Adriana Lestido

Pearls and scars

The work of a whole lifetime. So does Adriana Lestido define the the incredible What is seen, the book and the exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes where they gather thirty years of powerful images, from that image in Avellaneda, in which mother and daughter with scarfs on their heads claimed for an absent one, up to the recent landscapes on the Atlantic coast where the photographer lives half of the year. From the loving roughness of the first series to the almost mystical conception of the blurred and dreamy images of the last years, Lestido presents this complete work where the anxiety of separation throbs, the warmth of the of the bonds and an almost existential empathy among what you have, what has been lost and what can be lost.

by Angel Berlanga

"And, did you get
what you wanted in this life?
I got it.
And what did you want?
To consider myself loved
To feel loved on earth."

The sunrise from the shore and the horizon, between the line of the sea in the distance and the clouds, a stripe of light. Then, a self-portrait: the profile that hardly shows behind the hair, the sky that shines behind the tamarisks, both the tamarisks and the hair almost a unity. And at the turn of the page, those verses of Raymond Carver: “Last Fragment” of the book “All of Us”. That is the beginning of the closing of What is seen, the moving book Adriana Lestido has just published, a book that was perfected throughout her life. As from the day after tomorrow, the book can be seen in its simple format in the exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The exhibition and volume comprise a profusion of photographs between 1979 and 2007, but the images the artist offers are like mirrors that travel beyond time, bodies and faces, and gestures and landscapes and materials lead the way in the one who sees until he finally sees, an essential sign of her own existence.

“I discovered that at this time I feel as if the photographs didn´t belong to me”, Lestido says in her studio on Chacabuco Street in San Telmo. Until two days ago, she was in one of her photography clinics in Mar de las Pampas, a town by the Atlantic in which se spends most of her time. Now she has offered us some ginger tea with cinnamon and honey. “It makes me very happy they exist, and obviously they are my pictures – she laughs, but even with the most recent ones Love and Villa Gesell, I feel a stage ends. Five years ago, when I did my retrospective at the Recoleta, my fantasy was to be able to free myself from all those images, all that I had seen in these thirty years and be ready for the future. Well, I felt that I was not totally free. So now I expect that with the book and the exhibition this stage will end. Sometimes it happens to me that I look at them and they move me as if they were from somebody else, as if they went beyond myself. The title of the book, which is a phrase of Sara Gallardo taken from Eisejuaz is also similar, and I like it. What can be seen beyond oneself? Or through oneself. Who knows.”

A good photography is a miracle

Lestido confirms that in order to do her job she always needed to commit herself deeply. “And the same things happen with the workshops, I really want to be present, body and soul, in everything I do. If I cannot work that way, I don´t care. If I start looking, I am all there: I believe you have to become an instrument and transport something. But it is not my intention: it is how I work.” What is seen is the result of hard work and sensitivity that feedback. Within the History of this country there is his story, one of the foundations, signaled in the dedication that opens the book: “To Guillermo Willy Moralli, a life and commitment companion, kidnapped and disappeared by the military dictatorship on July 18, 1978. Dedicated to his light, his kindness and his beauty”. That year, Lestido started taking photographs. In 1982, as soon as she started her job as a reporter in La Voz newspaper, she began taking photographs. In 1982, at the beginning of her job as reporter in La Voz, during a demonstration in Avellaneda, she portrayed a woman and a girl in her arms, painful shouts, fists closed, scarfs on their heads. They were claiming for an absent man, disappeared. Desolated. It is the first photograph of What is seen. A shout of many here, men and women. Also of Lestido. The feeling of an orphan, in her case, with another distant and deep echo: when she was young, her father was in prison. To the scars of those separations, in 1984 another is added: the death of her mother. Her first series are directly related to these scars.

The book and exhibition are a sort of anthology that puts together many of her series: Children´s Hospital (1986-1988), Adolescent Mothers (1989-1990), Imprisoned Women (1991-1993), Mothers and Daughters (1995-1999), Love (1992-2005) and Villa Gesell (2005).

These series show loneliness or the destiny of separation, abandonment, certain desolation and an enormous sadness. The closeness or even living together with the people portrayed allowed her to record the intimate aspects of everyday life, that gesture of discomfort, doubt and determination, uncertainty, consolation, sometimes happiness, sometimes desperation. The first half of the book has interior pictures taken, behind doors and as pages turn (already since the series Mothers and Daughters) more and more exterior photographs appear start appearing, beaches, some desert path under the rain, some unearthly tree, or a ghostly rock: perhaps versions of those faces and their moods.

Lestido says she finds it hard to talk about her photographs, that prefer not to do it. She says “I think it is better for each person to make the image their own, because when the author says this or that, the author has a great influence on the one who sees, and so persuades the person to look in a certain direction. There are as many interpretations as possible observations and moments, and I like that to happen. It is interesting when an image resounds internally in the one who sees and feels it as their own. They feel that it touched their own feelings and forgets who the picture belongs to. If the image is powerful it has vibration and imbues them, it penetrates and moves emotions. Whatever you can say does not do justice to it. An image must be much more than what the author thinks, it must go beyond. So it is better to leave things as they are and let each person to experiment what happens. “I simply want to see things as they are, observe without filters” Lestido says. To be able to stay in what things are. Present in the image. My idea is that it is a search more than a finding in the sense of removing the cover to things. I believe, as Koudelka says, a good photography is a miracle, and miracles are neither made nor originated, they are found. They have to do with perception, not with concepts or emotions. Though I also believe that every genuine expression influences a person´s emotions above all, touching their soul and making it receptive to what is good.”

