Embracing the Light
By Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle
Castro Frank is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work oscillates between eye-catching, stylized street photography and ethereal, abstract photography with deep roots in his upbringing in the San Fernando Valley. His most recent series, “Ethereal”, all shot on 35mm film, is an abstract photographic series translating LA's colours, unpredictability, and emotional landscapes during the lockdown.
Castro Frank manages to translate his experiences of growing up in the San Fernando Valley into a signature journalistic and candid approach to photography. Through captured moments that reveal the overlooked details of everyday life, to double exposures that force a viewer to question their perceptions, and now diving into the realm of abstraction to evoke deep seeded emotions, Castro’s work defies the limitations of the photographic medium. Even his portraits take on new life by not only capturing the raw essence of his subjects but the vitality of the city they inhabit. As a growing multidisciplinary artist, incorporating painting and other mediums into his work, Castro continually discovers new ways to envelop the viewer in the experiences encapsulated within his work.
His first collection of abstract photography is titled “Ethereal”. His dramatic approach to street photography evolves as this series delves deep into exploring psychological and emotional states of mind. Through his inaugural set of works on analog 35mm film, his textured abstract photographs immerse the viewer in rich colours induced by light exposures. The mystery his imagery instils, inspires the viewer to question and contemplate his subject. The longer the audience studies a work, the more feelings the work evokes. The photograph, offering many interpretations, creates a visceral reaction to a personal experience that can be universally recognized. Lost amongst the shifting colours, confused by the piercing exposures of light, yet, a perfect aesthetic harmony is achieved as light and dark find their balance. Here & There had a conversation with Castro about deconstructing these visuals through his use of light, and laying his own inner emotions bare while stunning his audience.
"The pandemic taught me to appreciate the beautiful moments that I may have taken for granted before. I allowed myself to create freely, and it felt like I hit the reset button and started from scratch with 35mm film."
How did your upbringing in the San Fernando Valley impact your work?
My work has always been heavily influenced by my childhood and the neighbourhood where I was raised. When I see my work, I’m reminded of where I come from and how it's given me the vision to create work like I do today. My neighbourhood at the time was all I ever knew. It was a place where many would consider it a “statistic,” a place that you “made it out” from, but I wouldn't know this until later. To me it was simply my home, it taught me many lessons and it almost forced the path I'm walking on today. I often say that art saved my life. I truly believe that.
Were you always drawn to photography?
Actually, my first introduction to the art world was through graffiti. As an adolescent, I was in a graffiti crew with a bunch of my homies and we would go out and just paint the town, catching rooftops, freights, and anything we could tag or bomb on. During this time, I also carried around a disposable camera to document the art and process. I always had a disposable camera in my backpack and never thought much of it, especially as a career choice, so it’s crazy to me how it all worked out.
You are capturing the “every day”, how would you define the daily beauty of your life?
I've actually never been asked this question before. I would define the daily beauty of my life as a feeling of peace and joy. Deep down I always chase to have a positive, meaningful, and beautiful life and art has not only been my greatest source of strength and inspiration, but it has also been my greatest creative outlet for my creativity.
What’s the main message behind your latest series ‘Ethereal’?
The pandemic was a challenging time for most of us. At first, I was unproductive, but then I realised it was my chance to explore and create something unfamiliar. The pandemic taught me to appreciate the beautiful moments that I may have taken for granted before. I allowed myself to create freely, and it felt like I hit the reset button and started from scratch with 35mm film. I was able to create what felt true to me. Something about creating art with the film I originally began shooting with brought me peace and serenity. After seeing how the images turned out, I felt as if I created a physical representation of what I lived through.
Most of my work is uplifting with clearly defined subjects, while certain pieces acknowledge the beauty within the struggle. “Ethereal” has no subject and was photographed in complete darkness and silence. The process was about finding peace during unprecedented times, which I did by removing control of the camera and eliminating all expectations.
Could you take us through the creation process of this collection?
The process was discovered through the light leak that happens in the beginning frames on a film roll that are usually exposed to the light when being loaded into a spool. These frames are usually thrown away, but I really embraced them instead. I leaked rolls over and over again and used that as my foundation to create the entire collection and the surreal and celestial colours are the result of that process.
What was the reason behind shooting this series using analog 35mm film? Do you often choose to shoot analog? What was that experience like?
Shooting with film, I always found to be an incredibly freeing experience. Since my photographic career began by developing my own film, I remember the last frame of every roll had a bit of light leak which produced these uncontrollable, beautiful flares. I decided to further chase that concept to explore it deeper, which unexpectedly led me to my “Ethereal” Series.
How are you approaching new/different media when it comes to creating unique pieces?
Everything I make is unique and very personal to me. The process for each piece varies, depending on what I might be feeling at the time, memories that might come to mind that I can’t stop thinking about or inspiration from childhood memories and or family photos. The only difference is selecting the type of medium that will best represent the message I’m trying to convey. ■