Karla Hiraldo Voleau is a Dominican-French Artist and Photographer. Her creations explore themes of identity, love, vulnerability, and the intricate dynamics between genders. She uses personal stories to enact a healing process through photography.
How did your journey in the arts and photography initially begin?
I initially studied design in Saint-Etienne (France), before switching to photography in Paris in 2013, where I earned my Bachelor’s degree. This degree was quite technical. I always knew I wanted to study arts and narrate stories, but I was uncertain about the medium. I opted for that specific photography course because of its late enrollment option, and I like to think it was a little bit by chance. Art and culture were ever-present in my family, with relatives who were photographers and my father being a musician. However, the central theme of our family was crazy stories and extensive travel. I chose photography as a medium and after my Bachelor’s degree, I pursued my Master’s at ECAL in Lausanne, Switzerland. Lausanne is where I refined my art practice more conceptually.
As a person of Dominican and French origin, how does this dual identity influence your artistic practice?
While I was studying, I believed I didn’t want to make work about my cultural heritage. I did not want to talk about the fact that I was mixed and born in the Dominican Republic, thinking it might be too obvious. But life has its twists; my Master’s Diploma project was about the Dominican Republic and focused on the perceptions of Dominican men through the female gaze. I explored the stereotypes of Dominican men and the hyper-masculinity associated with Latino men. This resulted in a performance/photography book titled “Hola Mi Amol”. The following project “Latin Lover” also focused on Dominican men, this time in New York City. Surprisingly, my heritage had more of an influence on my work than I originally wanted.
Still today, my current project is set in the Dominican Republic. It examines the total ban on abortion that they have in the country. I’m very interested in understanding and highlighting facets of Dominican society and culture, especially aspects that might be unfamiliar in Europe, France, or Switzerland.
Could you tell us a bit about your project ‘Another Love Story’?
“Another Love Story” is a personal and intimate project blending performance and photography together. It offers a glimpse into my journey as I uncover that my former partner was living a double life. I refer to him as ‘X’ during the project to protect his anonymity. This immersive, linear narrative shows a year of our relationship, showcasing what appear to be spontaneous candid shots from our time together. Initially, I never imagined this personal journey would evolve into an art project.
The work explores portrayals of ourselves within a relationship – how we present and perform as a couple both for the world and for ourselves. It questions the notion of photography as a true representation of reality. Adding a layer of complexity, while all the images seem unscripted and spontaneous, most are actually recreations. I hired an actor who had a striking resemblance to ‘X’. We revisited each location and meticulously replicated the original moments from my relationship with X. Eventually this reenactment allowed me to find a place and a voice again in a story that was completely ravaged.
Your artwork explores deeply personal subjects such as love, sensuality, heartache, and betrayal. How do you handle the vulnerability that comes with creating and sharing work that is so personal and intimate?
When I conceptualize something as a project for the public eye, it transforms for me. What may seem like a revealing portrayal of my life, body, and experiences doesn’t resonate with me as a personal exposure anymore. Instead, it becomes an abstract representation. Many might shy away from the idea of revealing unfiltered, unflattering, or raw aspects of themselves. For me, I only perceive images. The connection to my personal reality diminishes.
Transforming personal experiences into a project reframes them. They shift from intimate memories to mere ideas, and these ideas evolve into tangible work. The processes of conceptualizing, writing, organizing, and producing makes the work banal and strip away the perceived intimacy. I deeply appreciate art that emerges from an authentic, vulnerable point of view. Such works often come from sensitive or intimate experiences, and to me, they represent the purest form of truth.
All my projects are rooted in a search for truth. Weirdly enough, I frequently use fiction, reenactment, and performance as methods to get closer to reality.
What were the initial responses to ‘Another Love Story’ like, and how has your perception of the project evolved a year after its release?
The opening at MEP in Paris was both amazing and extremely empowering. It was a cathartic moment for me, feeling like I had transformed a traumatic event into something constructive, not just for me but potentially for others too. I was uncertain about how the audience would respond.
The feedback was overwhelming. Both publicly and privately, I received emails and letters from individuals sharing their own experiences. They expressed gratitude for addressing themes like infidelity, humiliation, vulnerability, and the exposure of a narcissistic pervert. It resonated with many, especially the narrative of two women being deceived by the same person but helping each other instead of turning against each other.
The project was showcased in four different countries: Italy, France, Switzerland, and the US. Observing reactions based on different locations was very interesting. The most vocal responses came from France and the US (New York). At each opening, visitors engaged in deep conversations with me, curious to learn more about the details and backstories. Given how closely linked this project is with my life, discussions often enter personal territory. It’s a fine balance to maintain the boundary between the art’s narrative and my own personal history. Over time, I’ve learned to navigate this better.
