Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Vivian Elisa Colberg Riollano

With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, book stores like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, Libros AC in Santurce and Libros 787 online, and independent festivals like Feria de Libros Independientes y Alternativos and Tintero: Festival de Cómics y Arte Independiente de Puerto Rico have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

Vivian Elisa Colberg Riollano is a self-taught musician and photographer.

What got you into photography?

I’ve always had a passion for photography since I was in middle school. I remember getting a pink Sony digital camera for Christmas and thinking It was the best gift I had ever received. I would take my little digital camera with me everywhere I went. I just felt so delighted and warm taking pictures, even If they looked not so great. After a few years, a few missing cameras and a lost passion for photography, I opted to buy myself my first DSLR camera. I was trying different artistic outlets to help with my anxiety and my lack of interest towards life. Ever since then, my life has taken a dramatic 180 degree turn for the better.

How did you develop your style?

I honestly don’t feel like I have a style per se. I just take pictures of things which bring me joy and that make me feel like I could make a difference somehow. I do appreciate natural lighting in my photography and prefer that type of scenery, opposed to artificial lighting shoots or studio photography in general.

How has it evolved through the years?

Like I mentioned before, I don’t have a style regarding my photography choices. I  trust my creativity regarding a specific moment or shoot and I choose to go along with it. However, I’m open to trying every type of photography style that suits my creative outlooks. The photography scene should be one where you evolve constantly in order to better yourself and your art.

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

My big brother Abdiel Colberg is definitely one of my big influences. He is also a self-taught photographer and has become such a talented one at that. He studied so many different things while he was in college, but never actually pursued his passion in photography. Now, at 36, married and with two kids, he has started his artistic career as a photographer and I’m beyond proud of his accomplishments. Besides Abdiel, another big influence of mine is Fernando Samalot, another self-taught photographer that has gained great recognition in the Puerto Rican photography scene. He originally gained his fame by only using his phone and photo editing apps for his photography. He captured amazing sceneries with unconventional photography techniques and amazed everyone who could appreciate good art. Later on, he started using a professional camera and outdoes himself every single time. Fernando symbolizes all those new photographers who feel they’re not good enough because they might lack “good” equipment or are just starting to explore this creative outlet. He is a living example that when there’s passion and creativity, anyone can achieve what they are striving for.

I saw your project rayosdorados (la hora dorada). Where did the idea come from? What is the purpose of the project?

I feel like this idea was very generic. Everyone knows that the Golden Hour is a very good time to take pictures. Since I prefer natural lighting above anything else, it was very easy for me to think of this and create the rayosdorados project. The sole purpose of this project was to showcase every type of photo during the same hour of the day. I have to admit, I’ve abandoned the project to pursue bigger ones. But I plan on continuing it very soon.

Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

Besides taking pictures, I’m also a musician. I sing, play the guitar, piano and ukulele. Music was the first artistic outlet I explored. My other big brother Arturo is a musician and is actually studying music. There were always so many instruments at our house, I just had to try one of them out. Besides photography, music is my other big passion I hope to keep pursuing and growing with.

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

I think the artistic scene in Puerto Rico is slowing getting a bit saturated by mediocre art. There’s talent. There’s people of all genders, ethnicities and color trying to make a name for themselves, and people keep supporting the same five artists taking the exact same pictures and/or making the same type of music; just for the sake of culture and being “IN.” I’m not one to judge someone’s talent or ambition to do greater things, but we cannot deny the exorbitant amount of “photographers” and “musicians” that do not do this art with love and passion. They want recognition from social media for their work and flaunt it without trying to convey something through said “art”. But the scene takes the responsibility for this; we continue sharing the same posts from the same five people without exploring the other world of art that Puerto Ricans create.

What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

I feel like it’s progressed a lot in the last couple of years. People are starting to branch out and try new things that bring them joy. I feel it’s something we sometimes lack. We do things because we HAVE to do them. But pursuing any artistic hobby is for the sole purpose of bringing happiness and some stability to your life.

If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

I would tell her that she can be and do whatever she wants if she works hard for it. I’m someone who wants things the easy and fast way, but being completely aware that that's not how life works. I’ve wasted so much of my time just waiting for things to happen for me rather than working for my goals. I would love to have a career in music and/or photography. But if I want to achieve that, I have to work twice as hard as the next person. I have to give it my all if that's what I truly want. I would tell her that she’s invincible, that she’s valid and her dreams are valid, that the reward is better celebrated when you know you worked the hardest for it. I would tell her that she can do it; no matter what.

What is your biggest goal right now?

My biggest goal right now is to grow and learn more about the photography world. I feel like I have a pretty good base, but I would like to dig deeper and let myself evolve in to whatever I should be evolving to. I want to continue understanding and growing; professionally and personally through photography.

What do you seek to achieve with work?

I want to bring something different to the table. I want to conceptualize and concretize my ideas and make them a reality. Not for the recognition or the “fame” social media can cause, but to make people feel something. I often catch myself having this inner battle of trying not to be like everyone else and create the same content. It’s hard not to fall in this vicious social media cycle where you create just to be seen and praised. That defeats the purpose of creating art; it becomes more about others than about you and your message. I want to stay true to myself and create for me and for others - if they choose to experience my art -, if not then I will still be content with myself and will forever be proud of what I can create.