The level of dreams

What was Lestido like when she started, how do you remember that person you were? She was more naïve than now, she says, not so different.

“I really don´t know well how I was. I believe I didn´t trust myself enough and perhaps I was less sure of myself. I don´t know up to what extent because I was also wilder than now. I don´t feel so different to the one I was when, in Avellaneda, I was taking that photograph of the Mother of Plaza de Mayo with her daughter. It is strange. It is as if all those persons I was, lived all together now and I don´t feel different from any of them.” Her way of taking photographs has been changing with the years, she says, although her standard subjects and feelings are the same, even the landscapes. “It is as if in the series of the prisoners I would have taken out the roughest, most obscure and most dense from me, she reveals. Also, with Mothers and Daughters too because doing that left me more in peace. What came after was calmer. I don´t know if calm is the word, Soft, perhaps. It is as if the rough of the beginning had softened with time: that made room for other shades. Of course, the hard had to leave first for this to happen.”

Back and forth in time, there is another Project: Antarctica. “I went last summer, I was in an art residence that the Instituto Antártico, Foreign Office organizes. The idea has to do with the same aspect, the need to go back to the beginning. I had to go to a deserted place and also finish with my cleansing. I believe creation is cleaning, that the only thing one can do is to clean and wait for things to happen. I took many photographs but I do it slowly. I could only edit a few panoramic ones; they lent me a camera that got stuck with the cold, half of the camera rolls are spoilt. I could see that, but all the material in black and white, that is a lot, is missing. When I finish with the book the idea is to work on that. I wanted to go to an extreme place; the Antarctica is a place when there is less life. It is a place of life and death. Death is constantly present there, and I had to go. As if something inside of me had to die, but I didn´t know what.

What would be cleansing?

Cleaning is to take noise off, Lestido answers. For me when genuine creation takes place, one becomes a sort of channel, to put it some way, so that the flow of images can be projected through us. And for that, we must be clean, clean of folly. Cleaning also has to do with the never-ending task of cultivating oneself, and from there the expression appears. For me, cleanliness is the connection with nature. Meditation is cleaning and being and living the present. From there the space opens for whatever has to come”.

Many of your photographs make you think of dreams. Do you feel a sort of path towards the oneiric?

- Yes. I am particularly interested in dreams. That world: I´m interested in the idea of being able to reach another level above all. What is there and can´t be seen, and that probably becomes visible through an image. I am interested in that that is difficult to apprehend. It would be beautiful to photograph the images of dreams: that image that has no color, that is there, that can be so confusing and blurred. There is a difference with the beginning: I suppose that as the result of insecurity, I was more worried about the technical aspects so they wouldn´t be blurred. Later, with Mothers and Daughters I freed myself from that; I feel that many images are more real or true when they are undefined, in movement. Such as dreams. As the soul, that is sometimes blurred. Now I like it when that thing appears, that almost reaches another level.

My life, there it is

There is a phrase of John Berger that articulates in some way What is seen. Birth starts the process of learning about separation – Lestido quotes in her book. Separation is hard to accept or believe. Nevertheless, when we accept it, it develops our imagination, the skill to reconnect, of uniting that which is separated. The metaphor discovers the signs that show the whole: the acts of solidarity, compassion, renunciation, generosity, all efforts made to restore – or at least refusing to forget – the union lost. Death is the most difficult trial in the process of accepting the separation that life has caused “ I believe that realizing that the whole is the essence, Lestido says. I think separation goes through all my work. Separation as a long process of learning and also a need of putting together and uniting again. Probably the sadness behind all my work is just that: love as a need to recover the lost unity, And how difficult it is.”

Lestido quotes Gastón Bachelard: “There is no project for an image. Just a movement of the soul is necessary. But to enter the poetic space you have to yield fully, and that is always happiness. The poetry, an image or whatever, always has a happiness of its own, disregarding the tragedy it may unveil. That happiness, painful sometimes, is the best thing that comes to me as a prize. That´s the most I can ask for.

Lestido is about to offer another ginger tea with cinnamon and honey, and she is about to tell that the pendant hanging from her neck is an Egyptian beetle that a dear friend brought her, that always protects her. Also a bracelet with an oval stone of the same color being held by a dark thread that arrived urgently in place of another that was washed away by the sea.

But before that, she says that What is seen is her best expression and now she can die in peace. “This is what I´ve done and there it is in its best style. I will go on, I won´t die for the time being. she smiles. But the feeling is that: this is what I´ve done and what I´ve seen. The addition of the text and the quotes are for me a fundamental part because I live with most of these authors and I feel them part of me. “Pizarnik, Lispector, Jung, Pedro Salinas to complete those that had been quotes here. “I did the book with the support of the Cultural Patronage of Insud and Capital Intelectual. And there wasn´t any problem. I did it without any restrictions. It is a pleasure to do it. More of a blessing. So there are my thirty years of work: my life, in fact, because it is more than those years of work. There they are. The best they could be.