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Essay Photography Reviewing Practice

Could I Be Buried Here?

You watch your life unfold before you from start to fin­ish, would you change any­thing? Worn out, after a thir­ty-year career as a migrant artist in ani­ma­tion, design and acad­e­mia, I moved to Spain with my wife to recu­per­ate and reflect on the events that had led to this moment.

Nest­ed in the moun­tains of Gali­cia, the parish of Loña Del Monte hides itself neat­ly from the road. This small agri­cul­tur­al vil­lage is locat­ed 30 km out­side of the city of Orense. Its pop­u­la­tion bal­loons in late sum­mer as its dias­po­ra returns from across the world to cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val of the Vir­gin, only to shrink again for the long win­ter. Inspired by Koudel­ka, I set out to explore my own sense of root­less­ness, alien­ation, despair and loss, only to find there is no exile here, what lies here was for me some­thing new, it feels like home.

Pho­tog­ra­phy, like mem­o­ry, is a truth that should not be trust­ed light­ly, its illu­so­ry nature enables its mean­ing to spill beyond its orig­i­nal con­text and the con­tents of its frame, meta­mor­phos­ing over time. My work is obser­va­tion­al, an attempt to find solace, a sense of bal­ance. I make pho­tographs to make sense of the world and to help fig­ure out my place in it.

There are two paths. As the one ahead grows short­er, this work asks the ques­tion: “Could I Be Buried Here?

“Could I be Buried here?” Gallery Dis­play Mock-up

In the third week of August the parish of Loña Del Monte cel­e­brates the fes­ti­val of the Vir­gin. The annu­al fes­ti­val has been tak­ing place for as long as the local com­mu­ni­ty can remem­ber and brings with it gen­er­a­tions of dias­po­ra from around the world, swelling the pop­u­la­tion of the vil­lage expo­nen­tial­ly.

Accord­ing to Luis and Cesáreo, whose lives have book­end­ed in Loña: “Deep into the moun­tains above the parish of Loña del Monte a cou­ple of vil­lagers made a dis­cov­ery in the under­growth: a stone carved stat­ue of the Vir­gin. As the stat­ue had been found between the ham­lets of Vil­lour­iz and Souto there was some debate as to where it should be erect­ed. In order to decide which of the two ham­lets should have pos­ses­sion of the stat­ue the locals placed a wager. A bull from each ham­let was brought to a field to com­pete in a tug of war. Vil­lour­iz was vic­to­ri­ous, yet the stat­ue was car­ried to the chapel at the top of the moun­tain, where it would be shared by all six of the ham­lets in the parish”. Since then, every year, the fes­ti­val begins with mass in the vil­lage as the pro­ces­sion gath­ers at the church of La Igle­sia to car­ry a repli­ca of the stat­ue of the Vir­gin to the Capil­la de Loña del Monte, locat­ed 5 km fur­ther up the moun­tain. Four days lat­er, as the fes­ti­val ends, the peo­ple gath­er again to return the stat­ue to the vil­lage. With­in a cou­ple of weeks, as the dias­po­ra returns to their home­lands, leaves behind only the core pop­u­la­tion of the parish for the long win­ter.

In 2018, stress and life events led to ill­ness, from which it would take months to regain some resem­blance of nor­mal­i­ty. Dur­ing this time, Loña became my place to rest and rebuild. As the desire to make work returned it was impor­tant to under­take some­thing clear­ly defined and time spe­cif­ic. The pro­ces­sion would serve as step one.

Gali­cia has been well cov­ered, pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly, by out­siders such as Cristi­na Gar­cía Rodero, David Allan Har­vey, Har­ry Gruyaert, Ian Berry et al. who have all cap­tured the loca­tion and cul­ture with dynamism. Peter Marlow’s approach grew gen­tler in the late 1990’s exhibit­ing curios­i­ty to the details and less com­pelled by the spec­ta­cle. This gen­tle bal­ance and curios­i­ty would be my start­ing point.

