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Latin American Fotografia: Hector Rene Membreno-Canales

By David Schonauer   Wednesday October 28, 2015


Sometimes art is just art. Sometimes it is life-changing.

Hector Rene Membreno-Canales  was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in 1988, but at age four he moved with his mother to Allentown, Pennsylvannia, where his family had relatives.

“Several years later, my mother married into an archetypal “American” family —my stepfather was a Marine, his brother was a sailor, and his father had been a soldier who had gone on to work for Mack Trucks,” he says. “During my senior year of high school, I became a naturalized American citizen after my mother successfully passed the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s civics test. And this raised many questions in my mind about what it meant to be American, patriotic and free.”

Membreno-Canales wanted to go to college, but, he says, he “didn’t know what for or how.” Instead, he enlisted in the US Army. “This fulfilled a lot of my biggest concerns at the time, mostly surrounding autonomy,” he says.

In 2009 he found himself in Iraq, where, he says, he “obsessively photographed" everything around him — "my friends,  rifle, my food and the landscape. It helped me reflect on my experiences.”

After returning to the US, he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City under the GI Bill. And that experience, he says, had a huge impact on his creative development. “I met other veterans with shared military experiences who were also studying art under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.” he says. “This community of friends and peers provided a safe space to create work with a narrative about the military, war and camaraderie.”


During that period, Membreno-Canales created a still-life series called “Nature Morte,”  which, along with a larger series called “Hegemony or Survival,” investigates art history and his military experience. The work was later selected as a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 3  competition.

The still life photographs, shot in the style of 19th-century painting, feature items that his compatriots carried with them during their deployments. “Although sub-automatic machine guns, bullets, gas masks and grenades seem like the typical theatrics from movies like American Sniper or Saving Private Ryan, they are banal everyday objects for a job, just like a wrench is to a plumber, sewing machine to seamstress, or stethoscope to a doctor,” Membreno-Canales says.

 The “Hegemony or Survival” work, which includes portraits of other veterans, is an ongoing collaborative project. “The shoots are usually pretty casual and include pizza and beer. We begin with an idea focused on a classic painting or sculpture. I’m interested in the relationship these classic motifs have with our contemporary landscape,” Membreno-Canales says. “Then we spend a few hours setting up, lighting, and photographing the set until it feels resolved. Sometimes this takes several shoots to accomplish.”

Recently, Membrano-Canales started a new series, after one of the veterans studying photography at SVA was lost to suicide. The project focuses on military suicide.

See an interview with Hector Rene Membreno-Canales at WeAreIndivisual.com, a platform created by another Latin American Fotografia winner, Estefany Molina.

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