Adriana Lestido

Within Without

by Pierre Devin.

What is seen 1 is the last work of Adriana Lestido. It is not one more book. It is a complete and a relevant book.

It is a work of contemporary art. 2

Art, because Adriana Lestido asks questions with shapes not concepts.

Art because this photographic expression is strongly anchored to life in the world.

Contemporary because Adriana Lestido having has chosen an instrument of her time and the documentary style asks questions that concern human kind. Anchored in the Argentinian tragedy whose climax is the dictatorship, and as a result of her observation and its quality, affects human awareness as a whole.

Adriana Lestido still belongs to the Gutenberg Galaxy. She absolutely believes the book is the pertinent and main vector of photography. The appalling consistency of the photography book allows you to look, scrutinize the work carefully, take the reference points, and travel with her. It invites you to a thorough reading. The screen, without the movie, is a non-sensual object. It forces you to stay on the surface of a world-cum-virtual world, to surf on the surface of things. The wave of messages without classification standardizes the information, the intrusion of publicity makes the world a show not more important that a video game3. That flow makes any pornography trivial, any fraud, and any outrage. The hypnotic power of the omnipresent screens replaces reading.4

The compulsive consumption of moving images generates the permanent present, inaction, and the habit of disposal.

Aware that all this is at stake, Adriana knows about the responsibility of the author of a photography book. It is a bridge between within and without, an observation of the observation.

If there is the intention of leaving a signal to the human species, it is necessary that the path should be remarkable and lasting. In order to become a true special and temporal vector, the book must display an aesthetic quality, but also a physical one. For the time being, it has to do with the quality of restitution of the photographs5. Their power of emotional shock places the reader opposite the loyalty that the world imprints, getting hold of the sensitive keys to enter the poetry of observation.

On the other hand, the photography book is not as straight as a literature book. It is circular and it must find its own rhythm, a real construction in which the opening and closing have a relevant impact on the general sense. You must also be able to travel with it in all senses, even starting from the end, without altering the global perception 6. The author that works on the plan has in mind the worry that the reader may take hold of it and produce its own results.

At an early stage, the book was a place of reunion, the dialogue between writing and photography7.

Another relevant point of this work is the importance that is only meant for texts. By means of quotes, Adriana invites those writers whose texts are relevant for her and are part of her life.

What is seen is also a successful photography book because you feel that the soul of the author goes through it searching for the printing quality 8.

This book is a bible. The fabric cover, the black end papers, the number of pages, the format, the choice of fonts foster respect from the beginning. The cover suggests an icon. The person who saw there an allegory to feminism would be in the wrong place. This country woman confronts us with a huge knife in her hand. Behind her there is a corner in white tiled walls. This clinical material silently evokes places for planned atrocities: a slaughter house, a torture chamber, a gas chamber. In fact this is the kitchen of a prison. This woman is looking at us because Adriana looked at her. Her presence exists and we are affected by those dense glances which only a true photographer can have access to9.

The humanity of the other can only be reached by plunging deeply into themselves, even beyond the roles society imposes. The other focus point of our interest on this icon is our collective cinematographic memory, that sharp object reaches its peak of its deadly extreme in Psychosis. In The knife in the water10 it is the sign of a search and of the old hierarchy where it will be necessary to detach from. In a broader meaning of phallic symbolism often revealed by Freud, our millenary collective unconscious sees there is maieutics, an active principle working on a passive matter. The stained apron may evoke an obstetrician after a Caesarean operation. Her back to the wall, life ahead, it is a rebirth into the world after an absolute violence. This icon in the cover largely generates the meaning, also regarding the self-portrait that every portrait shows.

When you open the book, the first image places us in the paroxysm photography can reveal about the feeling of loss. For the author, she is the founder11. This testimony is also about her empathy towards human beings. It represents a woman and her little girl demonstrating in Plaza de Mayo, in Buenos Aires, 1982, during the dictatorship. They were weekly demonstrations where women claimed about the disappearance of people they knew12. The dedication of this work gives the testimony that Adriana cares immensely about this tragedy of the disappearance and the abominable attempts against human rights. The content of this image is a very good introduction regarding the search of the author, her sense about life13. At an early stage in this production, she suggests a number of leads for the rest of the reading: the relationship between mother and daughter, a hollow in the male absence, the child confronted with the hard world of adults, a burdensome social context.

It seems to be an experimental journey but with the passing of time, each stage is chronologically organized in chapters. Each of them is dedicated to a slow and intentional encounter. Taking photographs of other people is undoubtedly the most subtle self-portrait. The drive moves the search around the feeling of loss. These documents about the future of human soul, at the start leave little room for contemplation. You don´t have to rush. The unbalance is necessary for the progress towards a true search. The first three stages are related to closed universes where human beings are grouped under surveillance. These stages concern three stages in life: childhood at the hospital, adolescent mothers, and imprisoned women sometimes with their children.

