Adriana Lestido

To be able to See

By Mariana Enriquez.

In Burden of Dreams, the documentary made by the director and myth Werner Herzog about the madness of the filming Fitzcarraldo, a young attractive man, faces the camera, with the lush Peruvian jungle behind him and says in his solemn, dramatic voice that Klaus Kinski, the protagonist, sees eroticism in the jungle but he doesn’t. “ I see obscenity, suffocation, a fight for survival. Great sadness. Trees crying out of sadness, birds that don’t sing but cry out in pain. If God created this land he did it with anger. There’s no harmony in the universe: we must live with that. However I don’t hate the jungle, I love it against all reason”.

Like a true romantic, Herzog surrenders to nature’s sublime horror: its beauty and its threat. Herzog’s texts and films accompanied Adriana Lestido on her trip to the Antarctic, due to take her to Bahía Esperanza (the white) but ended up in Bahía Decepción, the black volcanic island with a modest base and unexpected landscape. Lestido’s observation of nature is different, yet complementary to Herzog’s. Before getting there Lestido saw Encounters and the End of the World, Herzog’s film of the last continent and the words “to sing to the glory of the Antarctic” resound in her and she hopes to reach“ the heart of purity…the threshold of beauty”. She asks herself: “What will the white teach me? What awaits?” Deception Island awaits. There she finds, not necessarily deception but a need to change her plans and attitude because the conditions on the island are tough. There’s so much black. “To be there with what is. There’s a reason for this”, Lestido writes and one can understand the reason for Herzog’s references. It’s like a balance between the man who questions silent nature with despair and the woman who photographs it trying to gently understand the meaning of this trip to the black. “Fire under the ice!” Lestido exclaims, writes and questions: “ What’s this all about?” Is this necessary in order to see, to be possessed by what she sees?”

Black Antarctic is a project of two books: an elegant one of photographs, with barely two texts (quotes from T.S Eliot and Salvatore Quasimodo) and the diaries published in the Rara Avis collection by Tusquets. The diaries are restless, accessible, intelligent and quite unpretentious. Even the moments of tension or anguish are told candidly. Her meetings with people, with the military, with her roommates, slipping on ice, corn-starch for dinner, listening to Beethoven or los Redondos (Argentine band). The photographs however display Nature’s horror and beauty. A place painted black by a divinity; foggy, hostile, abandoned. Sometimes we question what we see, what Lestido sees is: the moon pouring over the Antarctic night, a sky that looks like a black marine wave. The fog. The sea, splashed with dark spots, the penguins as relief, the white as a gift, a gem, when it appears, animals, ghostly ships. There are photos in which you see the wind, (feel the wind), photos in which what you see defies comprehension, (abstract land), mountains like defeated castles, mountains surrounded by smoke from pit fires, rocks that look like a giant door, a shelter for forgotten gods, the mountains of madness.

The phobia of open spaces is called agoraphobia. It’s less known that claustrophobia and seems less logical, but actually that’s not so. You can escape confinement, but where do you go when you are outside? In Black Antarctic, the Diaries, Lestido insists she wants to go back to the Antarctic, that this trip to the black is just a beginning, that one day she’ll go to the white, she even ponders on the idea of staying there over the cold winter months with no possibility to go back. Will she do it? “Definitely not”, she now says. “What I needed is done. Besides it was very difficult to work on those images. I always find connections, build a narrative as a guide. In this case I had to develop everything and finding what was latent in those image was difficult. If I went back it would be something different”.

It doesn’t sound like she’s too eager to go back even if she leaves the possibility open.

To publish the diaries was a last minute decision. I wanted the book of photographs to have a minimum amount of information.. “I just wanted information on where the photos were taken and a few quotes”. ( Quasimodo’s says: “Each of us is alone facing the heart of the earth / run through by a ray of sunlight and suddenly it’s night”. But as it tends to happen, she was convinced to say more. “The Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide came to visit, we had dinner. I told her all about the trip. She said to me , ‘ Isn’t that in the book?’ all the time and I’d say no. So she insisted that it ought to be: she didn’t know volcanic islands were black, she didn’t know about the isolation or the trouble with transport, she thought this was fundamental. ‘Did you keep a diary?’ she asked. ‘At least re-read it’ ”.

Lestido did as she was told and then Juan Forn (writer and publisher) intervened and the collection appeared, sheer synchronicity.

The diaries accompany the frenzy of these delirious images. It seems incredible that a person could have been so close to this beautiful, terrifying rock, yet she lived there. There are people who live there. “All in all, rough though it was, it was a benign stay”, Lestido says. “ I like the harshness of it. That’s what the Antarctic is. In his film, when Herzog arrives at an American bases and find it’s like a city, it annoys him. So much comfort. When you try to reach what’s real a hard experience is better. The Antarctic is an extreme post”. She acknowledges: “It destabilizes you, especially after a long period of time. The anticipation, the uncertainly, the lack of communication. At Orcadas there’s a doctor, but during the winter if there’s an emergency she can’t handle, that’s it. It can be maddening no to be able to say, I’ve had enough, I want to go home”.

At home Adriana read Of Walking on Ice, Herzog again. During her trip she read, Conquest of the Useless, the diaries of Fitzcarraldo, with the confession of love and hate for the jungle, the contradiction of the sublime. ‘Herzoguian?’ (romantic?) Lestido would listen to Beethoven in the Antarctic. But talking about Herzog today, at her home, she laughs. “It was wonderful company but I don’t compare myself to him for a second. He’s very important for me, I discovered him as a student in 1979. I’m moved by everything he does, yet I don’t see Herzog trying to blend in with nature. It’s a question of temperament”. She does try. She doesn’t pick fights as much as Herzog. She writes in her diary: “What reaches me. That’s what this place is for me. To let the spirit speak. To draw it with light”.