Mara Corsino is a self-taught Puerto Rican photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Courtesy of Mara Corsino.
Mara Corsino’s Chicharrón Photography Explores Latinidad Through the Human Body
Mara Corsino is a Puerto Rican self-taught photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. She was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When growing up, her family always encouraged her to be involved with creative expression in one way or another, whether that was through dancing or finding herself comfortably exploring manual and conceptual art. Despite not studying art formally, Mara pursued art throughout her life.
She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico and a Master’s in Recovery and Conservation of Cultural Heritage from the University of Rome – La Sapienza. During the ten years she spent living in Italy, Corsino explored a side of herself that inspired her photography project, “Chicharrón.” She questioned who she was and dove deep into herself, exploring her identity as a Latina.
“[Chicharrón] emerged from that need of suddenly syntonizing the identity. I voluntarily spent a lot of time outside of Puerto Rico. But always being conscious of who I am. Where I come from,” Corsino said. “It got to a point where it was like: oops. What’s happening? You’ve gotten so deep into a culture and worried about learning it that it’s like rayos. My brain got divided a bit. It was a moment to have the opportunity to get to know more of the people that I admire in my friend group. It was a perfect occasion to celebrate all of this situation of who I am.”
Exploring Her Latinidad
She describes “Chicharrón” as a fundamental concept in answering her question of who she is. But it’s not that simple. To create the project, she needed a lot of time during each photography session to understand the people she was portraying and the concept of being Latina. She understands her photography for “Chicharrón” as a direct metaphor for a chicharrón, which is a fried pork belly or fried pork rinds dish and snack popularly served throughout Latin America.
“My intention is not to limit it only to people from Puerto Rico. The concept of chicharrón is known throughout Latin America. Some with more salsita. Some with less salsita. Some like this. Some like that. Different textures,” Corsino said. “It’s super interesting that a lot of my editing comes through as crops and blowups. It’s exactly a decontextualization of maybe what the person is, and that’s exactly what a little piece of chicharrón is.”
That decontextualization is at the forefront of Corsino’s photographs, which stare directly at you. The way she photographs the human body and the corporeal movements is impressive. The photographs have a life of their own because of Corsino’s masterful craft. The body’s natural movements create lines. Corsino creates her distinctive photographic language through body language, where lines create an aesthetically pleasing design for the final photograph.
The Chicharrón and The Human Body
“The body creates two-dimensional lines that we can document, and that’s part of the photography design. There’s the light. There are lines. The textures. All of these super simple types of elements come together,” Corsino said. “When certain movements happen, there’s a moment like: click. Ah. Something works. That you don’t know how to describe it, but you see it when you edit it. That’s the situation with the body.”
When Corsino achieves that click moment, it's because she constantly pays attention to her subjects' daily and mundane body language. That's how she finds her unique photographic expressions in her portraits. She describes it as finding a direction in her photography that reaches an interesting result that relies heavily on the details.
The human details, such as the natural lines that the body creates, result from Corsino's delicate attention paid to her subjects and understanding how their bodies want to move. She starts photographing her subjects and allows them to move in front of the camera however they want.
“There’s an intention in selecting the subjects and the guests invited to participate. There’s an intention with that, but it’s not because of the shape. It’s actually a synergy of the physical and what’s inside that moves it,” Corsino said. “So, the sinuous lines come through easily in these contexts. Exploring this is very interesting. It’s just like the sinuous curves of a chicharroncito.”
Exploring – metaphorically – the movement and sinuous curves of a chicharroncito not only happens in her project of “Chicharrón.” It also happens whenever she’s working with commercial photography for media outlets such as the New York Times Magazine, T Magazine, TIME, Vogue Paris, or W Magazine, or brands like Calvin Klein, Coach, DKNY, and Lacoste.
The Chicharrón Máximo
The one commercial session that mostly aligns with her concept of “Chicharrón” is the one she did with the New York Times Magazine for Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny. The magazine reached out to her, asking her if she could photograph a celebrity. Corsino recalls that at the time, she was not given many details of who the celebrity was because it was kept a secret.
“I demonstrated availability. During that time, I started sending results from the COVID tests to show that I didn’t have COVID. In about a week, I was in Puerto Rico doing the briefing to shoot in one or two days,” Corsino said. “Claudia Rubín, who was Designer [at the New York Times Magazine] at that moment, told me a bit about the story. She tried proposing this story more than once, and finally, they said: ok, let’s try doing a story about Bad Bunny. She proposed me as a photographer and they agreed. They reached out, and it was all very fast.”
Corsino's particular artistic style and aesthetics paint Bad Bunny as a movie character in her portraits of the star. She also created several video portraits for the story, and once again, you can see how body language and corporeal movement are very strong elements in her photography. Corsino describes the process for the video portraits as a simple one.
“Having an inspiration was key to understanding what type of portraits I was going to do for that video. What type of composition the body needed to keep it interesting. When we finished doing stills or we were starting with a new look, he gave me a second to adjust the framing,” Corsino said. “I directed him. Like: Okay, we’re going to start with this movement, or the video will run for a minute. Keep in contact with the camera. Feel free to do whatever you want.”
For Corsino, that direction of freedom ended up in subtleties while incorporating very fluid corporeal movements with a beautiful aesthetic. But it also indirectly added to her “Chicharrón” exploration of Latin American identity and Latinidad.
“That was like a bonus from the New York Times of something I've been exploring [for a while now]. It’s obviously like a chicharrón máximo,” Corsino said, laughing. “He’s not afraid of this masculinity and femininity that runs in his veins, which is something that all of Latin America juggles. That you have to be strong. That women and men have to be a certain way. The fact that he normalized all of these things, even that men can have a manicure. Those are solid steps forward.”
Her Bad Bunny photos are the chicharrón máximo, but they also elevate her artistic exploration of what it means to be Latina. Her chicharrón photography celebrates being a Latin American woman through the human body’s subtleties and details with fluid corporeal movements. The chicharrón is a visual ode to Latinidad in the form of beautiful and timeless photography.
First image: Mace was an in Brooklyn, New York, photographed between 2017 and 2020. Inkjet print and enamel paint on primed canvas photo paper. Courtesy of Mara Corsino. Photo part of “Chicharrón de Oro” exhibited in the Hidrante gallery in San Juan, Puerto Rico/ Second image: Tara in Brooklyn, New York, in 2017. Giclée poster print. Photo part of “Chicharrón” exhibited in the Hidrante gallery in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy of Mara Corsino.
“For someone who lives outside of Puerto Rico, living their Latinidad is being able to return home often. It sounds very basic, but after being outside for so long, that helps placing the fish in the water it belongs to,” Corsino said, laughing. “While I’m here in Brooklyn, it’s about being in contact with my Puerto Rican friends or being able to speak Spanish often with people who can speak Spanish.”
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