Adriana Lestido

Eyes open to the unknown

The intense experience of an essay on the volcanic area of the Antarctic opens a new path in her work.

by Laura Casanovas

Adriana Lestido wanted to go towards white and arrived at black. She wanted to stay at Bahía Esperanza (Hope Bay) and spent a month at Isla Decepción (Deception Island), where the snow melts as soon as it touches the dark volcanic sand. However she was able to turn mishap into a unique opportunity that resulted in the series Antártida Negra. (Black Antarctic). A coherent attitude to her approach to the world. For Lestido, it relates to finding light where there's darkness, to see beyond what's visible, to connect with what's essential and with love itself. These are words and ideas she repeats during the interview with Ñ, following the exhibition at the Colección Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat (Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat Collection) of the photographs taken during her residence in the Antarctic in 2012.

Apart from exhibiting 20 images that we again see in the expanded version of 50 photos in the beautiful book, the artist allows us to see and feel further through her diaries, a travel-log to the southern-most continent. A small volume of great narrative intensity from which captivating landscapes, emotions and experiences emerge. An exercise in writing and consideration of her work. Lestido has written about 80 such diaries over 2 decades.

In the series Antártida Negra we find black and white images of landscapes without any human presence, except for a shack or a ship in the distance. An omnipresent fog transforms the shining sun and the glow of the moon. It reaches a point of abstraction with a line that comes out of the sea formed by the crater of a volcano or the pattern drawn by the ice in a wall made of lava. The white continent turns black in this area due to the effect of the hot, dark volcanic soil that receives the ice and dissolves it. “Fire under the ice!” Lestido writes in her diary.

While in her previous series; Madres e hijas, Madres adolescentes, Mujeres presas, (Mothers and daughters, Adolescent Mothers and Women in Prison), among others, the feelings, emotions and life revealed in those photographed bodies have an impact on the viewer. In this collection Nature in the protagonist.

How does Antártida Negra relate to your other work in where there's a predominance of people and relationships?

For me it was a natural process. The series Love consists of 24 photos. There's a single man in one of them, the rest are landscapes. I took many of those photos at the same time as Madres e hijas. The photos from Mexico, 2010, that I've only shown once are also there. However there's a collective notion that it appears suddenly with the Antarctic.

Why did you want to go to the Antarctic?

I wanted to go toward the white, like an end, a new beginning, a transformation, a vital experience for me. The images would then follow and allow me to see deeper. The possibility to give yourself in to what's different is what allows a communion with it all.'

You were headed towards Hope and ended up in Deception, towards white and ended up in the black, yet you always have and optimistic point of view. In your diaries you state: “(…) to deal with the present, whatever that may be”, “Everything happens for a reason”...

Something good can come out of the worst circumstances. It's about finding light within darkness. We went to a poor, black spot. The Antarctic is a dense place, very beautiful but very tough. I believe that being in this particular island allowed us to be much more in communion with the spirit of the continent. Life has its way of putting what you need to see in front of you. I feel very grateful to the Antarctic, I think the key is to be able to open up to the unknown without resistance. What you hope for is what you already know, and you tend to close up to the unknown and reject it. Opening up to it is what allows the transformation to occur.

Where's your work heading?

I don't know. I want to start with something new, to learn again, to take on a new challenge, a new language. To be able to go through a change that relates to an evolution in my awareness, but I don't know what that is yet.

From an aesthetic point of view there's never been harsh jumps in your photography. You've generally always chosen a realist imagery, direct takes in black and white, with few copies.

The permanent feature is the direct take. I'm not interested in setting anything up. I'm not interested in what happens in front of the camera, what you don't see. I believe you perceive with the whole body, you see beyond what you see with your eyes. There's a reason why you are drawn to certain situations and photographs. Often what comes after that allows you to see much more, when you develop and discover things you weren't entirely aware of when you captured the image.

In this day and age with digital images and tweaking them what you propose is quite a treasure…

Yes. I love life, the life you see in an image you make, the life of the person who works with the image, the latent life of an analogical image until it reveals itself. All that energy remains. I have a digital camera but I have a different relationship to digital images. I celebrate any medium that aids expression, but I prefer what is transformed through life, through what happens and not something you can then add a filter to and darken the sky. Even if analogical photography has a lab process that comes afterwards to achieve the image you perceived. I make the first copies, I get into the lab and I can spend a whole day making a copy until I achieve the image I want. In the analogical copy it's about work with light and silver. Something else happens that I love: no two copies are the same.

Do you think photography has anaura' in spite of the reproduction process?

Obviously and that's what I love of photography. Someone once said that the digital image is the same but without the magic. The analogical image has that magic, the chemical transformation of the liquids, working in the darkroom. I remember the first time I saw an image being developed, the white paper, that had been exposed to light placed in the tray and seeing the image appear, sheer magic. There's also everything you put into it, to work a sky, a shadow until you achieve what you want, you can feel all that when you look at the image. All that's beyond the mere copy. The digital copy might be better than an analogical one but it doesn't have the same vibration.

How would you like your work to be remembered?

I like my photographs to follow their own path. That's what has happened with the photograph of Mother and Daughter at Plaza de Mayo, many people have seen it but don't know who it's from. The image transcends its author. If that image alone survives, I'm happy. The path any single image may have is what gives it life and determines whether an image dies or continues to grow.