In the remote farmlands near Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alessandra Sanguinetti produced a series of photographs entitled 'On the Sixth Day' that centered on the symbiotic relationship between the farmers, their animals, and the land. While working on this series she first met Guille and Belinda whose families lived and worked on these farms. The two cousins were ten and nine years old when Sanguinetti began to photograph them. Sanguinetti sought to portray the psychological and physical transformations of these girls as they matured into adults. As opposed to a more traditional documentary narrative of these two girls growing up in this rural environment, Sanguinetti instead focused on the desires and dreams of their active imaginations. Sanguinetti writes, “I have attempted to interpret the ending of their childhood by entering their imaginary spaces. The time when their dreams, fantasies, and fears fuse seamlessly with real day-to-day life are ending, and the photographs I have made intend to crystallize this rapidly disappearing very personal and free space.” The resulting series of images, presented here under the title The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams, represents not only an elaborate collaboration between photographer and subject but an intimate relationship cultivated over a five-year period.
Initially Sanguinetti photographed with little intervention as Guille and Belinda played. As the two girls became more comfortable in front of the camera their improvisations became more involved and performances more inventive. Sanguinetti worked closely with them, helping to translate their ideas into images by directing their improvisations as they represented their perceptions of themselves. Through this activity Guille and Belinda became the stars of their own reality, acting out a plenitude of comedies, dramas, fantasies, and fables. Limited only by their imaginations, they fashioned their own costumes and props using toys and everyday objects and used their homes and the surrounding countryside as a backdrop. In addition to the intricate scenes Guille and Belinda would concoct, Sanguinetti also provided them with books and other materials to inspire them to reinterpret in their own inimitable fashion other literary and visual works.
Sanguinetti writes, “It is by paying attention and giving them a space in which to bring out and perform their private dreams and fears, that one can go into this world that otherwise would have been kept locked to themselves and eventually fade away.” As Guille and Belinda matured so did their dreams and fantasies, becoming less playful and whimsical and more grounded in the practical and the inevitable. Conceiving images of themselves as brides, mothers, and care givers, they began to play the roles they eventually would see themselves assuming.
In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot coined the phrase “the art of fixing a shadow” to describe his negative- positive photographic process that became the basis of the photographic medium. Since then critics and historians have written at length about the metaphorical role photography plays in preserving the past and halting the fleeting moment. Childhood is a very brief period of personal development and discovery, perhaps even more so for Guille and Belinda where the onset of adulthood comes at an early age. The enigmatic dreams and fantasies from the fertile imaginations of Guille and Belinda might have gone unobserved if not for Sanguinetti’s efforts. Through this archive of images, which are as inexplicable as the imaginations that choreographed their content, this fleeting shadow of youth is preserved.
Gary Hesse (c) 2003
The animal has secrets which, unlike the secrets of caves, mountains, seas, are specifically addressed to man.
Alessandra Sanguinetti has been unfolding a tale of animals and humans, and of their interaction and dependence. Set in the countryside within the province of Buenos Aires is an area known as Partido de Guido. Since 1996, she has been photographing this fragile terrain where the lives of theanimals and the subsistence farmers share a practical and ritual space. The scenes are by local roadsides, fields and nearby woods where the farmers live and work, often within the property lines of the larger landowner.
Chickens, ducks, horses, pigs, geese, dogs, cows, lambs, cats, and rabbits populate these images. We see them as subjects caught in a dance of life and death, and at the service of those who raise and sacrifice them for food, or modest income. This is a countryside where past meets present, and where the relationship between the everyday and the mythical can be unveiled by careful and empathetic observation.
In describing this work Sanguinetti has said, 'This project interprets the people and animals inhabiting the Pampas, their relationship with each other and the land. In the rural farmland of Argentina, this relationship is part of everyday life. Small and open land farming, unlike intensive and factory farming, has resulted in a language of traditions that persists over the years, where the cycle of life and death is present every day, from dawn to dusk.'
It is a mark of fables to endow animals with human qualities. Real and imaginary relations with animals disclose social conditions while offering messages or promises. Our memories include domestic pets that are 'family,' and the acts of heroism, gentleness, fear or cunning that each animal story embodies. While we live in parallel universes, in these images animals and humans double for each other. The animals stand (and fall) for us, and their significance derives from the ignorance of what has or will happen to them.
