Chantal Lesley

Chantal Lesley is a conceptual photographer living and working in Austin, TX. She is a multicultural, first-generation American originally born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, located along the U.S./Mexico border. Being the daughter of immigrants, having cultural backgrounds from both Germany and Peru has inflicted a feeling of being stretched between four cultures and has led her to confront ideas that focus on identity and sociological contemporary issues in her work. Lesley has recently acquired her BFA in Fine Art Photography from Texas State University, and her work has been exhibited throughout Texas and the US. Selected shows include Houston Center for Photography, Houston, TX; Craighead Green Gallery, Dallas, TX; Touchstone Gallery, Washington D.C; and Humble Arts Foundation, New York City, NY.

En Medio de la Nostalgia

This project started in the middle of a Texas summer. While cleaning out my family’s garage, I found a letter from my grandfather to my mother. I moved from the hot garage to the comfort of my cool room to inspect the letter further. It was dated 1989, a year after I was born, and a time where the only method of communication for my parents and my grandparents was through scheduled phone calls, letters, and packages filled with photos or VHS video recordings. My father and mother were born and raised in their respective countries of Germany and Peru. They immigrated to the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost tip of South Texas, and a portion of northern Tamaulipas, Mexico.

I, along with my siblings, are first-generation multicultural Americans. It has been hard to feel a sense of belonging or acceptance anywhere. I often question what makes up one’s identity, and when several cultures are involved, is there one that dominates above the rest, or can they all live within someone harmoniously? Growing up, it was not uncommon to hear things like “You wouldn’t understand because you’re not Mexican” or “I forgot you were Peruvian” from both close friends and family members, leading to a feeling of being othered by my communities. These feelings have led me to question my understanding of place, my sense of personal identity, and even the impressions of my memories. This project is a metaphor for the in-between– discovering a mental space that I have constructed while delving into my family’s past.

I have created a visual narrative that reflects the loss of ethnic roots, exploring the isolation and confusion felt from multiple cultures. This project consists of photographs constructed from my memories and life events. I rely on symbolism to relate to my cultures and combine them to find a new meaning representing my experience. The color red is consistent throughout my project. It is the only color that brings all four cultures together through their flags and a complex color that holds many meanings, from love and passion to anger and religious fervor. I use my family archives to explore my family’s history throughout several generations and make sense of myself.

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