Ultra-marathon runner, Rolando Cruz, is constantly on the move, but acknowledges the importance of stopping and appreciating what’s around him. Cruz is a Madison artist who takes all his photographs within Wisconsin landscapes. Taking a specific look at Cruz’s Natural Identity exhibit, he expresses how he uses fine art photography to relate to nature and the environment.
Cruz talks with Curb over coffee about his photography, conformity pressures from societal expectations and how his lifestyle has led him to explore the hidden gems of Wisconsin.
Laken Stramara: What comes first, the nature scene or the person?
Rolando Cruz: Much of what I photograph is dictated by my emotional connection to the place and how I relate to the space in time. For this particular exhibit, it was very important that I stayed true to the original feeling and inspiration. For the most part, I see the nature scene first. The person is merely a symbol representing the expression of the intended feeling that comes from the print.
LS: When was the first time you took nature photos and overlapped them with people?
RC: My first image I did was called Mona Lisa. That’s the woman with the hat.
LS: Do you have a personal connection with Mona Lisa because she was your first piece like this?
RC: Well the reason I did it is because I have a friend, and the way she saw herself was fascinating to me. She didn’t see herself the way I saw her. She was very bothered by the way she saw herself. What was it that we told her as a society to make her feel that way? Was it something that she saw in the mirror and said I don’t like that? Or was it something that we as a society, by comments that describe beauty beyond what is real, do to her? So the image was about really showing the influence that she felt inside, but at the same time embrace her body to create an image that was beautiful. And I was amazed when she saw the picture how emotional she was because she was seeing herself through me. So for me that was my Mona Lisa because the symbol behind Mona Lisa is that she’s such an icon, and so for me that was mine.
LS: How do you think people would view your work if you didn’t have both images together?
RC: I think we have this obsession with perfection, to the point where people can’t always live up to expectations. You have to think, if I remove the landscape from the body, how would the artwork be viewed? We have this idea of the body being a sexual object and all these other stereotypes and stigmas. I don’t see it that way. I’ve always been fascinated with the body. I feel like the way the human body works is amazing. I see the human body as a vehicle that can pretty much achieve anything.
The exhibit’s really about me connecting to the environment and then people connecting to the artwork, and then it makes the whole circle. I saw that as a blank canvas and then really just owned it and made it my own. A lot of times I like giving landscapes a personality.
LS: How do you know when or where to go to take your pictures?
RC: I just happen to look at the right place at the right time. I’m always fascinated when I take a very simple picture of something that you could’ve passed, but then people look at it and find it amazing. And I’m thinking to myself, you could’ve seen that. To me there is always a story, a link between the simplicity of a leaf tumbling across the street, propelled by the wind and my existence.
LS: Why do you choose Wisconsin as the landscape for your photography art?
RC: In 1994, at the age of 16, I migrated to Wisconsin for educational opportunities. Frustrated with the immense challenges I faced such as coming to terms with my sexuality, learning to speak English and integrating into a new culture, I took running and photography as a way to connect with my new home, Wisconsin, and as an outlet for expression.