Tag Archives: Anthropologist

Interview with Lorena Guillen Vaschetti: HISTORIA, MEMORIA Y SILENCIOS

“My mother and I are the only members left of a big Italian family. Convinced that she was lifting the heavy weight of the family past off my shoulders, she called me to let me know that she had thrown away all the family slides: “It happened already”, she said…” — Lorena Guillén Vaschetti

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti has just published her first monograph, Historia, Memoria y Silencios through Schilt Publishing, and Postcart Publishing in Italy. The project is an unusual exploration of personal history and power through family photography–what the photographs reveal and what is hidden. Lorena approaches the work as an anthropologist, and the simplicity of her work allows the viewer to bring their own stories, conclusions, and realities to the project.

In 2009, Lorena’s mother threw away all the family slides to protect her daughter from the family history. Lorena was able to recover only one box from the many that her mother had discarded. She re-photographed the contents from her perspective, choosing to leave the slides that were wrapped in packages unopened.

Lorena Guillén Vaschetti was born in Rosario, Argentina in 1974. She studied Architecture and Anthropology before committing to Photography. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows throughout South America, the United States and Europe, and is included in a number of public and private collections.

The book is in two parts and begins with photographs of the loose slides Lorena found in the box. She re-photographed the slides from a depth of field that leaves portions of the images out of focus, and the faces of her family members blurred. This gives the series a dreamlike, mysterious quality that reflects the passage of time, and poses intriguing questions about the relationship between family members, and what other unknown stories exist in between the picture frames.

Images from Historia, memoria y silencios (Historia, memoria)

In the second half of the book (tied in a Japanese binding) – Unopened/Sin Abrir – Lorena presents photographs of the packages of slides that she chose not to open. Bound in elastic bands, and concealed in film canisters, these photographic artifacts conceal family secrets that the artist will never learn. Lorena is most interested in what we cannot see, and how powerful constructed memories of our past shape what we ultimately believe to be true.

Images from Historia, memoria y lilencios (Silencios)

Congratulations on the book! It’s a unique approach to exploring the idea of family photographs and history. You studied Anthropology and Architecture before committing to photography. Does that education inform your work?

I can easily imagine that if I would have studied other careers my work would be different. Let me think about it with you: Architecture has been present in the way I thought the book as an object. I faced it as I think an architectural project. First the idea and then the factuality of it. To make an idea become a final object and all the process in between.

Let me give you an example: to express the “Un-openess” through japanese binding is different way to transmit the feeling of the impossibility of accessing those moments that already happened. A more physical way.

Last but not least technology: in this area my education did not informed the work directly: my the designer and the printer thought me about the technology in this particular field of book making.

Regarding Anthropology, it relates in so many different levels!

From understanding family links to reading codes through Semiology (in the first “vintage” images). And it can also be approached from an archeological point of view (mainly in the last ones, the “packages”).

Can you tell us how the book came about?

I met Maarten Schilt in Paris in November 2010. As soon as he saw my work he said that this work would make a great book. I had not considered the possibility of a book about this before but I thought it was a wonderful format for this body of work. We worked from February to August and in October the book was released in Europe and now, February, in the United States.

There also is an Italian edition by a publishing house in Rome called Postcart Edizioni.

Postcart came to know about the book when we were finishing it and offered to make the italian edition which was wonderful because most pictures are taken in Italy and both my grandparents (the photographer) were italians. And so am I !

Your early series about black boards appears to have a connection to your current work. It’s work about a structure, wherein the narrative is obscured, and it feels nostolgic, in the past. Did you see this connection?

You are completely right !!! and you said it wonderfully well….
I saw the connection later than I would have imagined. I work very intuitively and only later I think about the reasons why I did what I did.

What made you decide to reinterpret and rephotograph your family photographs?

A complex and sometimes sad family history. They became something else now.

I can’t imagine to allowing myself to NOT look at family photographs. Do you ever think you will explore those images? Is there a truth you don’t want exposed? The act of not looking is quite powerful.

Thank you Aline…
I understand what you say. As I mentioned earlier, I work very intuitively. For the time being I feel comfortable having them as objects holding unknown moments.

The fact that they became something else, larger perhaps than only the images they would offer is important to me.
I don’t know if I will ever open them. They are in a transparent box now. They are like archeology objects in a way.

Admittedly, I have had my own experience cleaning out my parent’s house and throwing away carousels of slides– that is one reason that this work really resonates with me. Have you given thought as to what our generation will pass on to our children, now that physical photographs are rare–most people keep them on their computers.
Very true! I have no idea what they will hold on to for the construction of memory. I would imagine a few objects and a few stories that will eventually wash with time. At the end of the day it is like it happened in history before photography existed.

