Photography for good: Silvana Trevale brings awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela
Silvana left Venezuela when she was 17, but not everyone facing the country’s worsening crisis can do so. Now, based in the UK, the fashion and documentary photographer often travels to her home country to document its reality and bring awareness to the situation faced by her fellow compatriots.
Silvana Trevale is a talented and renowned fashion and documentary photographer based in the UK, with many awards and photoshoots with great brands and magazines, such as Sony Music and Vogue. She comes originally from Venezuela. It is important to mention it since her home country is an integral part of her work — present on her fashion photography’s lighting and sentiment and, more clearly, on her documentary photography.
Silvana moved to Europe from Venezuela when she was still very young, but this is unfortunately not the reality of most Venezuelan youth, currently facing a severe crisis in the country. “The experience of having to leave my home country at the age of seventeen has shaped who I am today and what I care about,” she says.
Her most recent photo-documentary project, Venezuelan Youth, revolves around the moment in life where we are caught between innocence and maturity. The moment of hoping and dreaming when our parents used to tell us that we can be and achieve whatever we want if we work for it. But what happens when you are deprived of dreaming and, most importantly, opportunities to reach these dreams? That is one of the facets Silvana captures and shows us in this project.
With her work, Silvana aims to bring awareness to the reality in Venezuela and expects to, in the near future, be able to offer support to families she has documented there. We talked to Silvana about this and other projects, how her connection to her home country impacts her work and how she found herself a photographic artist.
What are you exactly portraying with your work Venezuelan Youth? By showing it to the world, what do you expect to achieve with it?
Due to the escalating crisis Venezuela is facing, families are struggling to feed themselves, causing the death of many children. Numerous kids have had to face a harsh reality affecting them directly and the people around them. As a consequence of these circumstances, many of the young in Venezuela constantly shift from their state of childhood innocence to an abrupt maturity. I am exploring the constant changes they are experiencing on a daily basis. Similarly, as I did when I left my home, I found myself in a foreign country without family and friends. The situation I was in cannot be compared to the harsh reality the children in Venezuela are currently living. Yet, knowing that not only do we share our roots, but that we also share similar heartbreak in relation to our home.
Becoming aware of this shared experience allows me to feel a sense of deeper connection to the young in my home. Also, it has brought me a sense of responsibility and care as they are immersed in a crisis that seems to have no end in sight. Leaving many of them without opportunities to grow and sometimes survive.
The overall goal of sharing my project Venezuelan Youth, it would be to create awareness and to help the youth in any way possible. The anger and frustration I feel towards the current crisis in Venezuela are what motivates me to continue this project. My perspective is hopeful, even though I am aware of the realities of the young. With the photographs, I intend to portray a break from their struggles. As what I wish for each one of the kids I photograph is a life in a happier Venezuela, a better reality for them.
Who are these young people portrayed? How did you get to meet them, and why did you feel like you had to create such work?
The young in the series, some I know personally, and some I have met around the country while I traveled through numerous states in Venezuela. My process of working is intuitive. As I move around and I see someone that sparks something in me, I approach them and ask to photograph them. The majority of the meetings occurred without planning. Spending time with each subject, I got to know them and explained my intentions with the project. The process of making the work has been a way for me to cope with what is happening in Venezuela. By working in this project each time I return home, in a way, I feel as if I am helping.
Warm Rain and Nosotras
You also have two other projects documenting people and their lives in Venezuela — Warm Rain and Nosotras. Could you tell us a bit more about these projects and how they relate to each other and the Venezuelan Youth? What is your motivation behind these projects?
Thinking about all the projects, as well as wanting to create awareness by making them, I seek to empower the people in my country. In my project Nosotras, I photographed the women in my family and also women around the country.
What inspired me was the hard work my mother, my aunt, and my grandma put into our family. They are constantly searching for medicines that my relatives need, collecting money for my aunt to leave the country and many other struggles. They inspired me to find other powerful women around the country to celebrate their bravery collectively. Also, this project has a focus on younger women who had left the country; during that time in 2016, the emigration was hitting one of its highest points, which continues to grow as many Venezuelans leave every day for better opportunities.
