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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.