Sanguinetti's photographs make visible a dialectic of transcription and invention. Her work embraces the contemporary circumstances of documentary practice. It is committed to, but not restrained by, an obligation to represent truth. She discloses situations that invite the viewer to confirm the simultaneous appearance of natural, social, and symbolic phenomena.
The pictures of death and carcasses interrupt the sentimental imagination with a psychic violence, an unblinking acceptance that questions our position in the cycle. Many of the images are taken from the vantage point of the animals, placing the viewer up-close amongst them. Sanguinetti is acutely aware of the gaze of the animals, and how their looking at us is at once plaintive and wary. This interplay between scene and gaze can be haunting and unsettling. We are brought closer to the transformation from living beings to material substance.
Sanguinetti states, 'To portray an animal is to name it. Once named it acquires a new life, and then, is spared death. Each sacrifice gives us back a disturbing image of the border we cross when we end a life, and what it means to turn another living creature into a source of food. It is possible that by exploring the fine line that separates us from what we rule, we may reach a better understanding of our own nature.'
Returning over time to the surroundings of the farmhouse, the nearby lands and the sites of daily labor, the photographs indirectly chart a path to our notion of origin, home. Allegories of modern, post-industrial, urban society are silently thrown into relief. The images allow us to consider the implications of being seen by the animals as we look upon them. They provide the animals and the inhabitants with something their individual lives could not offer, that we remember them.
Robert Blake 2002
Alessandra Sanguinetti divides her time between Buenos Aires and New York, NY. She participated in Light Work's Artist-in-Residence program from April 15 to May 15, 2002.
Robert Blake chairs the General Studies Program at the International Center of Photography in New York. He is co-founder of the performance group, Hybridaxe, produces photographic and video documentaries, and writes frequently on contemporary photography and art.
A Just Image
As it plays out in the headlines, justice means equality, fairness, and the rule of law. Yet beyond the events broadcast on television and the news alerts flashed instantly to laptops and PDAs, there is a large realm of justice that eludes reporters. Throughout daily life - at home, in school, doing errands, tending children,m making dinner, playing sports - perceptions of justice often float just below the radar.
The Light Work Collection offered plentiful proof that photographers frequently make images of routine daily life and its relationship to a sense of justice. However, as members of the Fine Arts 395 "Art and Identity"class noticed, scholars seldom extend the concept of justice into aspects of living that are legal, but sometimes ethically questionable. Counselors, social workers, and therapists seem to take over where the justice system stops. Nevertheless, the line between the legal system's purview and personal life is not fixed. Class members were careful to insist that the law is often less subtle in its grasp of situations and unaware of complexities than are the images included in this show. Nowhere in the law is it written that by embracing a stereotype one can sometimes achieve influence skin to contesting the mold. Thoughts and feelings such as these coalesced as the subject of this exhibition.
Work and family emerged as sites where what is fair is not always what is equal. , and what is equal is not always fair. However fair or unfair, the triumphs and annoyances one experiences at work mostly fall below the threshold of the law. It is conventional wisdom, not the IRS, which suggests that wealth carries no guarantee of happiness. Creating this nuanced exhibition about justice in everyday life led the class into hearty and un-nuanced discussions about the slights, snubs, and rebuffs of an ordinary day.
The students chose the title A Just Image for this exhibition before they read about the expression in Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida. With the phrase, he and they recognize that art coaxes the world of appearances to create symbols signifying ideas for which there are no words. Just an image becomes A Just Image.
Mary Warner Marien
A Just Image: Selections from the Light Work Collection is the result of a collaborative effort by thirty-one Syracuse University students enrolled in Professor Mary Warner Marien's "Art and Identity" course. The exhibition examines the Fall 2007 Syracuse Symposium theme of justice. The students chose images from the Light Work Collection, considering the personal and societal meanings of justice. They have created an interactive exhibition, where, as the students write in the exhibition catalogue, "ironically... the viewer is still judging."
A Just Image invites viewers to explore the photographs and rethink their definition of justice. As the students of the "Art and Identity" course discovered, though justice is a universal concept, it does not necessarily carry the same meaning for everyone. This can be seen in the different perceptions of stereotypes, families, occupations, and leisure activities, which are some of the topics examined by the class. According to the students, " The Pictures we have chosen require more than just superficial judgment; they require the viewer to acknowledge their own stereotyped projections."