Festival de la Luz 2010

Ubi sunt?


This is the name of the literary topic of Roman origin which continued in Western literature. Literally, it means “where are they?” and it refers to the great figures and the mundane glories which like everything else, turn to dust. This topos is revisited by Florencia Blanco when she recovers old family photographs. But she does not choose these from an album or from musty piles in boxes, but rather takes those which sit in frames, larger examples which resemble paintings rather than photographs. Most of them seem to date from the 1940s and ‘50s, and each one has been subtly touched up with a paintbrush. Florencia portrays the portrait, she can record the photo in its original place of pride or put it somewhere else; she can keep it in its pretentiously ornate frame with bombe glass or take the picture out of its “container”.When the photo is hanging on the walls of its family home, it is a social object, one belonging to the middle and lower middle classes. If, however, it is in another context, Florencia prefers to move it into natural surroundings, into a field with wire fencing, a yard with roughly-cut grass, or a window sill set with flowerpots, but always nature in domesticated form. Death is about changing one’s place in the universe, say some thanatologists: the photo hanging from a tree or propped up on the grass is like a paper tombstone which transports the person who was once photographed in another setting, moving from home or the photographer’s studio to the grave—and now what? Ubi sunt? echoes the whisper around each figure.

But the questions are not only about each person but also arise from the story of photography itself. At the time, the photograph was a major event, reserved for special occasions such as baptisms or weddings, for example. Or simply the desire to place the crown of immortality on the image of a loved one as used to be the case with painted portraits. The final touches carefully applied with paintbrush and oils endowed something that could be endlessly reproduced with a sense of uniqueness. This whole ritual, from the lengthy sitting for the photograph, the painstaking development by hand, the personal touches with the paintbrush, seem to belong to very far-off times by comparison with the immediacy of today’s digital camera.

In some way, Florencia is carrying out the archaeology of photography, setting different moments of history into a medium which is fiercely contemporary, but which has been around for over a century and a half.



Julio Sánchez