Imprisoned women is very dense. The photographs have a strong visual impact. The "huis clos" jumps to your throat. In this plot of nightmare, the hope of a possible opening survives14, a big or small window, the remote idea of a tree.

The following chapter is dedicated to Mothers and Daughters. It is the longest of them all, with more than a hundred pages. Space and time gather strength of cosmic gravity tremendously perceptible in the last photograph of the sequence: a little girl following her mother to a deserted beach, with the moon enforcing an empty sky. Two important quotes frame this sequence. The text of John Berger is related to the learning about separation, from birth to death. This difficult process is necessary for life and for our imaginary, to rebuild our lost bond. This passage into maturity ends with a text of Clarice Lispector that sounds as a proclamation regarding the philosophy of life but also of photography: "Every minute that passes is a miracle that does not return"

The last part opens with a visual and formal breakdown. The recalling of the death of the father and the honeymoon are taken with a color Polaroid. In the last two chapters, Love and Villa Gesell, there is a restricted number of portraits and photographs of human situations. Nature, the elements, the sea, gather importance until the very last image, a self-portrait. The silhouette of the face, hidden by the strands of long black hair, framed at the right end to make a tree on the beach visible… the eyes to the left towards the open book, that is to say, the past. Adriana ends with a quote from Raymond carver as a way of balance of life.

Thanks to her documentary style, Adriana sets a rich exploration field of human memory for all those that pose the question Leo Ferre sings: "Do people live this way?" In the contemporary anthropological wreck, What is seen will stay as a witnessing milestone in a twentieth century signaled by two events lasting forever in the human ADN: the industrial ferocity, the end of peasantry and proletarianization. For those who think that after Auschwitz no more poetry would be possible, What is seen is a work for philosophical studies and an expression of poetic art for the author photographer. It is a book of a lifetime15, it is a document and in some way a tombstone for a preceding life. It is a strong breath of air to cherish hope.

Pierre Devin
Septiembre de 2013.


  1. Lo que puede ser visto, I risk a translation
  2. Contemporary Art, not in the sense of the galleries, the market, the fairs, of those critics that build the opinion of collectors, the collectors that write the criticism.
  3. Fire and forget was the motto for the pilots sending their missiles very far from their targets, therefore, invisible for themselves. Due to the drone and the console, you can kill without leaving your seat.
  4. I seems our world moves towards situations analogical with those imagined in Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Control and surveillance technologies have reached a sophistication and preciseness unimaginable for both Bradbury and Orwell. The planned acculturation and self-control exempt from the auto-da-fe and the dictatorial repression.
  5. The first works in history of that type, published by Blanquart-Evrard, used glued photographic copies.
  6. The way which Pascal imagined for The Thoughts.
  7. The privileged relations between photographers and writers start with Maxime du Camp and Flaubert; they come true on the trip to Egypt. Bruges, the death of Georges Rodenbach, published in 1892, was one of the first novels illustrated with photographs. The text of a writer associated to a photographic essay becomes a publishing standard in the 20th century. Cendrars associates with Brassaï, Doisneau, Manzon; Giono with Silvester; Tzara with Sved; Prévert with Izis; Roy and Strand; Octavio Paz and Alvarez Bravo; Vinicius and Pedro de Moraes. Complicity is prior to the photographs even larger taken between James Agee and Walker Evans, Kerouac and Frank, Butor and Plossu.
  8. It is necessary to find the space of the book with the ink on paper with a translation of color, atmosphere, and the balance of the bulks of original copies.
  9. The depth of the glances is unsustainable for most of our contemporaries. For security reasons, they were made to believe that life was unbearable without a screen.
  10. First feature film and only film shot in Polish by Polanski (1962).
  11. This photograph quickly became an icon, firstly in a Latin America conflicted by dictatorships blessed by Uncle Sam. It was published on the front cover of Democracia Vigilada. Argentinian photographers, a book published in 1988 by a Mexican publishing "Rio de Luz" house.
  12. Cf: Treintamil by Fernando Gutiérrez, Edition Crp Nord-Pas de Calais 1997.
  13. "Whoever has accepted death is already dead" "Sympathy for the devil", Kent Anderson.
  14. Cf. Paul Verlaine: The sky is over the roof.
  15. An opinion supported by the importance of the book in the life of the author, the lack of boundaries between the within and the without. This importance is manifested in many personal references: the dedications, the chapter Love, and the reference to the death of her father. The last photographs of her mother and her father are placed just before the last quote of a text by Sara Gallardo that gives the title to the work: "Since that day, that house and that place are called What is seen".