Carlos Saladen-Vargas ‘América del Sur vol. 1’ (2010)

Carlos Saladen-Vargas in conversation with Pablo Allison (september 2011)

Pablo Allison – I sense a very honest and tender look to the portraits. Can you give me a brief insight about your motivation to conduct this project and also, which countries did you visit while producing the work?

Carlos Saladén-Vargas Thank you. The main motivation behind these images is the way ‘third world’ cultures are represented in mainstream western media, as ‘others’. These ‘others’ are people shown as primitive and miserable, with corrupt governments and starving societies, in short, in need of help. I understand that this is a very hard agenda to tackle but I thought of going back to basics, to start by pointing at the people from these cultures. I really don’t see this exercise as a particular view of South America. I think I wanted to use South America as example so other ‘third world’ cultures ( like African, Indian ) could see themselves in my work, talking to a bigger audience

I only visited two countries, Colombia and Venezuela, I travelled by road and I intentionally focused on people living in the countryside rather than cities. I am happy that you use words like honest and tender to describe the images. I wanted to use a very basic approach, a bit typological but also very relaxed, I only shot one frame per subject, I believe this one-shot approach translated into a very respectful dynamic between them and myself.

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PA– Although the present situation in Latin American countries is of a lot of social unrest, violence, drug issues among many other problems, there are also many positive aspects that seem to be disregarded. For instance, I have noticed many photo-essays focusing on gang culture, poverty, corruption and the list goes on. Could you give me your take on this insatiable appetite for photojournalists or documentary photographers to disregard the positive elements that Latin America is also built of ?

CS-V-Yes but we have to see the bigger picture, it is about ‘photojournalism’ and ‘documentary ‘ being used to create products that can be sold and marketed through mainstream channels, you cannot sell a pink elephant by showing a photo of a blue one, can you?

PA– I understand that this series of portraits attempt to break with stereotypes in terms of culture and representation of subjects ( identity ), can you explain a bit more about why it is important for you to re- construct Latin American identity today ?

CS-V– I don’t like to use the word ‘identity’, I feel it’s a term loosely overused to the point that it has become a cliché, I rather say it is important to re-construct representation, and not only for Latin America but also for the ‘first world’, representation today is utterly divorced from everyday life and the people. It seems that mainstream representation speaks ( in first person ) only to a few.

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PA– You incorporate elements that have been building the ‘democratic’ society in Latin American countries today. From a policeman, family members, workers and the military force among other aspects. How do you believe that the rest of the World, specifically ‘industrialized societies’ perceive Latin America?

CS-V– Good question, I’m not sure how they perceive Latin America, as it really depends who you ask, I have met many people that get thrilled about Latin America and come with joyful memories from when they lived over there, they were always on business assignments or consulting for multinational companies so those guys really had a great time I suppose… now if we think about ordinary people, then we have to consider that their perception can only be that which is constructed and strengthened through mainstream imagery and responds to certain interests.

PA– My first reaction when analyzing the images was of a slight confusion. I initially thought that the images were about Latin Americans living in the USA. Later I discovered that the project was about people living in Latin American countries. From an aesthetic angle, which was your strategy when choosing the elements you wanted to depict in the project and what you thought was irrelevant and out of context?

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CS-V– Really? What a surprise, maybe it was because the first image you saw was of a police man wearing some kind of texan hat? I think it was just a very opportune ( or unfortunate?) coincidence. I decided to photograph certain people: people that I particularly find excluded from the realm of representation. Aesthetically I wanted to play with the idea of using the landscape and surroundings as a secondary but very important layer, they don’t shout-out-loud ‘hey look! we are in the third world! ‘ at least not in the way that you are used to see in mainstream imagery. If you look closely you realise that this secondary layer anchors the images in a very special way

PA– I see that you focused the project on portraits rather than on the topography of the space. Why do you think it was more important to photograph people rather than the landscapes?

CS-V– I wouldn’t say it is more important to photograph people over landscape. They are equally relevant to the point that they are connected.

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PA– Have you received the responses you aimed to hear from audiences when presenting the work at exhibitions?

CS-V– Well, this is a very difficult question, I really don’t know the answer… What is that phrase I’ve heard before? If I managed to touch just one soul, then it was well worth it… or something like that.

PA– Will you be going further with the work, traveling to other Latin American countries?

CS-V– Yes definitely, I’de love to, but I think I might have to leave that for sometime in the future, at the moment I am concentrating in developing my work using what I have around me…

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Six questions for Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall - Foto: Gerda Meier-Grolman

Foto: Gerda Meier-Grolman

“People do say things like: ‘It’s impossible to make images today because everything has been done’, but it hasn’t been done by them. There’s always a new person who’ll come and do it again, and therefore that thought is one that can come to you at a certain point in your life when you feel that you haven’t accomplished anything of yourself yet and those who have, have sort of closed the door on you. I remember when I was beginning I felt that Robert Frank had closed a door on me, because I really couldn’t imagine making a photobook like that, as I said before, but another door opened at the same time. Circumstances are always like that. Things are constantly evolving and in art there are no rules, because art can be anything. There are no rules, and not everything has been done. Every new generation will encounter the problems of the previous generations from a different place and they won’t be able to replicate what that generation has done. For example, my view of the photobook is probably now completely obsolete; my attitude won’t take a young person anywhere comparable to where it took me in the 1970s. I don’t believe there are any worn-out art forms; there isn’t any art medium that isn’t available. But I do think that for individuals certain things will be blocked in your youth, and that blocked space is usually something you desperately identify with and admire, and so it becomes an obstacle and that’s the great crisis that everyone faces: that the thing they want to do has already happened. So therefore they’re forced to become themselves again in another way. Many are defeated by that crisis – they can’t find their own thing. You have to face that obstacle; it’s unavoidable. It’s an illusion that all has been done – things are still happening. All you can do is to find your own relation to that obstacle.

Conversation with Charlotte Cotton

“I learnt about photography as a part of material culture and a demonstration of human endeavour, rather than as a subsection of the story of modern and contemporary art with the concomitant concept of art photography as a commodity within a neoliberal marketplace.”

“The creative processes that I am drawn to rely on finding points of interest and properly reflecting on their meaning and causality. This position enables open-ended practices to unfold. Such practices are at the heart of human creativity and the enduring – pre-photographic – desire to make marks that delineate and are comprehended in our time.”

“I think the photographic is alive and well; a fitting adjective rather than a solidified noun.”