Zusel Escriba was born in Guantánamo, Cuba in 1981. By 1993 the political and economic unrest of Communism in the island forced her parents to exile to the United States, where she has resided ever since.
As a young adult she spent much of her time experimenting with photography in the darkroom, making sculptures, playing with different materials and ultimately submitting to that creative force. The arts became the real thing, not just a career, but a path.
After graduating University with a Biology degree, the idea of going to medical school remained just that, an idea, and the genuine passion for the arts became a true path. By 2007 Zusel had begun to show her work throughout the city of Miami, especially during Art Basel, where she held shows at several local galleries. At the time she was working on a lot of kinetic sculptures, video and audio installations, and projection mapping.
July of 2015 I took an epic road trip from California to Miami. When I travel, I like to take the scenic route. I’m not concerned about time or getting anywhere fast. This was taken on Old Route 66 in New Mexico. There is something about a deserted place, with no homes around, but lonely mailboxes. It’s a sign of life, of civilization, yet there is no one to see, and a truly a futile stop sign where there is no traffic.
The exploration within the visual arts, which continues until today, has led her to Filmmaking, focusing on Documentary Filmmaking and traveling within the U.S and abroad to create socially conscious films.
Photography was the beginning of it all, it was the magical thing, the interaction of silver and salt in the darkroom that gave leeway to all creative things that have come into her life, as a filmmaker and an artist.
How did you start with mobile photography?
I can’t pinpoint an exact time, but I do remember around 2005 I was living in Brooklyn, NY and my father sent me a phone unlike any other phone I had ever had, it was a PDA with a touch screen and a 1.3MP camera. I began to use the phone more as a camera than anything else. Shortly after the first iPhone reached the market and I ditched those $750 for it and never looked back. Photography has always been a child of technology, I think for me, it was a matter of waiting for the right technology to come along.
San Miguel de Cozumel, April 2017. I was away for work and took some time to explore, I stumbled upon this church, and being moved by religious symbolism and iconography, and the unusual juxtaposition of the characters in the photo, I couldn’t help but to try to frame the moment and capture it.
What model of smartphone do you use?
I currently use an iPhone 8 Plus. I try to unplug as much as possible but I’m not always that successful in doing so, because there’s usually something inspiring going on around me and I have to reach for it to try to capture that feeling, and the light.
What is your favorite genre of photography?
I don’t stick to one genre. I tend to make an image of whatever moves me in that particular space and time. I suppose landscapes make me feel some sort of way, people, objects, streets, it could be anything at any given time. Do I have to pick one? If I did, it would have to be the kind of images that move, like film, so Cinematography is my favorite genre of Photography.
This photo was taken in Everglades National Park. It is at the end of Flamingo Road and overlooks the broad expanse of the Florida Bay. This is the southernmost point of the park. This area is very special to me for many reasons, not only for its quietude and peacefulness, but also for its Native American history.
Could you tell us more about the state where you live, Florida, through your shots?
Florida is a hot and humid wonderland, and Miami specifically, with its beautiful beaches, the smell of suntan lotion, and Cuban coffee. Miami is a mélange of cultures, art, sounds, everything moves with rhythm, and moves fast. I usually don’t move as fast, or as loud, or even as rhythmic. Luckily, there is this other side to Florida, the side I love the most, and that is The River Of Grass, The Swamp, The Everglades. With its sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps and mangrove forests it’s truly enchanting and mysterious, it is what I like to call my happy place.
The Everglades is a tranquil space, but also demands respect. It is a place to meditate, to become a complete observer. The Everglades grounds me when I become anxious with the bustle of the city and the quotidian, it’s where I can listen to the earth, it’s where I can sit for hours watching, listening, and when the light falls in the right places, at the right time, I snap a photo, knowing I won’t be able to capture the authentic beauty of the place in its entirety, but I try.
This is through a backwoods road out in the Everglades called Loop Road. It’s an unusual landscape, and it looks different throughout the year depending on the weather. Usually the water is very high and seldom do I get to walk out into the Cypress forest like this, but on this day the land was dry enough and I went for it. This is Florida’s Enchanted Forest.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti – I created this image in 2017. It was my second time in Haiti and I was on my way back to Port Au Prince from Jacmel. I saw the gentleman walking, the hustle and bustle of a city that moves with life and hard work. I immediately felt something, and quickly reached for my phone to capture the feeling. Even though it is a still, everything is moving within the frame, and it very well tells a story about Haiti.
How was your experience in Haiti?
My experience in Haiti was powerful. I came back with an intense inner force and a new learned patience, as well as an immense amount of gratitude, and new perspectives on the country. I too had many misconceptions about Haiti, it’s easy to create these misinterpretations when the media constantly shows chaos and unrest, and well, we can’t neglect that is part of a truth, but there are other truths that may not be as evident as the turmoil that is often portrayed.
Despite natural disasters, civil unrest, political and economic restlessness, the island of Haiti is full of life and natural wonders, life really moves there, and I, like many others thought I was going to help, but really, it was Haiti with its rich and diverse culture, and uniqueness that helped me in many ways, creatively and intellectually. It is a place where anyone can go and enjoy themselves, and see other truths, ones that may overpower what you think you know about a place and its people. I have been back several times since then.
What are the essential pictures you have to take to tell the story of your travels?
The essential pictures I take to tell the story of my travels consist of patience and exploration, and ultimately of a moment in which either the landscape, or the people, or the streets, reveal themselves to me in some way, I know the moment when I see it, it could be a moment of empathy, or a moment of shock.
When did you shoot the photos of the coroner’s tools?
I was working on a low budget feature film in 2016 with a group of local women filmmakers, and one of the scenes was to be filmed in a morgue. I reached out to my local college, and the School of Funeral Sciences allowed us to come in to film the scene. I had never been inside a morgue and I was curious about everything. When I saw the coroner’s tools neatly organized and the light fell on them so perfectly, I snapped a shot with the intention to remember that these tools have touched many corpses, cut through bones, and ribcages, and that thought was extremely compelling to me.
This image was created while working on a low budget feature film in October of 2016. The scene was filmed in the morgue at the School of Funeral Sciences. They are the actual tools of the trade, not just a prop. These tools have cut through ribcages and bones, that thought was very compelling and I couldn’t resist but to take a photo, to either remember or respect the tools themselves.
What is the process behind your images and how do you post produce your content?
The post-production process is very basic for me. I am usually moved by an image as it. This may come from my past experience in the darkroom, where I learned to love the imperfections of an image and never tried to really fix those imperfections, but rather embrace them. I use Lightroom CC on my mobile phone to tweak basic things like contrast, and I just love the vignette effect too so I throw that in whenever it applies.
Have you planned other journeys or projects yet?
Well, I have just returned from Morocco, where I was shooting and directing a short documentary. The North African energy is still very fresh within me and I still feel, you can say, ‘high’, from my experience there. But myself, and a colleague are currently in the developing stages of another short documentary, which will take place in Geel, Belgium within the next few months.
I was recently in Chefchaouen, Morocco. It’s a place for the senses, scents, colors, textures. I went on a walk and I got lost, in looking left to right to decide where to go, this moment was happening, in a sense I can’t say I created this photograph, it’s almost like I borrowed this moment in time.
Thank you, Zusel, for sharing your story and for your travel features!
Looking to seeing your new projects.