Adriana Lestido

The exquisite observation

by Cristina Civale

It is a fundamental observer in these 30 years of democracy. Since that representative photograph of a Mother of in the Plaza de Mayo, until her unforgettable work on prisoners and mothers, her observation on the world of women is both personal and universal.

Something in the life of the photographer Adriana Lestido (1951) was out of focus. It was a love, captured by the claws of dictatorship that made bodies and souls disappear. Almost simultaneously, photography came into focus in her life. Relevant movement (by chance?) in the roadmap of a life: something had disappeared for the images to appear, and that key moment probably highlighted the subject of her work. Absence, fight, survival and, still, love stays even in a picture, in a imagination-fiction, in a story. But it stays and supports: it focuses work and life.

In May this year, Adriana Lestido bettered herself if that is possible for a visual artist that had already been oozing relevant matches of beauty and color, tearing and fainting, in a unique monochromatic register sometimes documentary, other times not.

It happened before winter this year, the photographer that started as a graphic reporter of La Voz newspaper (1982) during the dictatorship, and author of an iconic mother with a white scarf on her head, holding her daughter in her arms with the mouth open suggesting a shout asking for justice for someone she is not told where he/she is; this photographer decided to end a stage in her career. That photograph, already historical, had been taken in a demonstration in Avellaneda, and it opens the book What is seen (Capital Intelectual, 2013) that gathered over 30 years of her artistic career together with an exhibition of 70 photographs that included essays that turned her into an essential artist to tell the history of Argentinian contemporary photography. Everything took place at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes of Buenos Aires (Fine Arts museum) an imaginary space for the coronation. The book was presented there and the exhibition, apart from the presence of the government officials established by protocol, it was full of colleagues coming from various artistic fields.

Lestido has been accumulating prizes, probably more than any other photographer of her generation. She was the first Argentinian photographer to get the Guggenheim scholarship and won, among other prizes, the Great Prize Acquisition of the National Exhibition of Visual Arts, the prize Leonardo of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Hasselblad Scholarship (Sweden), Mother Jones Prize (United States of America) Konex Prize (Argentina). In 2010, she was awarded the Bicentenary Medal and was named Outstanding Culture Personality by the Buenos Aires Legislature.

Her series Children´s hospital (1986-1988), Adolescent Mothers (1988-1990), Imprisoned Women (1991-1993), Mothers and Daughters (1995-1998), Love (1992-2005) and Villa Gesell (2005) build up the corpus of the book and the top exhibition, also a milestone in the artistic events this year in the city.

The artist´s works stand out because of her experience of living together with her portraits, with women who live in spite of the absence of a man - the most noticeable lack in Lestido´s work. She suffered the pain of her father in jail during childhood and the disappearance of her first love already mentioned.

She lived to tell and she literally did it: without them. Except for the work on Love where she pictures the figure of a male body that embodied a real love, the moment she makes the exhibition the character she mentions no longer has strength.

After this exhibition/book, Lestido said to herself she had to take another path, deepening perhaps her recurring issues. She wanted to travel to a desert, a place where death would live as a transformation, a place without life or with a new life that gets ready to be born in an endless cycle.

And she left for the Antarctica. It was not a choice. A series of events took her there: a biologist went to her workshop to make the proposal of a long journey by ship and there Lestido knew that was the place.

And life pushed her South, even further south. The year she makes the decision, a residence for artists opens up in the Antarctica, she applies and wins.

On February 2011, she reaches Rio Gallegos towards Base Esperanza, the most well-known place in this white continent. For logistic reasons she reaches Base Decepción. And though it seems to be a joke, it is not. From the 5 stars of Marambio, Lestido ends at the foot of a volcano, in a pink two-room house with a heater that must be turned off at night for security reasons. She shares the room with other artists and when it is her turn, as a military duty, she is in charge of cleaning Base Decepción, something that did not disappoint her at all, in spite of being the only black area in the Antarctica. Her idea of white collapses and she has to improvise, or at least change her plans as she goes along. That is what Lestido reveals to Las 12 as an extreme experience. As if she were imprisoned in the most absolute freedom, this was an experience she had to go through, and the photographs were the excuse that led her to live this experience which at the same time accompanied her. This work is still in progress and it is what we will soon see. Lestido promises to work hard this summer to finish this task, and so those dark landscapes will appear: her tribute to the cycle of life before the humans make it possible.