DOUBLE EXPOSURE: Visual Fiction of the Personal Gaze

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.

Martin Chambi (1891-1973 ). Amanda Hopkinson:Martín Chambi’s images laid bare the social complexity of the Andes. Those images place us in the heart of highland feudalism, in the haciendas of the large landholders, with their servants and concubines, in the colonial processions of contrite and drunken throngs. Chambi’s photographs capture it all: the weddings, fiestas, and first communions of the well-to-do; the drunkenness and poverty of the poor along with the public events shared by both. That is why, surely without intending it, Chambi became in effect the symbolic photographer of his race, transforming the telluric voice of Andean man, his millenary melancholy, his eternal neglect, his quintessentially Peruvian, human, Vallejo-like pain into the truly universal.

“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 )

Edward Ranney:Chambi the photographer is himself the bearer of modernity, of a new vision to his culture, and of it. The photographer is like an intruder or trespasser in his own land. And yet the look, gaze or regard in his works is reciprocal, a kind of dialogue between the artist and his subjects, a commerce of places between the observer and the observed. The photographer is here at the same time an external observer and an internal one. The aesthetics of genre and of the picturesque becomes a medium of reversal, the foreign gaze may serve as a tool for self reflection. Chambi's subjects gaze at the photographer with a similar “mechanical” gaze, as focused and intense, and at the same time as “distracted”, indifferent or suspended, as the vision of the camera.

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.

"Since the times of plenty, the times before the Spanish arrived, they have been denied education and nutrition. A healthy and highly skilled intelligent people have been transformed into people who are malnourished, don’t know the benefits of eating vegetables and haven’t been taught personal hygiene or disease prevention. Along with the loss of cultural heritage and history, they have lost all the knowledge of their ancestors – great monument builders, engineers, biologists, astronomers, knowers of the natural world around us." photo Martin Chambi

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.

Javier Silva-Meinel . "In fact, the most brilliant shots resulting from these photography sessions are the result of the combination of the artist’s ideas, the natives’ ideas, and the intrusion of randomness."

…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.

Mark Power:Wedding of Don Julio Gadea, Prefect of Cuzco, 1930 Look at this justly famous 1930 photograph, for example; it looks like the wedding party is emerging from the deepest depths of the earth. I imagine Don Julio and his young bride have long since returned to those depths b

ere they are, frozen in time, on the pages of books and hanging on the walls of museums.

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.

Mark Power:Baldomero Alejos. The depth of feeling in both Peruvians’ work is extraordinary. I wish I had more to add of Alejos’ imges but so little is available of his work, and despite Chambi’s two books that’s true of his oeuvre as well. Relatively few Chambi pictures have been published, a small part of his archives, and when you consider the Alejos archives consist of over 60,000 images – well, all you can say is, photo historians get to work!

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.

Javier Silva-Meinel. "These are bizarre and mystic photographs of native people taken in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon in Iquitos an island famous for having the biggest commerce of exotic animals in South America . Javier Silva Meinel moves away from the busy area of Iquitos and goes into the jungle to explore the relationship that indigenous people have with the mythical river of the Amazons."

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.

" Through his procedure, the photographer transforms that girl or that indigenous woman living in a remote spot in South America into a universal and currently valid figure, capable of resonating in the imagination of a viewer situated in any other place or time. Going beyond photography as a relational pact, Silva-Meinel’s work manifests the wish to transform and add value to what it portrays. The natives that appear in his photographs do not constitute the exotic and coded piece that is sold to tourists; rather, they are complex and creative beings, who accept taking part in a game proposed by the photographer. In the wider sense of the word, they are people who express their emotionality and their psyche. In fact, in a certain way they are also artists. They have not been “seized” by the photographer’s gaze; they have accepted to participate in the game he proposes, thus becoming co-authors and performers in a visual fiction."


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