One year after the release, I still feel extremely happy and proud of “Another Love Story”. I’m currently working on a book that is going to be published in September through Morel Books from the UK. I am still very excited about the idea of “Another Love Story” travelling. Every new exhibition venue adds a layer to the project, with fresh installation concepts and scenographic elements. It really is such a pleasure to show and share this incredibly vulnerable piece.
In projects like ‘Hola mi Amol’ and ‘Latin Lover’, you work with Dominican men and explore themes like identity, gender roles, societal portrayal, and stereotypes. What are some lessons you learned from these projects?
While I might not pinpoint a single “lesson” learned, there are certainly insights gained. With these two projects coming so soon after my graduation, I moved at a fast pace. If given the chance to do it again, I would allow myself to take more time for them to develop, especially considering their deeply personal and always evolving themes. Some stories deserve years to fully unfold, and in retrospect, a longer project time might have enriched them further.
Another significant realization relates to my comfort level in discussing these themes. I’ve become more comfortable discussing deeply personal topics. The more personal and subjective, the richer the narrative becomes, in my point of view. If we are talking about subjects like gender, sexuality, identity, and stereotypes artistically, it’s important to work from a place closest to your heart. It is all coming back to honesty and truth at the end.
It’s crucial to strike a balance between sharing a story and over-generalizing, particularly when discussing gender. There are a million ways how to be human and act in society. This fact defies any oversimplification. Over the years, I’ve recognized a preference in my work: I favor narratives stemming from personal experiences rather than mere observations.
Does your work naturally develop over time, or do you begin with a clear vision of what each piece should communicate?
I would say both – I have a very clear vision when I start a project. I’m having a specific topic, and often even a specific timeframe and location in mind. I try to frame my project as much as possible. However, once this conceptual groundwork is done, I let go completely and allow the project to evolve freely.
My projects must flow authentically from my interactions and experiences. For instance, with my ongoing project on abortion, “Doble Moral”’, I had a clear thematic direction. Yet the method of interviewing women, the means of documentation, deciding if I should position myself in the images or not, ensuring the subjects’ anonymity, and determining the protocol for portraits – were left open.
Once the initial planning is done I book the flights, assemble my team, delve into research, and then, when I’m at the place, I trust my intuition. The form will follow the concept.
Your artistic practice incorporates elements of text, performance, and film. How do you decide which medium is best suited to a project, and what is your approach to incorporating text?
I am open to any kind of medium as long as it is the best suited to tell the story. It should be closest to the subjects involved. This could be achieved through my phone or an analog camera, it really depends on the subject or the person in the focus of my attention or the idea. I do have an aesthetic but I will always go for the simplest and straightest solution for my project. My pictures tend to look complex but lots of times they were created in a simple manner.
Incorporating text is very important to me, given the personal nature of my projects. Text provides a personal, realistic, and truthful approach. Handwritten elements in particular are interesting to me. As a reader or visitor, I would probably “trust” a handwritten letter more. Mistakes and nuances in handwriting give an insight into the writer’s mind, I really like the act of handwriting. This fascination always finds its way into my work— I like to layer text and images, meaning that I am going to write on bodies or photograph handwritten text. Basically, it is just a great layer of added intimacy.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline for you, and could you give us a sneak peek into their themes?
”Doble Moral”, the project about abortion in the Dominican Republic, will have a teaser/mini-exhibition of the first part of my research at the international film festival of Locarno in Switzerland, this August 2 – 12.
Can you share a memorable experience or turning point in your career that significantly influenced your artistic direction?
At the end of my bachelor’s degree, I discovered Sophie Calle. I went to one of her exhibitions and saw her book “Les Dormeurs” (the sleepers) and I was mind blown. The realization that one could turn such ordinary, personal experiences into amazing art projects was groundbreaking for me.
I also discovered the works of Jenny Rova, who is a Swiss/Swedish artist. Her art is really interesting to me, she makes amazing books and projects. I discovered her after I fully started engaging in performing in front of the camera. Her work resonates even more with me than Sophie Calle’s. I found true inspiration in her artworks. I had the pleasure to interview her at the opening of “Another Love Story” in Switzerland and we realized we shared so many opinions on feminist art and being a woman photographer depicting her own life. Her art project and book “Älskling a self portrait through the eyes of my lovers” was really beautiful and freeing to me.