawings and tattoo designs of someone named El Gato, handwritten prayers by El Diablo, a selection of colour and black-and-white images with red overlays—all meticulously edited and designed by herself.

The subject is the frightening world of gang-related religious cults in that exceptional country. It struck me how Koleszár is able to convey encounters with this for me very distant situation through pictures and print. It is not only an admirable and worthwhile accomplishment in terms of documentary, but the images and the fanzine-looking design have a high degree of individual quality, too. This seemed like reason enough to ask the maker some questions about her layered project.

ZE: When seeing your work, it appears that photography is your way of life. Although we’d never met, when seeing your work I imagined you always keeping your camera close at hand, continuously observing your environment, events, and emotions. How did you start working with photography?

AK: I started to work with photography at the beginning of my secondary school. After that I chose to study photography at art school. At the time, beginning of the 2000s, the medium of photography and especially digital photography wasn’t as popular and available as it is now. It still had its secrets and mysteries. I became interested in ways to capture the reality that surrounds me and turning it into the kind of reality that I perceive from the world. It made me a very, very curious teenager. Also, I was always a bit socially awkward; I had problems fitting in, so having a camera between myself and the world I needed to communicate with felt good.

And today?

Photography is indeed my way of life. But although I constantly observe, I do not always carry my camera around. I travel to places on purpose: I investigate and I know what I am looking for, so that’s when I take my camera I prefer to be conscious about my work, to spend time at the locations and with the people I take pictures of. I don’t take too many photos at each shoot either; I observe a lot before I push the button. It also has to do with respect for my subjects. I prefer not to invade their personal zone or sacred moments with my presence and constant [camera] flash. I take the shots only when I feel it is necessary and when the people are comfortable with me and play along.

"I observe a lot
before I push the button."

Devotees of La Santa Muerte, Mexico City, Mexico, 2015 © Adél Koleszár

What would you say is the most important aspect of this for you very significant medium?

First, with my pictures I want to fight against the ignorance in our society. I feel that many people do not realize how cruel the world is we are living in, and I refer mainly to European culture because this is what I know and where I come from. I think it is more than necessary to be honest and straightforward about the dark parts of our present. People tend to live in a bubble and take safety, human rights and peace for granted. We do not realize our privileged position, until we step outside of Europa. My goal is to bring these conflicts closer to the viewers by proposing a different way to relate to violence and repression than is offered in photojournalism.

Also, being a photographer makes it possible to approach people. The camera enabled me to be pushed into situations and circumstances I am not sure I would have dived into if it wasn’t for the pictures.

Devotee of Angelito Negro, Pachuca, Mexico, 2015 © Adél Koleszár

What is your personal interest in these topics? Of giving visibility to realities that are often neglected?

I've always loved to observe people. I studied sociology to understand how a single culture functions. Photography is for me a process of understanding: I show how I perceive a given society or country. My topics are in symbiosis with my life. I move to a certain place and live there until it starts to interest me personally and intellectually, so I can make work about it. The pictures I make at these locations are able to transmit something interesting and valuable to the viewers and makes them think.

Also, the urge towards the extreme, violence, or death is constantly there in my work. These are all heavily present in Mexican reality. In the Hungarian culture, where I come from, people are repressing their instincts, are indifferent to each other and also towards the world. I think that must change and in searching for these topics I want to show that we should be aware of the realities of other people.

Devotee of Jesus Malverde, Culiacan, Mexico, 2015 © Adél Koleszár

Following your encounters via Tumblr is really remarkable, too. What does this particular platform mean for you?

For me, Tumblr is a space where I can share my work in an easy and effective way, without any limits or thematic restrictions. Also, it enables me to reach out to different circles of people and affecting and surprising a broad audience that is open to this.

"This is my only way to give back
something to Mexican society."

Both looking at and reading the book offers an immersive experience. How did you make selections and edit the book?

The book was made as a part of my first solo exhibition. The small selection of pictures on the wall intentionally dealt only with the alternative cults of Mexico which have incorporated the country's violence. I made the zine because I also wanted to show the environments, the atmosphere, ,and the social structure where these religions originate from. The selected photos are connected both geographically and in time. Since the book is more like a fanzine, I could be a bit playful: I used colour overlay, drawings from Mexican tattooists (tattoos are very important for all of these cults), and handwritten prayers. My aim was to offer a complete experience and a broader understanding of what kind of society it is and why it makes sense for them to follow these cults.

Santa Muerte tattoo // Culiacan, Mexico, 2015 © Adél Koleszár

What are your plans for the future?

My next project is to travel to the US-Mexico border to offer free photography workshops to the locals with a photographer friend of mine. The aim is to deliver creative activity to those isolated and troubled zones of Mexico, and to teach people to express themselves visually and release their experiences and traumas through the language of photography. I feel that even though my intentions are sincere and I might get viewers to think differently, I cannot reciprocate anything for the people I take the pictures of. Right now, I feel this is the only way to give back something to the Mexican society. This country gave me a lot, workwise and personally as well.

Also, more recently I find it an interesting new challenge to photograph lands which are connected with crime or genocide. I feel it’s even harder to work with nature than with people, because you can’t really influence the outlook of the landscape. Finally, my overall plan is keep developing my photography in the most professional way possible, while broaching new subjects and keep crossing boundaries.

About Adél Koleszár

Adél Koleszár (1986) is originally from Hungary, where she graduated with a Masters in Fine Art Photography from MOME after receiving a BA degree in Social Sciences in Budapest and studying photography in Portugal. She focuses on marginalized groups, with specific interest in their mental, cultural, and living conditions. She travelled to Mexico City as part of a half-year artist-in-residence programme, and has now been living there for more than two years. Her works have been created with the help of artists’ residency programmes and scholarships. Her most recent project, for example, was sponsored by the London-based organisation IdeasTap, along with Magnum Photos. This November, she won the 1st prize at the Budapest Portfolio Reviews.

Adél Koleszár - New Routes of faith
Published by SM

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