Why "Duende?" / by Miachelle DePiano

 "Looking Within" (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

"Looking Within" (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

Last year was a year full of contradiction in my photography business. It was the best year I’d ever had, making five figures quite nicely. When I wasn’t working my full time job as a technical writer, I was darting off to a magazine assignment, some event to shoot, or shooting head shots and marketing shots for clients. Years of hard work finally seemed to be paying off.

Conversely, I hit burn out, and I was physically hurting more than I’d ever hurt before. My neck and shoulder were in severe pain and losing range of motion, and shooting events became more unbearable than I could stand. Mentally, I began to dread shooting portraits and head shots. The litany of “Can you smooth my skin more? Can you…” began to wear on me. Social media’s amplification of falsifying one’s imagery to meet some insane expectation of acceptable beauty took its toll on my love of photographing people.

At the beginning of this year, I took a break from it all. I was afraid that I’d begun to hate what I so dearly loved, and before I reached that final breaking point, I wanted to pause and breathe and reflect and heal.

Today, I’m still in the healing phase. I’ve been through many different diagnoses and treatments: MRIs, x-rays, physical therapy, chiro, acupuncture and gua sha, and soon myotherapy. Stress is the culprit, and now it’s a matter of rehabilitating my muscles and getting them to loosen up. I’m also working on eliminating the stress.

Part of eliminating that stress is changing my photography. I no longer shoot events, I no longer work for the local magazines, and portraiture is on the backburner. Instead, I’m learning to play again, and allowing myself to be creative when I am ready. The result can be seen in the Duende gallery on my website.

What is duende, some of you might ask. Duende is a word I recently learned about, thanks to Anthony Bourdain. I’ll explain.

I’d never watched Parts Unknown until Bourdain’s sudden, tragic passing. I’m now hooked on his show. Not because of the food; sadly if he met me, by his own declarations we wouldn’t be friends simply because I do not have the all-embracing, voracious palate he seemed to have. What I am hooked on is his storytelling. No matter where he went, he wanted to find the root of a person’s story, he wanted to connect, and he wanted to draw you in. As a photographer and writer, I connect deeply with this aspect of Bourdain. I also find myself wondering how Bourdain felt after completing the filming of each episode, especially in locations where people struggle so hard to survive and have had life events you and I will probably never experience. I imagine at times it was overwhelming for him. Minus having to partake of certain foods, I wish I could take over where Bourdain left off. I feel as if his job isn’t finished and someone needs to continue where he left off.(CNN, please note, if you want to hand me that baton, let’s talk.)

It was the Season 2/Episode 2 on Spain in which I learned about duende. Duende is defined in English as a quality of passion and inspiration. Other explanations are that it originates from Portuguese folklore and is a brownie or a sprite; that it is a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity and is connected with flamenco, as seen in the Spanish episode. There are other definitions and online discussions about duende, but duende appears to be evolving to association with all artistic expressions. I’ve also read online that duende is one of the hardest words to translate into English.

As I continue to think about duende, I realized that the intent of duende is what I’ve redirected my photographic efforts to. Ultimately, I had to admit that I needed to spend more time in a creative space with my photography in order to maintain my love of photography. I had turned a love into a business, and a business into a chore. Now my focus is shooting what I have the desire to shoot, what fascinates me, what I experience, and how I see the world in my eyes, instead of worrying about how the world sees my work. When I upload images to the Duende category on my website, that’s my way of telling you that when I took those images, I achieved a level of euphoria.

To sum up this long-winded blog post, what I want you to see in my work is a return to joy when I shoot. If I photographed a place, a person, an object, I want you to know I was excited to shoot it. And if I was excited to shoot it, my hope is that you’ll be excited to view it, and want to view it on a daily basis in your personal, private space.