Adriana Lestido

Land of no evil

PHOTOGRAPHY Adriana Lestido’s last exhibition, the large retrospective at the National Museum of Fine Arts, was two years ago. Now the photographer returns with images she’s never shown before, a combination of two series, from Mexico where the presence of the landscape becomes stronger and stronger while human beings fade away placidly in her images. With this selection of just over 30 photographs Lestido seeks scenes of worlds within worlds, moments of silence and daily routines of human beings in the forests and jungles of Mexico that’s hardly recognizable and far from literal.

By Romina Resuche

Adriana Lestido shows her photographs when she feels a need to. The exposure of an exhibition overwhelms her. She says she doesn’t show much and does it only from time to time. Her last exhibition in Buenos Aires was Lo Que se Ve, What is Seen, a huge, conclusive retrospective of what she’s done over the last 30 years with, in and from photography. It’s the first step towards the end of a cycle, that in turn is full of other cycles and processes. This made her want to show something different, something unseen: the cross between two series carried out in Mexico in 2010. The exhibition bares the name of the country where the photographs were taken. As simple as that, call it by its real name. The Lestido seal; simplicity.

In the text of the exhibition at Rolf Art, another Adriana, (Lauria, the curator) talks about getting involved in the landscape. She describes the surroundings in words, the natural environment, the way in which the perception of those places here and now, not as scenarios, or even territories but of photographs. As an introduction to the selection set in the small neat gallery, the phrases related to the images inform and try to maintain a poetic continuity with the work. However, and even the white frames, Lestido’s photographs emancipate from all that, even from a recognizable or literal idea of Mexico itself.

“I really like the fact that the place isn’t recognizable, for it to be secondary”, Lestido says. “ The place doesn’t matter, it could be any place. What matters is the atmosphere they convey, or what’s happening and that goes beyond the place, it’s something else.”

Mexico attracts her for its intensity. It’s one of her places. She says she feels very comfortable there, where things are black or white, where there are no two ways about things. Her first trip was in 1996, she went there for her honeymoon. She fell in love with that land and met one of her great friends, Patricia Mendoza, the director of Centro de la Imágen (Centre of Image). Over time she’d return with several invitations that took her back to exhibit her work, give workshops or on commission. Two of those many visits were in the same year, 2010, when she produced the two series she exhibits today.

The first was after an exhibition at The Manuel Alvarez Bravo Centre of Photography in Oaxaca, together with Sebastian Szyd, Juan Travnik, Oscar Pintor and Marcos Zimmerman. The event left her a few days off and just two hours away from a place that had fascinated her in her last trip; Hierve el Agua. This small town, hard to reach is a natural wonder, in dispute between two rural settlements who are at odds between keeping it as it is and exploiting it for visitors. This keeps the tourists away and attracts travellers. At the place there’s a small, precarious shack, tells Lestido enthusiastically, but it looks over the cliff, with clouds and condors gliding below, amazing. There are petrified cascades and pools of water above the abyss. To get there you have to climb a mountain, the road there is also stunning. I wanted to go back to that magical place. I took photographs randomly, but when I developed the film I really liked them.” Eight of those photographs can be seen in the exhibition.

The second series appeared in the following trip. It was a commission job by the magazine Expansión, for the International Year of the Forests, it took her across the country. Lestido accepted the job because she was given freedom without any conditions, thanks to the editorial criteria of her friend and colleague Patricia Mendoza. Three intense weeks from Durango in the north followed by Yucatan in the south and ending in Itlxan. The gum collectors and coal workers, hidden in that natural environment, caught her eye. “ I went to very virgin / uninhabited areas, not necessarily where there are no people, but where the spirit of the jungle prevails.”, she tells. 24 of these images are in the selection exhibited at Rolf.

Both series are joined here in the one room, Lestido acknowledges how they affect her. “They’re photographs that give me great pleasure to look at, they give me a feeling of freedom, a certain relief and joy. It’s something that hasn’t happened to me before with my photographs, makes me happy just to look at them”, she confesses and adds: “Perhaps it’s because they’re full of light, even though some of them are dark, like the ones in the carbon factory. The ones from Hierve el Agua are slightly different, they’re more related to what came after, with the series in the Antarctic, they’re on a different wave length.”

Fog, surfaces, depth, atmosphere, presence, hallows of light, gazes, very few objects, very specific ones, more portraits, actions, reactions, even silence in those Mexican landscapes. Previous series like Mothers and Daughters also have a fare amount of landscape. In that case, according to Lestido “they’re like another character”. The series Love is almost entirely landscape. The landscape began to have a greater presence in her photography. She explains that in truth what has happened is the gradual disappearance of human beings in her photographs”. In the larger of the series in Mexico, there are still some men but in the Antarctic none. “Nothingness”, she says.

She once said that after the retrospective her intention was to close a cycle. That transition is still taking place. “All this is different”, she explains, “yet somehow I feel that the Antarctic is like reaching a different point within. It symbolizes a rite of passage, to the origin, the end of the earth, the end and the beginning. My fantasy is that those photos of the Antarctic will finally free me from all that period, it’s the end of something in order to move on to something else. What that is, I don’t know.”

Many of those who know Adriana Lestido’s work and investigate on her life may know she’s represented by a French agency, Vu. That she lives between San Telmo and Mar del las Pampas, that she worked as a photojournalist in Argentine newspapers and agencies for a long time, that she meditates, that she once won the Guggenheim and Hasselblad awards, that she’s currently curating an exhibition of the work of Bernard Plossu and Francoise Nuñez, Together, at the Buenos Aires National Museum of Fine Arts, that she runs workshops locally and abroad and those workshops are intimate, like retreats, very carefully set in natural ambients as a circular, reciprocal learning process.

In those workshops that are quite a well kept secret, closer to transformation than formation, Lestido opens an invitation to get involved in the process, to open up and allow what ever has to happen, to happen, as she does for herself. It’s an improvisation (in her words “a harder and more intense task than any set assignment”), with every new group, the shared living experience creates a cross of energies, leading to something new, a transformation.

For Lestido, without transformation there is no creation. You achieve it by entering body and soul, “ in the best sense, being truly present”. She understands of course that it’s a hard balance to achieve. “ You can easily get lost in it. But I still think it’s better to lose yourself and allow that transformation to occur be it for an exhibition, on a job, in any relationship, in love, rather than wanting to control everything and stick to a preconceived idea. It’s risky but vital, she admits, it’s the only way to truly find yourself.”