Art Madrid'24 – WHAT WILL PHOTOGRAPHY BE UP TO IN THE 21ST CENTURY?

We all know the famous line "a picture is worth a thousand words". And so is it on many occasions. Our reality feeds by a multitude of images that we consume daily in the era of over-information. According to 2017 data, every minute 65,000 photos are uploaded to Instagram, 400 hours of video to YouTube and 243,000 images to Facebook. The statistics will have varied a bit in these two years, but always upwards. Precisely for this reason, it is sometimes difficult to value photography as an artistic discipline, since there is a widespread notion that obtaining a good image is within everyone's reach. That's why we ask ourselves: what is the future of photography in the 21st century?

First image even taken with a person, by Louis Daguerre, 1838

Reviewing the history of photography, we must not forget that in its beginnings, it was not properly considered an artistic discipline. In the mid-19th century, the capture of the image was seen as a technical improvement that allowed freezing a moment for memory, with a purpose more documentary and for the historical record than an original creation. This technique lacked the qualities traditionally attributed to works of art: there was no hand mastering, no previous training was necessary, nothing new was produced, and it was limited to reproducing reality.

Robert Doisneau, “La Dame Indignée”, 1948 (imagen de 1stdibs.com)

The expansion of photography to make portraits, and the progressive replacement of painting for these purposes, coincided in time with the naturalist movement, which advocated an objective representation of reality devoid of elaborate compositions and the constant search for traditional beauty canons. Photography adapted so well to this movement that it was, in fact, a high impulse for its expansion. To this were added some technical advances of the moment that contributed to the popularisation of this discipline, increasingly accessible and portable, with smaller and easy-to-move-outside-the-dark-room-of-portrait cameras.

Jeff Wall, “Invisible man”, 1999-2000 (image from MoMA)

Nowadays, no one doubts that photography is art. The problem lies in maintaining the integrity of this discipline with such imprecise contours between what the artist can do and what is available to everyone who has, not even a camera, but a mobile phone. Also when photography became enormously popular, from the 50s of the last century onwards, the images maintained the charm of spontaneous capture, of the pieces of authentic life stolen from its protagonists, of the magic of what is saved of oblivion in a second where coincidence and expertise match. Over the years, photographers complained that there was no longer any spontaneity in the people, the overprotection of the own image subtracts naturalness from the compositions, and there are fewer photos that emerge from chance.

Isabel Muñoz “Untitled”, from the series “Agua”, 2017.

Indeed, time imposes new guidelines. Contemporary photography goes forward thanks to the sophistication of the equipment itself and the use of other tools that allow taking images never thought before. In addition to this, the very idea around this discipline has changed, and subgenres begin to appear. Some of them have a clear artistic vocation while others seek a different message, more aligned to documentary or reporting goals. It is not strange, therefore, that some artists approach photographic projects with two phases of creation, so they first set their own scenarios to take the image then. Hybridisation with digital techniques is also widespread, although it is usual to distinguish between authentic photography, taken as it is, and digital composition when it is most intervened. It is difficult to predict what direction photography will take in the next few years, but one thing that has never changed is the curiosity that human beings feel for their fellow human beings and the power that a sincere look has in ourselves. That will never change.

 

Juan Miguel Quiñones. Courtesy of the artist.

ARTE & PALABRA. CONVERSATIONS WITH CARLOS DEL AMOR

I came across the work of Juan Miguel Quiñones (Cádiz, 1979) at a fair and for a few minutes I was transported to the faraway summers of a childhood where everything was possible and the game was endless.

Then we grew up and those memories began to fade, buried under the weight of adulthood and difficult to rescue later because we are always in a hurry and with worries that prevent us from practicing the healthy exercise of looking back.

Juan Miguel Quiñones, self-taught, carves these memories in stone so that neither air nor maturity can take them away. He works and studies with vehemence the materials with which to recreate them, and with that ingenuity that can only be achieved by mastering the language and the technique, he manages to make anyone who comes across his creations breathe a sigh of nostalgia.

The work I came across was a sculpture in black Atlas marble, Triana yellow and travertine. It was Dracula, the mythical ice cream. I did not know until then that memories, always immaterial, can be as hard as marble, cold to the touch and warm in thought.

If you had to define yourself in one sentence, how would you do it?

I consider myself a man with a man's body and a child's mind. I think that's the part that drives me to do what I do and what moves me in my whole artistic world.

Twelve Ice Creams. Sculpture. Marble. 2022.

Charles Baudelaire coined the phrase "My homeland is childhood", in your case it is evident that at least "your artistic homeland is childhood", isn't it?

Yes, it can be said that yes, my homeland can be childhood. Almost all my pieces have a very important memory of my life. They are based on the fact that, on the one hand, I make them tangible, a tangible element, but they take me back to a moment. We can talk about Dracula ice cream, a piece that I think is a mythical piece of mine. It is a very important memory that takes me to those summer moments, to those playful moments, with my cousins, with my friends, without "school" (very important) and always of childhood, which I think is a very important memory for all of us, since we are nourished by that, or at least I am constantly nourished in my work by those important memories that made me very happy. Those toys that my father used to buy me, I make them in stone so that they last forever, as that memory lasts in me, for me that is very important. I think childhood is something that touched me a lot and that I will always carry with me because I am very happy.

