Diario Página 12
19 de Agosto 2001
Ones and others
Like filmmaker Lucrecia Martel - with whom she worked in “La ciénaga” (The Swamp) and now again on “La niña santa” (The holy girl), the photographer Florencia Blanco has a gift for making details speak. But, instead of focusing on the decline of the upper class, her images show the feast of the poor and the age of things. Her exhibition “Salteños”, at the photo gallery of the San Martín Theatre until 2nd of September, is a superb promenade along the entelechy that provincial life means to people from Buenos Aires.
By LAURA ISOLA
When Florencia Blanco - photographer and author of the exhibition Salteños, which is open at the photo gallery of the San Martín Theatre - arrived in the Northern Province where she would spend the last part of her childhood and her adolescence, she was eleven years old.
She was new at school and in society. One classmate wanted to invite her to play with her at home. But her mother – who did not know Florencia or the Blancos – was reluctant to accept her daughter's request. Eventually, the girl managed to convince her mother. "But mom, she is blonde”. Blanco grew up (and she is no longer blond), but the anecdote has become one of the productive cores of her photographic account. Her story does not show only the local colour, nor does it find delight in misery or prejudices but, for some kind of mystery, it makes everybody speak about these topics whenever her photos are mentioned.
Taking Blanco’s exhibition as a whole, it could be said that it is a tour around different areas of the city...but the city of Salta, and that makes things different. Because this city, although urban, has its peculiar ways of connection with the countryside, animals, free time, and family houses. And Blanco has an unerring eye for the essential. Let’s see one of her photos. A dead horse takes almost all of the picture. A cut on the animal’s hindquarter that reveals its flesh, draws one’s attention. The explanation becomes necessary: “It is a horse that was run over by a bus and the bus driver got down and cut the brand that enables you to trace the owner, in order to goto the police station and report the accident”.
Blanco did the casting of the people from Salta for the film La ciénaga (The Swamp) that was directed by another artist from the same province, Lucrecia Martel. Blanco is already working on La niña santa, Martel’s new film, whose aesthetics Florencia shares. In her work she avoids the picturesque or the landscape views: she prefers to disclose the least visible identity of the city in the decoration of a house façade. She also tracks the lifestyles in a living room or on the headboard of a bed in a house made of adobe. She also wants to narrate historical accounts of the city and to that purpose she chooses a sitting room and its nineteenth century furniture to contrast it against a dining room from the 1970s.
As interested in the age of objects as in the way they are fading in the landscape, her photos offer a lively record either of the perishable or of the immutable contrasted with what decays. She chooses those rooms in the houses, crammed with furniture and ornaments, and even ladies who are over ninety. She records also what is not present, like in the case of the photo that shows the lot left by the demolition, and the future building of an apartment. “I am interested in the age of things, specifically when they are on the verge of passing, or when they are no longer there. That is the passing of time: Some of the photos in the living room (or sitting rooms, as we call them there) are of dead people. Other photos are kept next to their possessions, both on the verge of passing, les uns et les autres”.
Blanco is interested in urban culture itself, “what people do, and the energy they devote to it”. She is tired of “that paternalist look at the Northwest”, that focuses only on the beggars and the coyas, or on how impressive the mountains are. “Of course the province of Salta is poor, but there are other things besides. Poor people have fun, go to the river, celebrate birthdays and work". Of those people who go to the river or the streams, for example, there is a series of photos of extreme vitality and exuberance. Men with dogs, men with hats, men with a guitar, men and women drinking mate, and girls in one-piece bathing suits, are the distinctive mark of that entelechy that provincial life is to the porteños (people who live in Buenos Aires). “These rivers are very close to the city, and on summer days, people take a break. However there is something else; to the rivers where some people go, the other people do not go; when I go to the stream where people from the low class go, I cannot mix. I will always belong to the ‘other class’, even if I go over and over again as I do. There are also municipal swimming pools with the same aim: to take some time and have fun.
Generally speaking, it can be said that this is a very conservative society, and there is considerable racism. Mainly in the middle class, that pays attention – more than the other classes- to money codes and appearances. Because the upper class is sure of its origins and the popular class has other ways of integration and classification of the world”, says Blanco.
She knows that in her position she is somehow a foreigner, but her portraits of fifteen year old girls wearing expensive dresses (paid with considerable effort), spare all paternalism.
Quite on the contrary: “People have a lot of energy and display it at parties that are very important, there. I prefer to see the effort to buy the dress, pay for the party and enjoy it, rather than the tragic issues of poverty. I recognize the conservative feature of this kind of celebrations, I am not so naïve, but some parties are great and I like them. I like even the religious celebrations. From the photo of the angels in the living manger, for example, I try to tell a story of joy and celebration. Knowing, of course, that in a society like that in Salta, religion is pretty much obscurantist.”
Since Blanco is not waiting for a specific instant, she lets the photographic moment to come up and give way to the beginning of a narration. For example, in the photos of the Reina de los Estudiantes(Students' Queen), in her taffeta dress, and her nylon laces. Her dubious blond hair, Barbie like, struggles for the focus with the background that clearly shows the parking lot of the supermarket where the election has just been held. “Since I wanted to show the background I had to take her a bit out of focus. It is there where racism becomes visible: The Students’ Queen is blond while 95% of the students who were there were dark”, concludes Blanco, who was once trustworthy simply for being blonde.