I met Luis Mora, through a video chat at the beginning of June. After a couple seconds of awkward introductions Mora offered me the room to talk about anything. He wanted to briefly step away from the subject and interviewer dynamic and check-in with each other.
He wants to do this regularly. “Sometimes I get nervous talking to people,” he said. In taking a moment for connection, it makes it easier.
Helping people get comfortable is a big part of Mora’s job. He’s a photographer who specializes in commercial photography. He has taken portraits for The New York Times, The Fader and Toronto Life of people like Serge Ibaka, Jagmeet Singh and Sean Leon. He’s been a professional photographer for about four years, but he began his career as a photo assistant.
“In a moment when I felt lost in my art practice, the best decision that I made was to go back to my early years in Colombia,”
When Mora was a photo assistant, he’d spend his weekends being the photographer. He’d book shoots with local Torontonians just so he could practice. Before a shoot, he does research on his subjects, he decides what kind of atmosphere to set through music and always tries to remain curious.
“If I keep my mind open and curious and respectful, I think photography can take me many places,” he said.
Mora and his family came to Canada from Colombia, after living in Miami for his high school years. They moved to Burlington and Mora studied photography at Sheridan College. Deviating from his commercial photography work, Mora began a project in 2017 that brought him back to his first home, Colombia.
“In a moment when I felt lost in my art practice, the best decision that I made was to go back to my early years in Colombia,” he said. He had traveled to places like Paris and Los Angeles but the project he really wanted to execute, would allow him to learn more about his roots, the country he lived in until he was thirteen.
“I needed to look back to be able to look forward,” he said. He wanted to understand more about Colombia so he could educate his future children about it too.
When Mora goes to Colombia, he says it takes him 24 hours to forget every English word he knows. ‘Say it with Flowers’ is a project that allowed Mora to explore the complexities of his identity.
“What makes a person Canadian, what makes a person Colombian?” This question became a starting point for his self-exploration.
The project captures a flower market in Bogota, Colombia, which is the second largest export of flowers in the world after the Netherlands. The exhibition is filled with colourful bright flowers and is contrasted next to black and white portraits of the people who work at the flower market. Mora said many of these young people were not Colombian, but from Venezuela.
“many of these flowers that begin their lives in Colombia end their lives somewhere else,”
Similarly to the people connected to the market, “many of these flowers that begin their lives in Colombia end their lives somewhere else,” he said.
While ‘Say it with Flowers’ was not shot in a studio like many of Mora’s portraits, he applied his same ethics to make his subjects comfortable and expanded roots within a country that is one place of many that he can call home.
“I wanted to go back and smell how those markets smelled and talk to people and just spend time there eating. Making photos was the last thing.”