César Cedano-Brea

2021 Non-Professional Architecture Photographer of the Year

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background!

Hi! I was born in the Dominican Republic, but was raised in Puerto Rico. I am a proud Latino!

I have a dual Bachelor’s in Audiovisual Communications and Theater from the University of Puerto Rico, as well as a Master’s in Fine Art in Photography from the Academy Of Art University in San Francisco, CA. I could say that I truly got into photography back in 2009. At that time I was working on my BA, and I was able to experiment with a few photography styles: commercial, documentary, and photojournalism. Then in 2013 I had the privilege of teaching photography to kids, which helped me cement the love I had for the craft. It wasn’t until I started graduate studies back in 2015 though, that I really discovered photography as a way to convey a deeper message and tap into and express my own feelings. That’s how this photo series, “High Rise Anxiety”, came about; I created it as my thesis project.

Q: How did you realize that you enjoy photography and capturing pictures?

In one way or another, photography has always been present and important in my life. Being the youngest of three, I always felt that there were more pictures of my older brothers than of me. I would usually carry a disposable camera with me for every school trip, and was very into capturing moments ever since I was really young. I think the fact that I was sick a lot while growing up and I missed out on some things made me want to capture and cherish those —happy— moments more. Additionally, my parents were business owners and they used photography as a means to promote their business, so I was exposed to the business side of things as well. Having always been tech-savvy, I got to help out my mom with the new equipment she got for work, like a camera that took instant printable photos (a Polaroid), or a digital camera that, with all its 3 megapixel glory, would let you see images in the moment without needing to print them. I think all those experiences shaped my relationship with photography.

Q: Do you ever have trouble getting inspired? What do you do when moments like this arise?

Yes, I think we all go through some sort of “creative block”, and sometimes more than others we need help finding inspiration. Usually when this happens I don’t try to force myself. So, If I’m not inspired or motivated to take pictures that day, I try to give myself a break, do something else for a bit, and then come back to it.

If I have a deadline and I’m stuck, looking at some of my previous work and reflecting on it tends to do the trick. I try to tap into what helped me then and use it as fuel.

Q: Which aspect of photography would you say was the hardest thing that you had to learn or get used to?

For me, understanding how to handle light in a more advanced way was one of the most challenging aspects of photography. When I first was exposed to photography, it was in a basic way and we barely had digital cameras, so managing light meant using flash, or using nothing. I didn’t know there were cameras with tools like ISO, f-stops, and exposure. In my rudimentary understanding of photography, I didn’t even think about moving my subject or light source. So, mastering light to a point where it feels like second nature is the thing that has challenged me the most as a photographer.

Q: You have been chosen Non-Professional Architecture Photographer of the Year for your work “High Rise Anxiety,” a photo series of which you say explores your way of coping with anxiety and the disorganization of life. Tell us a bit more about how photography helps you do that. Do you often turn to photography when you are feeling anxious?

The short answer is yes, I use photography as one of the tools to help me with my mental health. Not only is the process of going out and taking the images —finding something to capture— therapeutic, but the process after is the primary instrument I use to channel and reduce my anxiety.

Talking a bit about this project for example, the process of deconstructing the images and creating the abstract pieces in Photoshop helped me be in a reflective space where I wasn’t thinking about anything else, and my mind concentrated only on the shapes, forms and process. By doing this, I was able to be more present in the moment, and my anxiety levels went down.

If you ask me how I landed on this, well, I’ve always been a bit of an anxious person, so I’ve always tried to find things to help me out with that. Then, when I moved by myself to California for my graduate studies, all the new things I was experiencing led to a substantial increase in my anxiety. As I was looking for ways to manage those new levels of anxiety, I realized that, more than watching TV, going out for a walk, or even taking pictures, the process of editing an image was what really calmed me down, forced me to be in the moment, and helped me stop my anxious thoughts.

Q: Why did you decide on entering this particular project into the IPA?

I have done other photography projects, but none are as personal as this one where something so intimate and important as my mental health serves as my inspiration. Through this project I’ve opened myself up to be vulnerable, and I felt that by sharing it on a platform like the IPA I could maybe inspire others to do the same. It wasn’t easy for me, but I decided to cast my self-doubt aside and just go for it —and here we are!

Q: What does winning this competition mean to you?

More than a prize or a title, for me, winning this competition means that my work will get a chance to reach more eyes, and more people might get inspired to cast their doubts aside and channel their unique experiences, like mental health struggles, to create art of their own.

Q: If you could do anything or go anywhere, what would your dream photography project be?

Well, I would love to expand my “High Rise Anxiety” project to more places, so I would love to be able to go to every major city in the world, photograph the most stunning buildings, and create unique abstract pieces of each location. Traveling and photographing architecture around the globe would certainly be my dream photography project.

Q: What good advice would you give to a photographer who is just starting to experiment with photography?

I would give the same advice a professor gave me 15 years ago: don’t be shy, try new mediums, processes, and styles; and expose yourself to new things. That is the only way they will find what speaks to them and what they are passionate about. Like a wise Jedi master once said, “Do, or do not, there is no try” —sorry, I’m also a geek—, meaning: commit to it; don’t just try, but give it your all, and that will be the best way to excel.

Q: What is next for you, are you working on anything right now?

Well, I’m currently doing freelance work as a photographer and photo-retoucher, and I’m working on a documentary photo series called “Passer-by”, which touches on the idea of a fleeing moment, and how no matter how hard we try, moments can’t be perfectly replicated. I’m also in the process of planning the next iteration of “High Rise Anxiety”, which will most likely take place in Manhattan, NYC. More information to come, so follow my Instagram for updates. Thanks!