And the next generation will have to deal with the problem of having too many (files): when we have too much it is usually hard to see what is important….
It is a very interesting matter.

Regarding your own story, I believe that even if you would have kept all your parent’s slides, only very few would have been meaningful to you. You probably already have that “space” of your memory filled with other objects or images (photographs or memories in your mind). In my experience that is enough.

In fact most of my family slides where already gone with the trash truck when I came to know. Perhaps if I would have had a million or they would not have been in such risk I would have never paid attention. (But let me confess that when I saw how wonderful they were I wanted them all back! )

As an Argentinian photographer, how do you connect with the rest of the world? Is Argentina supportive of photographers? Have you attended portfolio reviews outside of South America?

Argentina is a very difficult country for artists to live in terms of the lack of governmental support, especially economical. But there is a big artists’ community that is very interesting.

Yes, I attended portfolio reviews in different places such as Fotofest (Houston) Santa Fe Reviews (New Mexico) Paris photo and Bratislava!

Are you working on a new project?

I need to let it grow a bit more before I can speak about it. But it has to do with the need to fill in the blanks.

And finally what would be your perfect day?

Any day when I am in peace with myself, conscious of how lucky I am.
If it would be sunny, had nice simple food and I would have my loved ones around, then it would be the perfect, perfect day!

Made in Mali: Pictures of the Dogon People

The insider-outsider dichotomy is central to artists approaching cultures other than their own, and few have engaged this so perceptively—even prophetically—as the French anthropological filmmaker Jean Rouch. He is best known for Chronicle of a Summer, made in collaboration with sociologist Edgar Morin in Paris in 1960. The work is renowned for its unprecedented level of self-reflexivity and subject participation—a sort of marriage between the early visual anthropologist Robert Flaherty and Dziga Vertov, who invited subjects and audiences to understand the filmmaking process. But it wasn’t his hometown of Paris, but rather Africa, where Rouch began his career as a civil engineer and made most of his films.

“One of the things that amazed me always with the films was that on one hand there was something with the community there, but you could also feel him as a stranger,” said José Pedro Cortes, the 34-year-old Portuguese photographer and publisher who named his recent solo exhibition Moi, Un Blanc (“I, a White”) after Rouch’s celebrated film Moi, Un Noir. Last year, influenced by Rouch, Cortes traveled from his native Lisbon to an area of Mali known as the Dogon. “I don’t pretend to photograph a particular community,” Cortes explains, “but I’m more interested in how we actually perceive the people that live there and how we feel this strangeness.” Indeed, the photographs of Moi, Un Blanc hinge upon a fascinating tension between intimacy and inaccessibility. Subjects are photographed from extremely close range, at leisure, or in private areas such as bed and living rooms, and yet the viewers feel a great distance from faces turned from the camera or just out of frame. Landscapes and still lifes alike offer little context; the viewer is perhaps as puzzled as Cortes was during his initial encounter.

In 2008, Cortes and his friend started Pierre von Kleist Editions, an artist-run publisher specializing in photo books. The small company recently printed the photographer’s latest book, Things Here and Things Still to Come, exploring the lives of four U.S.-born Jewish women who decided to undergo military service in Israel and decided to stay. Unlike them, Cortes remains on the move—restlessly curious, a professional outsider following a sympathetic lens.

José Pedro Cortes is a photographer based in Portugal. See more of his work here. Other titles published by Pierre von Kleist Editions are available here.

With additional reporting by Jon Dieringer of Screen Slate.

Summer rerun: Ann Summa

I was watching my nightly fix of Anthony Bourdain, and on this particular episode, he was visiting French Polynesia. As part of the episode, he went to a nighclub filled with transvestites, but not any transvestites. They are men that are part of the third sex. “According to Francois Bauer, for centuries, traditional families in French Polynesia raised their eldest son as a woman, or Mahu, believing him to have divine qualities, and the best traits of both sexes. In the 1960′s, when the French began nuclear testing in Tahiti, there weren’t enough women to entertain all of the soldiers, so many of the local men became women.”

I found all of this quite fascinating and I remembered that I had written about a similar subject last year produced by photographer Ann Summa. I am rerunning the post here:

“There’s a legend in Mexico that says when God was flying over the country distributing homosexuals, he got tired over the state of Oaxaca and left most of them there.”

