Renell Medrano Talks Peluca

Last year, we named photographer, Renell Medrano, a one to watch for our 2018 #MilkLoves; last week, she opened her latest solo show, PELUCA, at the Milk Gallery in New York. Renell’s work is known for having a strong visual presence and the ability to expose her subjects beauty and vulnerability. After all, her Milk Fam Superlative was “Most Likely to Capture You on Fleek.” Read our interview below for a more in-depth look at the artist and her process. Don’t forget to catch PELUCA this weekend before it closes 9/15.

So you grew up in New York, specifically the Bronx – what does it mean to you?

The Bronx is home for me. It’s what motivates me and makes me feel comfortable. It’s where I get most of my inspiration from.

How did Tumblr/the internet influence you while you were developing your voice?

I’m a big Tumblr girl. I started off being on Tumblr and posting a lot of my work, and that’s where I gained a lot of my following. In the beginning, it was very helpful because the platform is all about work and not about the person. I feel like that platform helped me a lot, and that pretty much just carried on to Instagram and all the other platforms. It was my blog and mood board. I’d see other photographers post their work, and I was posting every day.

You have such an incredible body of work, so why do you think that Peluca was the best choice for your show?

In the past couple of years, and months, I’ve been looking at my body of work and seeing a pattern of me playing around with wigs. I think that comes from my culture and my roots, and seeing the people around me; my friends and my family members, even the people at the salons that I would go to. I just felt like Peluca was the perfect project and body of work that was consistent to me.

What were some of your favorite memories relating to wig culture when you were growing up?

 When I was younger, I had really long hair, so my mom used to always just send me to the salon like two times a week. My moments are based off my salon moments, and being surrounded by females. That was our sanctuary. And it kind of felt comfortable, it was our safe zone. Those were like the best memories for me.

You mentioned that the conversation around wig culture has become such a “thing” now. Can you speak to it’s empowering attributes, now that it’s a topic that’s being widely discussed?

It’s kind of interesting because before, wigs and hair, period, for females were always guarded. I wouldn’t say it was embarrassing, but you kind of wouldn’t talk about it. We were always ashamed of talking about our wigs or whatever that we were doing. I feel like now, with women and empowerment, wigs have become something to celebrate. We’re embracing it, now it’s a topic of conversation. I think it’s amazing, it’s a whole different beast. Men are wearing wigs now. And if we’re all wearing it, we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

Do you want to talk about the people that you shot for Peluca?

In general, I tend to cast models that I can relate to my childhood memories. I go for rawness and the faces that I kind of grew up seeing. In the Bronx, being an urbanized community, for me, I don’t know if this is the wrong way to say it, but the ugly was the pretty for me.

That transcribed a lot through my work and how I go with picking my subjects. I want it to feel natural. I want the viewers to feel like it’s normal. It’s not just like, “Oh we’ve got a model wearing a wig.” Cool.

You had a beautiful range of people, from Dev Hynes to that lovely shot of a woman inside the pinkish interior of the car –

Oh my god, that was my favorite shot. That’s where it started for me; this whole body of work, it honestly started from that photo.

How did that image come about?

It’s a model, Aweng [Chuol], I mean she’s beautiful. I shot her for this editorial, and we just happened to be in the car. I don’t like to set my shots up. I kind of let my subjects play in that environment, and just feel comfortable. We were just going with it.

I read an interview where you said that shooting on film makes you fall in love with photo all over again. Is there a specific photo that you’ve taken recently that’s reignited the love?

It goes for all of my work. With film it’s such a discovery and mystery. You take the photo, but you don’t see it right away. Waiting and being able to see what you made is honestly the best part of why I shoot film.

Three years ago you were talking to W Mag and told them that your dream was to have solo shows worldwide. Now that you’re doing that, what’s your next dream?

I definitely want to direct more film. So that’s next for me.

Images Courtesy of Renell Medrano.

Stay tuned to Milk for more from the #MilkLoves.

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