When and how was the spark that made you look back and recover for art elements that have marked so many generations?

From the beginning when I started to dedicate myself to this, it was always linked to memories. For example, my first works were abstract and were already linked to my own memories of the sea, the air, the wind, those beaches, Caños de Meca, El Palmar, where I grew up. So they were always linked, unconsciously, and eventually I realized that all my work was going to be linked to the theme of my memories. This whole story evolved and I started with memories that marked me a lot and I made them my own. But at the same time, when I exhibited I realized that I made them selfishly mine, and that no, none of them were mine, but that in the end they were common to all of us. And there began a progressive thing, I can't tell you exactly at what moment because it was something very progressive, but that's more or less how this story went.

Colajet. Sculpture. Marble. Alabaster and yellow onyx. 2020.

I know about your arduous research on materials, the constant search for "stones" that match what you want to show. How is that search process?

Well, the search process is sometimes complicated. Because with natural stones, in their natural color, I make works that represent elements that are often made of plastic or some material whose color is not like stone. Stone is stone and we cannot vary it. Only in some pieces like the ice cream, I make the resin filling, but the other works are all natural stone. The search is very important because this is not like you can call and they bring you the material you want, that's not the way the story goes, and even less in blocks. Within the search I have stones that I buy and other stones that are not commercial, that I look for. I inform myself well about ancient Roman quarries that no longer exist today, where maybe now there is a pine forest, but where I can recover some wonderful stones in that place. In this search for semi-precious stone, which is complicated when I use lapis lazuli, jade or malachite, it is difficult to find large stones, but little by little I am learning and meeting people to be able to find more, but it is quite complicated, since I always try to use semi-precious stone for my material. If you see my work you will see that, for example, the little green camera at the fair - a very important souvenir of mine - is made of jade, which is a marvel because it is quite a big piece, very difficult for me to find, and although little by little I am getting to know who supplies it to me, it is quite a hard subject. There is a material that I like a lot and that is one of the first stones that I started to work with, a wonderful serpentine green, which I take from this same terrain because it only exists in this area. It is a stone that I use a lot, especially when I make collections of my pieces, there is always one that goes with this type of stone from here in the mountains of Estepona.

Drácula. Sculpture. Marble. 2021.

Is there any impossible material?

Thank you for asking me that question. I think that in the end this is a language that you learn depending on each material. When I talk to other people who work with stone, marble, granite -I call everything stone- they always tell me: "This stone is very soft, very easy to work...". The stone that is soft has the ease of being soft but also the risk of splitting before; and the stone that is hard has the fact that it is hard but is grateful in the work because it does not split. In the end this is a language, a language that when you get to control you can attack any material. I have been able to carve from quartz, which is very complicated, to pieces that I make of bronze; they are not cast but I carve them directly, working them as if they were "marble", more or less similar to the work of marble. So, yes, there will be impossible materials, but I haven't found them yet.

Frigopie. Sculpture. Marble. 2022.

In your art the material, the marble, is as important as the memories and the experience of each person with the object represented. Are you aware that each of your works takes on hundreds of lives of its own because each one travels to a moment in his or her life?

As I said before, I realized when I exhibited the first works that I made them selfishly mine, as my own memory, but when I exhibited the work I always liked to listen to the people who came to observe and talked about the experience of each one. Then I realized that it was common to all of us, and that for me is very important because it is something of our whole experience, of our life. That each one is reflected and each one is taken to a moment or a part of his life. Like the smell of when you arrived at your grandmother's house, that her food was unique, and that smell takes you back there when you smell it somewhere else; I love that. To be able to take someone back to a moment in their life with something tangible, that's great. I find it incredible to be able to do that with something tangible, with a stone. Then, the other foundation that is very important to me is that I make the work in stone, which is a material that lasts over time. Saving distances, like the sculptures that the Egyptians have been able to make, the stone material has left something that will last forever. The memory lasts in our memory, and the stone lasts forever, so it combines one thing that is very good: durability, and that is something incredible that I love.

Twelve Ice Creams. Sculpture. Marble. 2022.

Art is a very serious game. I think that phrase would also suit you.

For me art is a game, because all this that I'm doing, the progress, has been like a game. What happens? That we see the artist from the romanticism of art, but then there is the commercial part, that you have to sell and you have to work. It is the part I like the least, even though we have to do it, but in the end, for me art is a fun game. That's the word I would put to it, because if I don't have fun, why do I do it? And that's very important for me, because I have to work a lot, I spend many hours in the workshop chopping stones, which is a very physical effort, but what motivates me is that I have fun, that I love it and I do something that fascinates me. So, art is a fun game.

Where do you think your art is going?

I think I let myself go. I'm still in my studio every day, working, inventing new projects, getting into my world and letting myself go. Let it go wherever it wants. The point is that every day I can enjoy what I do, work on what I like and enjoy my family. That's what matters to me, wherever I want to go, let it go, but let it go with me.