Los Angeles photographer, Ann Summa, explores a fascinating cultural phenomenon to create portraits of Muxes, men living as women, who are often the last male child and become the help-mate to aging parents.

Ann is an habitual world traveler. She studied photography in Japan, teaches photography at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and lives part time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her commercial work specializes in environmental, corporate, and celebrity portraiture, but she finds time so shoot work as an advocate for women’s health issues. Her fine art work looks at fringe cultures, from punk rock to women who own pit bulls to facets of Mexican culture.

In Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca , a muxe is a physically Male individual who dresses and behaves in a feminine manner; they may be seen as a Third gender. Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners. According to anthropologist Lynn Stephen, muxe “may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery or decorating home altars, but others do the male work of making Jewelry. Many now have white-collar jobs and are involved in politics.”

“We are the third sex. There’s men and women and there’s someone in between, and that’s who I am”

In Oaxaca, the rarely married muxes are often considered a family blessing, prized as family caretakers, and, along with widows, are considered acceptable partners when it comes to premarital sex for young Catholic boys. “Sleeping with a muxe does not make a man gay,” Summa says she’s been told. “It makes him feel more macho.”

Many indigenous Zapotec residents still honor Mayan dual-sex gods and cross-dressing Aztec priests, stands out among the others in mostly mestizo Catholic Mexico. Oaxaca has a matriarchal-based society; women are responsible for running most of the businesses here. As a result, most gay people find the state the most welcoming in the country.

Fresh garbage. ‘Matter out of place’ and filthy reality at the Wellcome’s new show

The Wellcome Collection’s new show is all about ‘Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life’, writes Rosie Walters. The science, the sociology, the history and the horror of waste forms the basis of this free London exhibition. It is not based on the science of dirt, but on the context in which it is found, and our attitudes towards it over the years.

The Wellcome has a history of putting on exhibitions that blur the lines where science, communication and art all meet, and making it accessible not just to scientists, but to anyone who’s interested.

L0068416 Last barge of garbage to Fresh Kills

Above: Last barge of garbage to Fresh Kills, 2001. Courtesy of the City of New York

Loosely split into six different sections, the exhibition guides you from the microscopes of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (below) and immaculate houses in seventeenth-century Delft, to the squalid reality of life in the slums of New Delhi and the growing crisis of waste disposal in New York’s Staten Island (above).

Ant eggs and maggots etc.

Above: Ant eggs and maggots etc., by Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, 1807. Courtesy Wellcome Library, London.

Each section explores social and political attitudes to the many different types of dirt. From human to industrial, it seeks to examine anthropologist Mary Douglas’ view that dirt is just ‘matter out of place’.

A young Venetian woman, aged 23

Above: A young Venetian woman, aged 23, depicted before and after contracting cholera. Coloured stipple engraving. Courtesy: Wellcome Collection.

Despite being a topic that does not naturally associate itself with beauty, the exhibition is incredibly visually striking: there is a clear progression from section to section and a good mix of media. Videos, specially commissioned artwork, photos and explanatory panels are nicely balanced, giving visitors enough information to appreciate the exhibits without them getting overloaded by facts and figures.

Raw Material Washing Hands

Above: Raw Material Washing Hands, 1996, by Bruce Nauman, Video installation. Courtesy ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008.

The strongest area by far is the one focusing on the Deutsche Hygiene Museum, which covers everything from 1960s animations showing the viewer how important washing fruit is (‘be like Snow White and wash your fruit before you eat it!’) to the disquieting ‘racial hygiene’ Nazi posters, and an illustration in Der Stürmer [The Attacker] from 1943 showing the Star of David and the Soviet hammer and sickle as ‘germs’ and ‘microbes’ in the view of a microscope. It also shows promotional posters for, and images from the first international Hygiene exhibition in Dresden in 1911, including Franz von Stuck’s giant eye poster (top).

V0013642 King's Cross, London: the Great Dust-Hea

Above: King’s Cross, London: the Great Dust-Heap, next to Battle Bridge and the Smallpox Hospital. Watercolour painting by E. H. Dixon, 1837. Courtesy Wellcome Library, London.

‘Dirt’ may not be the ideal choice for the more squeamish – the scratch-and-sniff cards accompanied by anti-bacterial hand wash and giant ‘anthropometric modules’ (bricks) made of human faeces were a little nauseating. But it certainly is a fascinating insight into mankind’s morbid relationship with waste.

Rosie Walters is a UCL student and science editor of Pi.

Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life
24 March > 31 August 2011
Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK
+44 (0)20 7611 2222
Admission free.

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