Most of Mario Varga Llosa’s novels are set in Peru. From his first works, Vargas Llosa has used a wide variety of avant-garde techniques to create an aesthetic “double of the real world.”; a subtle line between narrative form and narrative content that avoids moralizing or compromising artistic aims for ideological propaganda. The great Peruvian photographers also worked the double exposure that explored different seams and fissures within accepted objective reality.
“Chambi was himself an Indian; Alejos consistently photographed the Indian culture of Ayachuco and Meinel, the modern photographer in this trio, has spent much time photographing the indians of the Amazon basin, not a surprising choice when you consider half the Peruvian population is of Indian descent. First, there were the Incas conquered by the conquistadores and their descendents the Quechuan Indians , and the Aymara, both of the Andean Highlands, and then the 40 or so tribes of the lowland Amazon region, the subject of much of Meinel’s work. And one mustn’t forget the Hispanic side of this culture: deeply Catholic, reserved and brooding: qualities of light that permeates each of the photographers’ work.” ( Mark Power )
Chambi’ s works capture and re-display moments of coexistence between the past and a present in transition, that is, a time internally divided between what it was and will soon no longer be, and what will come. Split between being and becoming, the present is no longer identic to itself: a time of non-identity. And yet, life goes on as an homogeneous duration. The paradox of lived time, like photographic time itself, is that in many ways it is a time that does not pass. The place of photography is located between the already gone and the always there, the temporal a form of visual immortality. One of the noticeable elements of Chambi’s photography is the power of amalgamating in one and the same look, gaze or regard, the modern and the “ancestral”, technology and the “soul”, that is, photography, the image-machine, and the spirit or the “aura” of a people, a place and a culture. A culture, that is, a specific form of life, a unique form of humanity made visible by the photographer. The “aura”, an emanation of light that frames a visible pattern, a momentary and original configuration, both instantaneous and timeless.
Jean Paul Sartre, described a being-for-itself to interact with another being-for-itself; the key concepts being “the gaze” and “the other.” Without question, in Sartre’s view the gaze of the other is alienating. Our awareness of being perceived not only causes us to deny the consciousness and freedom inherent to us but also causes us to recognize those very qualities in our counterpart. Consequently, we are compelled to see the other who looks at us as superior, even if we recognize his gaze as ultimately dehumanizing and objectifying.
In response to the gaze of the other, we will assert ourselves as free and conscious and attempt to objectify the individual who objectifies us, thus reversing the relationship. The pattern of relations Sartre describes appears frequently in society. The assertion of freedom and transcendence by one party often results in the repression of those conditions in another. Delving into the ways individual beings-for-itself relate to one another, Sartre argues that we, as human beings, can become aware of ourselves only when confronted with the gaze of another. Not until we are aware of being watched do we become aware of our own presence.
…The gaze of the other is objectifying in the sense that when one views another person building a house, he or she sees that person as simply a house builder. Sartre writes that we perceive ourselves being perceived and come to objectify ourselves in the same way we are being objectified. Thus, the gaze of the other robs us of our inherent freedom and causes us to deprive ourselves of our existence as a being-for-itself and instead learn to falsely self-identify as a being-in-itself.
Looked in this way, the photographs give rise to a peculiarly Sartrean fantasy of desire. For the existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, desire and romantic encounter is based on constant conflict, an unending oscillating between the modes of being he calls sadism and masochism. Those of you who are familiarly with the Lacanian notion of the gaze, of the idea of mirroring and its centrality to the foundation of identity, may or may not be aware that much of Lacan’s theory is drawn from Sartre’s earlier notion of “the look,” which he expounds in Being and Nothingness. Sartre can easily be seen as the last significant advocate and refiner of the Cartesian tradition. His notions of perception are founded on a refined version of the cogito. For Sartre, the look is an absolute exercise of power over the body of the other. In his theory of look and counter look, subjects of desire interact between a desire to possess the other through “looking” so to speak, at them; this he notes is a desire to possess the other’s freedom-as-freedom, a logical impossibility.
aaaaIncluded within what might be termed “subjective documentary”, this artist’s work re-states images and meanings that somehow continue to be “silenced” by contemporary Western culture. But, unlike the classic documentary maker, who “sets out” to capture other realities, he embarks on journeys to the interior. That interior is comprised of the forgotten corners and people of his own country, that is to say, it is also his own internal world. His art is no longer the foreign passion for anything that is different; rather, it is the urgent need to recognize oneself in what is preeminently identified with one’s own roots.
The meaning of art as a form of self-knowledge implies placing the emphasis on the process, that is, on understanding that, beyond the aesthetic value of the image, each photograph condenses a long experience of relationships and exchanges between the author and the worlds he portrays. “My work’s process is rather long. I delve into the subjects until I feel I have managed to develop a personal gaze.
Thus, Silva-Meinel’s images do not only convey an external reality – a landscape or people situated in a given time and space – but they also succeed in transferring that complicity to us. In his famous essay, Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes refers to the “punctum” as an indomitable and rotund gesture that “pricks,” touches and mobilizes us, and that becomes, for us, something like the soul or the DNA of an image. In Silva-Meinel’s photographs, that punctum is undoubtedly present in the intersection of the gazes as an emotional space in which the photographer observes and is, at the same time, observed.