Mainstreams: Change in scenery prompts change in photography style

Nelly Cuanalo took this picture shortly after waking up one morning last winter.  “I love the frost on the windows,” Cuanalo said. “I was in my bedroom and when I woke up, I found this beautiful image in the window.”

Nelly Cuanalo took this picture shortly after waking up one morning last winter. “I love the frost on the windows,” Cuanalo said. “I was in my bedroom and when I woke up, I found this beautiful image in the window.”

 

• Move from Puebla, Mexico, to Rogers and Elk River causes Cuanalo to shoot with camera lens wide open

 

by Britt Aamodt

Contributing writer

In fall, Nelly Cuanalo photographs colored leaves and burnished fields. Wintertime, she bounds outside to capture snowflakes, snow banks, piles of snow on top of trash can lids and icicles with her camera.

She has lived in Minnesota for a year and a half and in Elk River for five months and still can’t get over the fluffy white stuff.

“We don’t have that where I come from,” she said.

Photo by Britt Aamodt With a Gap hoodie and Nike trainers, Nelly Cuanalo is the picture of American youth culture. But Cuanalo’s roots are in Puebla, Mexico, a sensibility she brings to her work as photographer and graphic designer. Cuanalo and husband Casey left Mexico more than a year ago and moved to Rogers. Now living in Elk River, Cuanalo has already connected with the local arts community. She’s organizing art shows at the Government Center for the Arts Alliance.

Photo by Britt Aamodt
With a Gap hoodie and Nike trainers, Nelly Cuanalo is the picture of American youth culture. But Cuanalo’s roots are in Puebla, Mexico, a sensibility she brings to her work as photographer and graphic designer.
Cuanalo and husband Casey left Mexico more than a year ago and moved to Rogers. Now living in Elk River, Cuanalo has already connected with the local arts community. She’s organizing art shows at the Government Center for the Arts Alliance.

A photographer and graphic designer, Cuanalo is from Puebla, Mexico, two hours southeast of Mexico City. You couldn’t find a place more different than Elk River.

A volcanic mountain rises over the city. Baroque and Colonial architecture rise up along streets, where a population of 1 million jostles. Tourists pack away meaty sandwiches called cemita. Poblanos and simmering mole scent the air.

Here, long ago, the land was called Cuetlaxcopan, the land where snakes change their skin. Legend has it that in 1530 a Spanish bishop dreamed that a host of angels descended into the valley. So he called the city Puebla de los Angeles.

Cuanalo’s hometown basks in eternal summer. The temperature hovers around 70 or 80 year-round.

So when the university graduate took an advanced degree in photography, her artwork reflected the subtropical environment, blooming with color and eye-catching buildings.

“When I first started taking photographs, I photographed close up,” she said.

Her camera trained on details, machinery, industry, an ornate span of arches. She loved portraiture. For an assignment, she dressed a model in period costume and photographed her in a hacienda.

Somewhere in her school years, she bumped into a friend in a touristy area. The friend had an American student with him in Puebla to learn Spanish.

Cuanalo joked, “I’m going to teach you Spanish.”

And that was that. She went on with life and didn’t think more about the American. But like the plot of a good book, their paths crossed again two years later when he returned for more Spanish lessons.

His name was Casey Cuanalo and when the young artist saw him this time she thought, “Oh, yeah, he’s cute and I like him.”

This photograph shows a place in Nelly Cuanalo’s home town of Puebla, Mexico. She took it in April 2012 on a trip to visit her family. “I really like this place, is so special because is a place where a lot of local artist gather to show their awesome work.”

This photograph shows a place in Nelly Cuanalo’s home town of Puebla, Mexico. She took it in April 2012 on a trip to visit her family. “I really like this place, is so special because is a place where a lot of local artist gather to show their awesome work.”

They dated for three months but then he returned to Minnesota. They’d keep in touch, but Cuanalo figured the relationship was over.

Yet one month later she got a surprise.

“I got a call from Casey. He was in Puebla,” she said. He’d moved to be near her. “That is the most exciting gift in my life.”

The couple married Nov. 2011 and the following May relocated to Minnesota.

They lived in Rogers at first. Cuanalo didn’t have a car or license, so she rode her bike. She traveled with her camera and couldn’t pedal a mile without jumping off to photograph some new vista.

This was taken on Nelly Cuanalo’s first trip to Minnesota to visit her husband’s family in the winter of 2007.  “I was amazed by the snow because it was the first time I saw the snow in my life,” she said. “I took this picture it from the window because it was so cold outside.”

This was taken on Nelly Cuanalo’s first trip to Minnesota to visit her husband’s family in the winter of 2007.
“I was amazed by the snow because it was the first time I saw the snow in my life,” she said. “I took this picture it from the window because it was so cold outside.”

“Minnesota is beautiful, the colors, the wildlife. You can see the change of seasons, like the cornfields in September, yellow and brown colors,” she said.

She noticed her style of photography changing with the environment. Instead of close ups, she pulled back to photograph large open spaces and big sky.

Cuanalo tackled her first winter with the fascination of a newcomer.

Snow piled on a patio table, “looked like a sandwich. The texture of the trees; you can see cotton balls on them. The snow on garbage cans was like ice cream cones,” she said and took picture after picture.

She has archived some of those photos on Flickr.com.

This shot was taken on a trip to visit Nelly Cuanalo’s sister in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. “This place is amazing,” Nelly Cuanalo said. “It used to be a steel foundry factory, but now it is a park. It combines the past and the present, the old machinery with the new architecture inside the building.”

This shot was taken on a trip to visit Nelly Cuanalo’s sister in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
“This place is amazing,” Nelly Cuanalo said. “It used to be a steel foundry factory, but now it is a park. It combines the past and the present, the old machinery with the new architecture inside the building.”

Moving to Elk River gave Cuanalo the chance to connect with the arts community through the Arts Alliance, for whom she’ll be scheduling art shows at the Government Center. She’s also building her portfolio of photography and graphic design work and looking for clients.

She knows achieving her dream will take time. Her cousin, in his 40s, left a steady job to pursue art 10 years ago. Only recently, his career took off.

“I think that is going to be me too,” she said. “I am working a job now, but I don’t close that door (to photography). The time goes so fast. You only have this opportunity and so I enjoy it.”

This shot was taken the same day as the trash can snow lids.  “I love the snow texture, and this one looks like sand or salt,” Cuanalo said.

This shot was taken the same day as the trash can snow lids. “I love the snow texture, and this one looks like sand or salt,” Cuanalo said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nelly Cuanalo took this picture last winter in her backyard. The night before was snowing and the next day every thing was covered with snow.  “I took advantage of that and the sunshine,” she said.

Nelly Cuanalo took this picture last winter in her backyard. The night before was snowing and the next day every thing was covered with snow.
“I took advantage of that and the sunshine,” she said.

 

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