Adriana Lestido

"To photograph is to shake off darkness"

by Anna-María Hollain

It gives the impression that if it weren´t for the sharp eruptions of jackhammers and hammers, the Argentinian photographer Adriana Lestido (Buenos Aires, 1955) would not walk away from from her works. In an exhibition room of the Casa de America in Madrid, two days before the start of PHotoEspaña, the artist rounds up the details of a retrospective dedicated to her portraits of difficult loves: it is the first time she makes a presentation in Spain. But once seated at the terrace of Palacio Linares, Lestido surrenders to the interview. Fellow of the Guggenheim and Hasselblad Foundations in the nineties, the artist left her job behind as a photojournalist fifteen years ago to work in long term projects, such as that of Mothers and Daughters. In this project she followed up four couples for a period of three years.

Question. Why is “Difficult Loves” the title of the exhibition and what is more important: love or difficulty?

Answer. I chose it because in fact, they are all love stories. The guiding force of the exhibition runs that way; also there is complicity, relations, separation, pain and vital needs necessary to be alive. I believe that all that is influential is difficult, and influential loves are always difficult, even beyond circumstances. There are extreme situations among the stories I am telling. Such as those of women in prison who are alone or the bonds among them and their children and the separation from them. But in the end, love is the important thing, to be able to see the difficulties and understand it a bit more.

Question. Which are the most complex love relations you have portrayed?

Answer. Mothers and Daughters. It is one of the most complex and intense feelings in life. It is a relationship that has more possibilities of identification. A woman being born of a woman whose first object of love is a woman. And nevertheless I believe is the most limited one.

Question. Why?

Answer. Because of the paradox love and hate, competition and symbiosis. I believe it is where love faces its major difficulty. Still, this is a generalization because there are very light relations between mother and daughter, though there are terrible ones between father and son. But also I wondered: how can it be that a relationship with so many possibilities of identification has so many restrictions? I believe it has to do with the great identification inherent in the relationship that makes the daughter difficult to find her own identity.

Question. Are you attracted by difficult settings from the emotional point of view? For example, you made projects in a prison and in a children´s hospital.

Answer. The settings I choose have to do with needs; this validates any expression, for me there is no other parameter. If I hadn’t felt the need to look into a prison, I would have never done it. Now, if you ask me, I wouldn´t be able to go in again. Some have made this suggestion several times, but I already saw what I wanted to see (breathes and doubts), that’s all. For me, taking photographs is shaking off the darkness; it is shedding light on an obscure area. It has to do with my story and with things I needed to take out, I needed to see in order to illuminate.

Question. What struck you most about imprisoned mothers?

Answer. When I started with the project of women in prison, it was having in mind a nonromantic idea of maternity. And what impressed me is that, when being in jail, having a child or not is not relevant. The hard experience is to be in jail, children have a secondary role in the prison, in some way those children belong to all the inmates. The strength of the bond is that it is the only thing a woman in prison can have, something she has influence on and on which she can make a minimal decision because, deep inside, being in jail is simply that, not being able to decide.

Question. Why most of your pictures are in black and white?

Answer. For me black and white is more central, more essential: it is addressed to what it really is, without distractions, such as in dreams. In dreams you only remember color when it is functional to the dream; it is the image of the dream that counts.

Question. How do you explain the close range in all your photographs?

Answer. I need to be near the object I am looking at. Almost all my photos are done with 35 millimeters, very few are taken with a standard lens, I don´t use long distance lenses, I don´t like them. It has to do with the idea of merging, to become what I´m looking at. I don´t look for it purposely, that´s just what happens. I start looking at something and I have to become one with the observed. It is as if the relevant images resulted from the union of my energy and what I´m looking at, be it a person, a tree, a landscape. That fusion is what gives life to an image. It is more difficult from a distance.