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Hansen: Photographer evokes 'magical realism'

With her wispy blond hair, striking turquoise eyes and penchant for fancy, Uruguayan photographer Lucia Fereira Litowtschenko could be a character out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.

Her energetic mind dances with optimism, shaped by a worldview that revolves around "magical realism." Her photography brings to life these two dimensions of fiction and reality. It will be on display beginning June 4 at the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art and can be seen on her website, lulight.com.

"I feel like we get so involved in our day-to-day lives, going from task to task, that we forget to see that behind those daily tasks there is so much more to it," she said. "I try to capture what really is. It's a little more substance to the story and brings out the character. It's that little magic we can find if we can search a little."

This notion of magic is not surprising, given her upbringing.

As a child, she escaped through books in the rural town of Tacuarembó, far from Uruguay's more popular coastal cities. Her professional parents encouraged adventure. Her Uruguayan father is an agronomist, and her Russian mother is a radiologist.

Armed with eclectic tastes, she studied cinema and communications in college. One of her favorites movies is "Wings of Desire" by Wim Wenders. It's a powerful, critically acclaimed movie from 1987 about an angel who falls in love with a human.

In order to experience true emotion, the angel takes human form and enjoys simple pleasures like food, touch and heartache.

"It's one of those movies where you feel like something changes after you watch it," she said.

Now, at 31, Fereira Litowtschenko takes cinematic liberties in her photography, trying to represent the story she sees.

"I am really interested in stories and I feel that everyone has a story," she said. "So when I approach someone's portrait, before I do the work, I like to spend some time and get to know the person a little better."

She uses Photoshop but tries not to let it overpower the story. In her mind, the story comes first, even if it's fantastical.

"I try to make it subtle because I like for the viewer to say, 'Is this real, is this not real?'" she said. "Because that's something I challenge myself in my daily life — not only in art. You know when you're making up stories in your head and you're like, oh my God, is this real?

"Maybe it's just that I used to read a lot of magical realism from South America, and they do play a lot with that. Everything is real, but there is something abnormal, and in that context it feels like it's real."

Her fundamental openness and acceptance is what motivates her to work with teenagers trying to find their way. The Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art is a humanitarian gallery, which means exhibiting artists need to donate significant time to appropriate causes.

"I like working mainly with teenagers, because at that age they are defining themselves," she said. "Sometimes you tend to get a little lost. So I like to give them a little hope and an outlet to channel whatever it is they're going through.

"I help them get out of trouble but also feel more connected and give them skills so they can do what they really want to do."

Fereira Litowtschenko can relate to feeling overwhelmed. She and her husband have lived in the area for only four years. She remembers vividly when she first arrived.

"Coming here was a shock. I remember the first time I go on the freeway. I was like, 'Oh my God, 10 lanes in a row.' Wow, it was a lot of people. It was a really overwhelming thought. I don't know how to say the words what I felt like that day."

Fortunately, instead of words, she can use pictures. She created a new photo series after her arrival, trying to visually describe her feelings. She called it "Human/Nature," and it shows a naked woman in spare, natural environments, clinging to the earth.

The colors are primarily black and white with specific areas of color, similar to the technique used in "Wings of Desire." In the film, the angels see in sepia-toned black and white while humans see in color.

"It was an exploration of how disconnected we are getting nowadays of the nature part of our humanity," she said. "We pull ourselves apart. We build these houses to protect ourselves from the outside world. And then we have all these cities, and nature is dissociated from that."

If it takes visual magic to appreciate our lives, then Lucia Fereira Litowtschenko sees more clearly.

Combining an intriguing fiction based on reality, she brings to life the stories and characters we generally only read about — or see in the movies.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.

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