Sunday, October 25, 2009

Juan Antonio Molina

I was really surprised to find such a thoughtful and critical piece as an afterthought to a book of black-and-white photographs of Cuba.

It was written by Juan Antonio Molina and here are some quotes that I copied --

An Adult Game
     I tend to approach photography as if it were a way to remember moments I have not lived, a way to become persons I have not been, a way to experience the lives of others. I enjoy reading a photograph as fiction, as one reads literature or a play. At least, this was how I approached literature and theater as a child. That is to say, like a game.
     If once such fantasy was child's play, not it is a game for adults. I cannot see every photograph as a harmless object, or every photographed reality as pleasant or charming. To play at being the other also implicates us in embracing other's pain. This goes beyond compassion or complicity, since I cannot pity anyone whose pain, wants, and frustrations I have appropriated.

     When I first opened the book of photographs, I immediately disliked them, without giving them much of a chance. They were elegant, beautifully printed and chilly. The scenes might be viewed as compelling if I had wanted to see this small village and their inhabitants as actors in a tragedy. I imagine them as poor, but I imagine them as noisy, colorful and complex. The photographs, as many photographs do, reduced them to tableaus in which a tragic moment had just concluded. It wasn't as if I imagined their lives were without tragedy, but that I doubted that almost every moment of this photographers visit was involved in witnessing them. (Think here of E. Eugene Smith's photographs of the nurse midwife.)

     Usually the afterwords that accompany a book of photographs are glowing. I found it remarkable that his wasn't. That he used the word appropriation, which is what we photographers do, circling like sharks, waiting for the image we want to compose itself in the viewfinder, then snapping the shutter. Sometimes our images are loving, full of vitality, allowing a viewer to find a spark of humanity or generosity in the subjects. Sometimes they are elegant, beautifully composed and chilling.

     Right now I am suffering from worries about appropriation. I am feverishly writing what I hear in the mornings on the backside of the racetrack. Not only do I realize that the proper and technical names skip out of my mind instantly, but I know that there are many complex and many tiny details that I don't know enough to understand. But I am in love with these people, with the ecosystem (for want of a better word to describe their gated environment and the lives of working with and training thoroughbreds). And hoping that I have the skill to transfer the vitality along with the tragedies. I am appropriating their words and hoping...............


  1. Isn't there another way to look at making art: paying attention, not playing at becoming or appropriating the other? Thoughtful post!

  2. Maybe the concept of appropriating is more connected to documentary photography and to the type of poems that I write than you would become involved with, for want of a better way of saying it. I'm often trying to convey some (illusion of a) literal sense of a situation or a person, knowing it's only a black-white-gray-silent-flat image or words on paper. I don't think it's ever becomign the other..