The Tale of a Photograph

Twenty photographers, twenty photographs, twenty glances, twenty tales.

When Alexis Díaz contacted me on September 2011 to participate in the project: “The tale of a photograph”, as the curator of the exposition, in charge of selecting twenty photographers, I didn’t hide my joy and enthusiasm. I thought it was an excellent idea, both in terms of form as in its background: an exploration where the state of Chilean contemporary photography is opened up like drawers, something that interests me the most, being me the only curator in France openly and regularly representing it for the past ten years.
How many projects were born and developed thanks to the efforts of each of you?

From my first investigation back in 2004, entrusted by Mr. Bourdon, cultural attaché for the Instituto Chileno-Francés in Santiago; to the meeting with José Moreno, by then director of Universidad de Chile’s photographic archive, which allowed us to raise awareness among the French audience, supported by Le École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (Arles, France), of the work of the great Chilean photographer Antonio Quintana. From Rabat, in Morocco, to Coquimbo, (going through Paris, Biarritz, Nîmes, and Berlin), and in complicity with our homologous Moroccan partners gathered under the flag of the Moroccan Association of Photographic Art (AMAP), we’ve achieved what was “unlikely”, through a double project of exchange between Moroccan and Chilean photographers. From Santiago to Nîmes in 2011, where we opened, for the first time in France, a huge event that brought together the works of various generations of contemporary Chilean photographers, and on top of that, the famous exhibition “Chile from inside”, organized in 1990 by Susan Meiselas (Magnum).

We are now beginning here a new stage of a shared history, which of course cannot be summarized in one, or twenty photos!

Photography is a solitary practice, even though, paradoxically, photographers often organize themselves in collectives.

Either for economic reasons, to join teams and forces, either for the sake of debate and exchange, or for mere professional obligation, either voluntarily or by choice of a third party. Many times the collective structure adapts well to the photographic practice in the form of joint projects, workshops, groups or agencies, setting up exhibitions; the glance of the photographer hobnobs among the ones of his peers, and their different points of view.

The exercise of getting together twenty photographers, so different between them, becomes a delicate subject…
We had to find a thread within this invisible bound that allowed us to gather them, while maintaining their own creative autonomy at the same time.
The device becomes essential in the attempt to gather a group of people with many privileges and different historical anchors, through the generations and aesthetics.

An analysis of the support will throw many qualities. As a starter, the setting and the restriction appliance offer a delimited space where you can express yourself freely and in a singular way, the glance of the artist, focused in one of his works. In a second stage, the adopted protocol, which recites the tales at the same pace and the same didactic conditions, suggests lively to the spectator an heterogeneous decline of an artistic practice, and its infinite variations. The “Tale of a photograph” series consists in well-rounded units, whose “box” works itself as a tiny universe, where eye and thought are in orbit, both scrutineers, searching for clues.

In order to advance in this direction, without going too far, let’s quote Walter Benjamin, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, written about Eugène Atget’s photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th Century: “It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them [those streets] like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence.”
Here the search for clues appears to be double, if we study close enough the guided image, starting from the author’s commentary, and the movements –or steady camera– which redefine the image which cuts off and reconstruct the research we are making, as an spectator of the whole, which embraces the photograph, as well as the photographer and his relation, as far or close as it may be, with the piece he has produced.
The photograph appears then, filmed, on stage, both physically and historically.

There are three aspects: the photography, which represents a real scene, and is already represented –in a very different way, depending of each of us–, then “dissected” and examined by the author, who is somehow performing its autopsy. And, by doing it, it delivers him/herself to the authenticity of his/her origins, in a way that doesn’t allow us to perceive the secret bonds he/she maintains with the photograph. It responds, in first place, to the question “Why?”, and, in second place, to the question “How?”

But it would be futile trying to define what –if there’s something at all– is connecting them, because there’s so much to say about each photograph and its mise en scène. We can’t criticize here each photo by its amplitude nor its specificity. So let’s take a look around the stories that each image distills. Let’s guess the invisible “threads” attached to the photographs, as puppets on the theatre’s stage, formed by the screen.
This is an invitation to dive in an ephemeral way through these small skylights and its juxtaposed openings, a tortuous ambulation of haphazard gazes.

Because, if there’s something to learn from this experience, is that the multiplicity of visions are equal to the variety of human stories.

Nîmes, January  2013