Photographer Spotlight: Luis Noriega, Part I

Today we’re shining the spotlight on Luis Noriega, a professional photographer based in Antigua, Guatemala. Luis’ work has taken him around the world, but he found a special calling at Animal AWARE, an animal welfare organization located near Sumpango, Guatemala.  A member of the PFA photographer registry, Luis shares his passion, and the power of images, in the service of animals in need.


Finding himself in front of the camera 

Luis Noriega

Guatemala native Luis Noriega is something of a world traveler, but it is only in recent years that a camera has been his ticket to far-off places. Luis actually worked abroad in unrelated fields for over a decade before, while living in Australia, he started to study photography. The creative expression available to him through a camera made a career-altering impact. In 2010, not long after returning to Guatemala, he boldly decided to pursue photography as a profession. “I began as a fine art photographer and started showing my photos in galleries in Guatemala.” Then, in 2011, his work was shown in Rome and the Vatican. Luis had “the occasional commercial job in between, but fine art has always been my thing.”

Following love leads to a love of animal photography

“Fast-forward to 2016, and some thousands of photos later, I met a wonderful person, India, now my fiancée, who had studied conservation and wanted to work with animals in Guatemala. Through a mutual friend, she was introduced to Animal AWARE, an animal welfare NGO that was founded in 1998. Animal AWARE is the largest no-kill shelter for cats and dogs in Guatemala, caring for over 200 dogs, about 60 cats, three chickens, a rabbit and a horse. India began to volunteer there and to learn more about the communities it serves.”


“In the rural areas, where the shelter is located, the street dog population is quite high. Many people in these areas have dogs that are ‘mutts;’ here we call them ‘chuchos.’ Most of the time, people live in poor conditions there and aren’t able to care for their pets, even though they love them to pieces. Animal AWARE works with the rural communities providing education, spay/neuter clinics, and affordable vaccinations to help the animals. In some cases, Animal AWARE takes animals in to provide a better quality of life than the one they would have on the streets. The chuchos at the shelter have a lower chance of being adopted in Guatemala because they aren’t of a specific breed, and international adoptions are also low because people don’t know about how many wonderful individuals there are at the shelter. India thought that it would be cool to help the animals out by making portraits of all of them at the shelter, to help increase their adoptions. It would be a huge endeavor, but we were up for the challenge.”

On showcasing Guatemala and its animals in a new way

“Guatemala, as a developing country, has always been a heaven for NGO’s and international aid programs. [These organizations] have always used imagery to generate awareness for their cause, and sometimes photographers naively exploit [the issues facing Guatemala]. I like showing a Guatemala as proud with its head held up high. You can see that in my [human] portraits. I wanted to transfer that feeling to the  portraits I would make for the shelter, to show them in a different light.”


“We had a conversation with Xenii, the director of Animal AWARE. She has been helping animals since the early 80s, and she co-founded Animal AWARE in Guatemala over 20 years ago… How could I give credit to the work Animal AWARE has done all this time and at the same time show the animals in a new way? We began to brainstorm with India, and came up with up with the idea of using Guatemalan traditional fabric in the photos. We wanted to give a sense of location and share the vibrant colors of Guatemala, while showcasing the animals with the dignity they deserve.”


Doing a photo shoot at a shelter

“During the drive to the shelter I kept thinking, ‘What will it be like?’ I had been there before, to help some friends adopt, and I remembered the overwhelming sound of so many dogs barking. Animal AWARE is built on 10 acres of land, with enclosures and walking paths for the dogs throughout the property,” but it can still be a very noisy place. “It’s overwhelming at first but eventually you get used to it. I found that being patient and trying to stay calm and focused always helps when dealing with nervous or highly excited dogs. Most dogs were very eager to be out of their enclosures, meeting new people, so each dog took a while to shoot in order to capture their energy. We would always let the dogs settle down before photographing them.”


“Also eager to meet new people, the cats wouldn’t sit still either at first, so we let them settle down in their own enclosures to capture the best expressions.”


“This initial trip to Animal AWARE turned into a four-month project that yielded some really good photos. Our next step is to sort and curate a collection of dog and cat photos for two separate books.”

Some of Luis’ Favorite Photos 

“Calle was found in San Lorenzo El Cubo (a township near Antigua, Guatemala) by people that owned a coffee plantation that did coffee tours in their property. Because he is around 8 years old and a Dogo mix, they didn’t want to give him to just anyone.  Because of his age and good manner, he was accepted in the shelter.”


“Marina was found in Antigua, Guatemala, and arrived in 2009 with four puppies, all of whom were adopted. This chubby ball of fur is always happy to see anyone who comes to the shelter and will greet you with the largest smile.”


“Tre was found tied to the gate in 2010. Tre resides with Marina, and like her, has a bubbly disposition that is always contagious and makes your day.”

Tre, who thinks Marina is very funny

Check back soon for more of Luis’ favorite photos from his work at Animal AWARE. And if you’re a photographer or shelter/rescue organization who would like to be part of the Photographers for Animals program, please visit our webpage to learn more!