Warm Rain, I consider it to be the second chapter of Venezuela Youth. For this project, I changed the approach in which I found the subjects I worked with. The process was more controlled. I contacted many families to take part before arriving in Venezuela. In the end, three families participated and opened their homes to me. At first, I worked with a medium class family that lives in one of the toughest favelas in my home city of Caracas. I consider them to be one of the most hardworking families I have had the pleasure to meet.
One of the sons is currently studying in Chicago with a hundred percent scholarship in baseball. The youngest son is following the steps of his brother, training hard every day to be able to follow his dream. Yesenia, the mother, works as a full-time receptionist in a clinic, her salary being less than 10 dollars a month. And lastly, Sarai, the girl of the family, had to quit her studies as she could not afford to continue as the costs were too high. Even though the situation they face is complex, they remain hopeful.
The second family I worked with comes from a wealthy background. They were happy to take part in the project, although they decided to keep their identity anonymous due to safety reasons. The family’s dad shared his frustration concerning the increasing economic inflation. While the mother expressed her concerns regarding the reliability of health insurance as it becomes less trustworthy as the days go by.
Lastly, the Fermin Reyes family was the family that has stayed in my mind since I met them. Their situation is very difficult as the mother has been fighting cancer for many years. Three of the youngest children, Carmen, Carlos, and Felix are all hardworking kids, helping each other every day. Wanda, one of the eldest daughters, when I met her she was pregnant as a result of a rape. At that time, she was 17, she is now a mother of two beautiful twin girls. The last day I shared with them, we went to the beach, which they haven’t visited in months. We were all happily enjoying the water; it felt as if they had an escape from their struggles.
By documenting glimpses of these families’ lives, who are living in totally different realities, I believe it allowed for a clearer understanding of what the situation in Venezuela is like. Considering that even though families have the economic means to make life in Venezuela a little easier. They still face struggles, and uncertainty is profoundly present in their lives.
Motivation and creativity
How do you see bringing awareness to the situation in Venezuela, supporting them in the long run? Do you miss your home country?
I hope to bring awareness by sharing the stories of these families I have had the privilege to photograph and spend time with. In the near future, I hope to set up a print-sale or a campaign to collect funds to help the families that took part in my projects. And be able to help these families in a tangible way. Especially the Fermin Reyes family from Warm Rain, my family and I have been able to help with food from time to time. Nevertheless, they need support in other matters, which I hope to help provide soon.
In the long run, one of my goals for the future is to start a foundation for the youth in Venezuela, focusing on supporting young artists in my country. A foundation that will open a door for them to explore their possibilities in Europe and around the world. Also, I would like to implement the idea of an artistic career as an option to pursue in their future.
In Venezuela, an artistic profession is never thought of as a “real” job. I want to challenge this belief and encourage kids to explore various practices as a concrete possibility. I plan to hold artistic workshops in less privileged areas of the country, to motivate the young and challenge their creativity.
What has driven you into photography, and how did you start?
Since a very young age, I was intrigued by cameras and the process of making a photograph. I began by bringing my camera to my school and photographing my friends. Then as I grew, I continued with my interest and explored fashion photography, which I still put to practice alongside my documentary work.
The process of creating a photograph feels magical to me, especially the memories that the images carry. When the audience sees my photographs, I hope to give a sense of the moment I experienced. I believe that photography is a subjective artistic medium. Therefore, each person will have a different experience with my work. However, I hope that the photographs play the role of a window into the lives of the subjects I photograph.
Where lies your inspiration, and what is creativity to you?
My family, my home, and my people are what inspires me; I find myself in a constant search of home through my work. Whether the project is documentary or fashion-focused, there is always a resemblance to my roots in Venezuela. Through colour, light, or the subjects I photograph. The ocean, the sun, and bare skin are aspects which deeply influence my photographs as they are present in my happiest memories as a child.
I believe that creativity can manifest in infinite ways. Yet, for me, I can use my creativity when I am involved emotionally in the project. As well as when I am deeply inspired by the team I am working with or who I am photographing. What I have learned until now is that creativity, for me, is exploring the strong feelings I have towards a situation, an idea, or a subject.
Silvana has left Venezuela in 2011 but often returns there to document the families affected by the crisis and bring awareness to the situation. She is one of the many talented photographers using their creativity for good, reminding us of how important it is to #RewardCreativity.
You can see more of her work here.