Words and thoughts by Carmen Escudero
Tiphaigne de la Roche predicted in 1760 a method “to fixate elusive images (…) with which a painting could open itself in a blink of an eye”, in a time when Talbot, Daguerre and Herschel had yet to start their revolutionary experiences and breakthroughs which were the beginning of photography. But the tiny text Giphantie, The Storm of the aforementioned author was already an early unfurling of the impressive astonishment caused by photography-related technology. De la Roche described the wonder of seeing a window in a way so real that it even plunged him into an oceanic visual atmosphere right in the middle of Africa. The bewilderment of such technique, as well as the one of the history of photography and photographic art, is herein provided.
The endeavours of Carmen Escudero Rubi are pure landscaping windows which immediately take us to the work of Tiphaigne de la Roche. The vastness captured from what is real is reminiscent of the whole scientific evolution, which would later become the most surprising and omnipresent finding of modernity and contemporaneity and one that, despite the obsessive and mathematical quest for the physical and chemical precision, is regarded as an incommensurable, emotional story. Photography as a real painting, photography as an exercise of research, of archiving, of recalling, of abstraction, photography as a natural and intimate landscape, as a leitmotif for introspection and creative freedom are subjects that can be seen in the work of this Catalonian photographer and psychoanalyst, in exhibition at the gallery of the Le Consulat hotel, in a show called Silence, valleys and echoes, joined by another photographer, Miquel Llonch.
José Pardal Pina – The first image that comes to my mind, after having visited the exhibition, oddly enough, is not the landscape in itself, but the water or the aquatic phenomena as a reflection. The images persuade us into nature’s liquid component. This liquid trait has been thoroughly explored by artists, writers and philosophers throughout time (Zygmunt Bauman, perhaps, may have been the most recent one that has done it), particularly the liquefaction of things, the property of turning liquids into objects. This therefore implies the use of the liquid as an adjective or the characteristic of something, perhaps because it may be a rather strong psychological element. Is this one of the reasons for this exhibition, or did my eyes go beyond what they were supposed to see?
Carmen Escudero – The liquefaction of things… Water has always impressed me and so did this game of reflections, which gives room to a random encounter of elements, cuts of reality which form a whole just by themselves, depleted of figurative and representative elements. The real and the symbolic lose their definition. Abstract images use water as a canvas. I’m going after a magic encounter of what is here and now, an image that was randomly cropped and stolen from the moment, and one that presents itself as a whole in front of the camera, showing multiple possibilities. The perception is not a simple repetition of the outer world. Nor is photography for that matter. The very same phenomenon is perceived differently and interpreted in distinct ways and a form appears in which one can express the conscious and the unconscious. In Paisajes Imaginarios I’m going after a perceptive game in which the macro and the micro are momentarily jumbled.
JPP – Another thing that attacked my senses and mind was the feminine trait of the works. Not feminist, however. Even in the portraits of African women, they did not appear to me as a feminist endeavour. There is a soothing atmosphere, almost maternal, of water and faces. Water, generally speaking, tends to be an element deeply associated with the woman and the uterine fluids and, thus, with the chthonic side of nature and women. Is this feminine perspective of things and the world, focused by the lenses of the camera, a recurring and conscious practice of your path as an artist?
CE – I’m not conscious of that feminine trait of my works, but any artistic expression talks about our identity, without any doubt. From a sketch, to a word, to a simple body gesture. What is ours is definitive in itself. That is what we call identity, the process to recognize ourselves in what we do. Photography is not a foreign element to this notion. The simple act of choosing a reality through our camera’s display, between an infinite set of options, actually puts us in a position as creators. Perhaps my most instinctive and unconscious feminine side tries to add beauty to the world, from the most lovable perspective to the one that is the most grotesque. I was interested in exploring other fields: photos with a stronger documental trait, being able to narrate stories, images that are the byproduct of an intention, a narration or a previous scheme and that are based on encounters, findings or moments that provoke me, such is the case of my Fandema work in Africa or the most recent We women for a dance company. I also consider that in these processes that tend to be more mentally edified, or have a stronger intention, the process ends up emphasizing much more my emotional implication and not so much my conscious side.
