Erika Nina Suárez is a fine art photographer and freelance photojournalist. She was born in West Palm Beach, FL to immigrant parents, who fled from Hungary and Nicaragua in the early ‘80s. She moved to Austin, TX in 2012 and began to focus solely on taking photographs of close friends and family.
Erika regards herself as someone who is deeply affectionate and devotes herself to creating a lifelong connection with others. She currently resides in Fort Worth, TX with her partner and two huge dogs. She enjoys listening to podcasts while she works (especially Magic Hour Podcast), is an avid roller-skater, and firm believer that habanero sauce belongs on everything.
How did photography become a part of your life?
Photography entered my life as a very young girl. My great-grandfather was one of the first photographers in Hungary, and the first in the Baranya, Hosszúhetèny area. My grandmother kept a lot of his work and shared it both physically, through prints, and through her compelling storytelling. She spoke at great lengths about his photographs, how she helped him in his darkroom, and his extensive 8×10 camera collection. She talked up all of these things as if they were magic.
As I later found out firsthand, photography is, what I jokingly refer to it as, black magic.
Why do you prefer to shoot on film?
I choose to shoot film for all of my personal work because it connects me more to the subject matter. Although, I definitely feel like there is a time and place for digital photography, for this kind of work it feels like I’m revisiting the same storytelling methods of my intimate past. I’m evoking the same feelings that got me interested in photography the first place, through the physicality of film. It’s so hands-on — from loading the film, to processing. I want to keep allowing my hands to work and feel.
I shot most of my work on a Mamiya RB67. I recently switched over to a FujiGW690III because I’m only 5’1”, so waist level was far too low for me. I love medium format, as much as I would love even more to own a Leica M6. I tend to alternate between Portra 800 and Fuji Pro 400H filmstock.
I usually develop all of my B&W film at home and send off the color to FW Photo Lab. They rock. (I also recently found out they work with Joe Greer’s work too) I then scan using an Epson v750, and edit digitally since I don’t have access to use a color lab nearby.
So you have both Hungarian and Nicaragüense origins, which are the best parts of these cultures mixed together?
Food is definitely my family’s love language. The mixture of Hungarian food and Central American food from Nicaragua is so beautiful. Growing up, I didn’t really eat any typical American cuisine.
Aside from that, there were 3-4 large boxes my grandmother used to keep filled with albums, mementos, and other keepsake items. As a kid, I’d always ask her if we could “look at the pictures.” This is how I connected with my relatives and much of the culture. My father also kept a box that held his immigration documents, photos, and a couple of journals. I’d always make my father tell me about how he arrived in the US. The story was grueling and involved him living in a refugee camp in Costa Rica for six-months, but I loved hearing him prevail at the end of the story each time.
I think that when you leave your home country behind, aside from maybe the small box to remember your past life, the best part, is creating a new, and combined culture with your family.
Personal Identity and intimate relationships seem to be highlighted in some of your work, do you think photography may help find themselves?
New Guild was my first “aha” project. I was in my early 20’s when I met a fantastic group of people who lived in a Co-Op house. In this house, 30 people were living together. We were all so open with one another, living so honestly, and had these very intense, emotional relationships with one another.
Those photographs remind me of one of the most beautiful times in my life. We were just in our own world and I’m so glad I have photographs to prove it. I didn’t know it then, but my ability to be a voyeur surely captured their evolvement. Photography might’ve aided in confidence, but I’m more inclined to believe that my tribe of friends helped me find myself.
I think the subject matter will always teach you more than your camera will.
What interesting projects are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m assisting in curating a few shows as a fellow at the Fort Worth Community arts center here in Fort Worth, while trying to ride out the rest of this unprecedented time (hate using that phrase!). It’s been such a strange time for all of us, and a lot of my travel plans got docked until next year. I usually go visit my family in Hungary every year, but that is currently postponed until the Spring/Fall of 2021.
The next leg in store for Család will be photographing a specific kind of agricultural tourism my family has hosted and has been participating in for over one hundred years, in our rural Hungarian village. My great-uncle raises pigs each year for a family-type collective slaughter, during the entire month of December. Everyone gets involved, as I’ll often meet distant relatives for the first time during this event, and its tradition to make a meal out of the edible parts the night of. It’s a remarkable thing to be a part of.
Travel permitting, that should be all wrapped up by the end of next year.
I’m also working on a few projects for Politico and have plans to move to DC in February.
If you weren’t a photographer, what career path would you have taken?
I never wanted to look back and say that I didn’t try to pursue what my heart really wanted, instead of working just to make money.
It might be the more difficult route, but the payoff will be much greater in my opinion. I’ve been working tirelessly (even during a pandemic) to make sure I keep on pushing towards more breakthroughs.
Erika Nina Suárez