You think you’re doing some­thing entire­ly your own, and a year lat­er, you look at it and you see actu­al­ly the roots of where your art comes from with­out your know­ing at all.”

(Duchamp, cit­ed in Tomkins, 2010, p49)

Over a cou­ple of years, as the loca­tion became more famil­iar, the rela­tion­ship between the place, the work and I began to evolve. The lines between doc­u­ment­ing Loña and under­stand­ing the self, began bend­ing back on each oth­er, cre­at­ing a new read­ing of the work and a new direc­tion as I moved to Spain with my preg­nant wife to make a home here.

The aug­men­ta­tion of my prac­tice through the intro­duc­tion of an art-as-ther­a­py process man­i­fest­ing itself through pho­tog­ra­phy, facil­i­tat­ed an anamor­phous read­ing of both mem­o­ry and the pho­to­graph. This cre­at­ed a realign­ment of the rela­tion­ship of how mem­o­ry func­tions in the pho­to­graph and how the pho­to­graph func­tions in the process of mem­o­ry. Tra­di­tion­al notions of mem­o­ry and pho­tog­ra­phy explore the evo­ca­tion of mem­o­ry through inter­act­ing with pho­tographs. On occa­sion with­in this body of work the obser­va­tion­al ele­ment is tak­ing place inter­nal­ly. The result­ing pho­tog­ra­phy, record­ing the phys­i­cal loca­tion at which the grind­ing rhetoric of a moment long past, emerged from the uncon­scious to pos­sess the con­scious.

In order to lib­er­ate myself from the past I have to recon­struct it. Pon­der about it. Make a stat­ue out of it and get rid of it. Through mak­ing sculp­ture I am able to for­get it after­wards. I have paid my debt to the past and I am lib­er­at­ed.”

(Louise Bour­geois, cit­ed in Hard­ing, 2013)

This align­ment of the pho­to­graph relo­cates the mem­o­ry of the past to the loca­tion of the pho­to­graph. Diaris­tic reflec­tion on the moment: the mem­o­ry and the pho­to­graph tie the bond, cre­at­ing solace. “The old say­ing: ‘We bring our lares with us’ has many vari­a­tions… Through dreams, the var­i­ous dwelling-places in our lives co-pen­e­trate and retain the trea­sures of for­mer days.” (Bachelard, cit­ed in Speaks, 2014) In my own con­text, when I move I bring my demons with me. Dis­placed and unset­tled, my demons’ trou­ble­some man­i­fes­ta­tions, infect and cor­rode every­day expe­ri­ence. By relo­cat­ing them, through the act of pho­tog­ra­phy, the visu­al mem­o­ry of their new home aids in soft­en­ing their expres­sion, cre­at­ing a space with­in which the mind can recov­er. Sep­a­rate­ly, when view­ing the asso­ci­at­ed pho­tographs, as with Barthes’ mem­o­ry of his moth­er, evo­ca­tion is split between the mem­o­ry of the loca­tion and the mem­o­ry of the recalled moment, or demon, over time, soft­en­ing the encounter, like nod­ding to a stranger we have seen before on the train to work.

From the per­spec­tive of the view­er, the dif­fer­ences between the gen­e­sis of the pho­tographs is unper­ceiv­able. The impe­tus for mak­ing the pho­to­graph does not impact the sin­cer­i­ty of the pho­tographs hap­pen­ing. This indif­fer­ence is mir­rored in the dis­play of the images where they are pre­sent­ed equal­ly. The pre­sen­ta­tion of this body of work is anal­o­gous to the form of con­ver­sa­tion, where, as two peo­ple talk they present infor­ma­tion as they assume it will be received. The rea­son­ing for each encap­su­lat­ed idea is cleansed of its impuls­es and moti­va­tions.

Could I Be Buried Here?” is a resolv­ing slice of an evolv­ing body of work. This set of twelve pho­tographs intro­duces the dia­log between the artist and the place as their rela­tion­ship togeth­er devel­ops.