JPP – Silence and introspection are, indeed, evident in these photos. Something that comes from the vastness of landscapes, the distance, the dazzling clash between the sky and the land which leaves us astounded given how magnificent nature is. You work as a therapist. Was this training something fundamental for your “career” as a photographer? Does this thing of capturing a mental or psychic trait in a photo really exists, or is just a staging of lighting and space?
CE – I work intuitively and often I do not know the origin of my obsessions. The everyday life and platitudes are always on the scene, perhaps to show the feeble line between reality and unreality.
I like what is enigmatic, to capture what is usually concealed, something that we are incapable to discern as we get crushed by the saturated vision of daily life.
In my personal process, and something that matches my training a psychotherapist, photography is part of a sort of purge. It’s like my life therapy. In my work as a coach and psychotherapist I foster a gestalt approach, based on the presence and on the conscious of our own experiences and I do believe that this very same approach has been following my whole creative process. All of it is a mark of the present, of here and now, which (how could it not?) always contains the past. When I’m taking photos and I’m able to flow alongside that process, I feel complete. Furthermore, when I feel identified with what I’m expressing, that’s when I know that that particular photo is concluded and complete. In any case, during the introspection and creation, I went through moments of fluidity and expansion and I also managed to cross the shadows and fear. In both cases I lived those moments which I can call as “fertile emptiness” in the very same way.
JPP – Photography has undergone a major revolution with digital. Light can be manipulated, the colour, everything can be retouched almost ad infinitum to the point where what was photographed, the referencing point, becomes something entirely different. Do you use film or digital in your work? Some say that digital is for the lazy!
CE – I’m the offspring of film. Those are my roots. I had large format cameras and I even worked with view cameras. I spend countless hours in my black and white lab with infrared lights and I do not neglect that whole mystic and glamour, that moment when you could see the image emerging in real time. It was magical. I was one of those who fought against the digital and had all sorts of biases about it. It’s a recurring issue for me, I acknowledge that there is a certain melancholy that appears in me sometimes, one that I challenge by saying that technology is not important itself, rather the way you use it and for what. We are living in the digital era and the comfort that digital brings is not something to be neglected. The most important for me is the attitude, to appreciate the time, to avoid going after what is easy, what is obvious… In this sense, I missed that ritual of shooting, which was part not only of film, but also of large formats.
As we speak, for work-related obligations and for my personal efforts, I’ve been using the digital format for more than ten years already and I’ve been finding different ways to process the image. Each story has a language and a way to be built. The camera and editing are important elements to shape that language. I don’t know, nor did I use editing processes with Photoshop. I just use digital tools which emulate the work that once was carried in a lab: contrast, brightness…
JPP – One last question. A politically oriented one. Catalonia has been going through moments of great social and political convulsion, for the last couple of months. Both as a Spanish, Catalonian, European artist and citizen, what is your stance on the issue of the independence of Catalonia? How do you see the region’s future, given that arts and culture will surely be affected by it?
CE – I’m answering this question right from my office, in my own home. I live in the centre of Barcelona and today, as it is customary already, a police helicopter has been flying around, causing an enormous boisterous sound wherever it is. That, the noise, I can recognize it. What I may not recognize is how this tension, this constant and dreadful noise is now becoming part of our emotional state of being. We are living dramatic and quite sad moments in Catalonia and Spain. There are two main actors: the governments, which have been failing to find the minimum requirements to conduct dialogue-based policies. My personal stance on this issue is neither UDI (unilateral declaration of independence), nor the article 155, which obviously will do nothing to calm things down. I’m in favour of dialogue. To do politics. But in all honesty I’m not that hopeful that we will be able to manage to find an exit from this in the few days that we have left. Ahead of us lies a historical conflict which demands quietude, elevation and, above all, knowing the other. What we appear to have is shock and reaction on a constant basis.
From my personal point of view, I’m someone with different hues and I’m not at all fond of nationalist feelings. And what we are living now is a situation in which different hues do not have any room, only nationalism and flags. I believe that only an agreed and legitimate referendum can save the situation and give an answer to what the majority of citizens is asking for. How it is affecting and will affect culture art, well, that is something we will only know when tomorrow comes.
Silence, valleys and echoes of Carmen Escudero is on display until November 19th at the Le Consulat hotel.