Adriana Lestido

Beauty and Hope

by María de los Angeles González, Minister of Culture from Santa Fe. Prologue of the book What is seen by Adriana Lestido.

Her childhood must have had something. She was born in 1955; a difficult, troubled year, in a room in Mataderos, poor and later on sent to a poor neighbourhood school. Born to her mother Laura; irascible but sweet in the photo accompanying the dedication to her in the book Mothers and daughters, wearing a small dark sweater and a cross on her chest. Born to her father Serafín, who was familiar with prison, to whom Women in prison is dedicated.

Something like a tremor, and the vibration that small children discover one day in their bodies, must have lingered in her treasure chest of images.

A sense of disquiet that one can’t name, or that sometimes has no name. We might call it solitude, fear, depression or emptiness. Something in black and white, clinging to the light to build up its resistance.

Something written in time and memory with no subject to shape it, in the form of a bond, a gesture, the tension of the frame, intelligible darkness that illuminates secrets.

It must have something to do with the loss, the beloved body never recovered, the soulmate, the lover who goes away, leaving you alive. His disappearance in 1978, the darkest year of many dark years, drove Adriana Lestido to start taking photos: a light artist, painstakingly manipulating that which allows us to see, a forthright builder of images against the darkness; what a paradox, what unfathomable resilience…

It must have something to do with her infinite patience, the silence of being and not being, waiting for the wonderful moment of anticipation; like an actress before going on stage, the provocative tension of sensuality, the soul that arrives before the body and reveals everything, that “says, says more than what it says, what the other is saying,” as Pizarnik remembers.

And it is all symmetrical and healing. She, too, waits in anticipation, marking the rhythm and the women shake and leap into the void, transcending themselves to arrive at the truth of what they are, of what they feel. When the camera clicks, the photographer and her model meet in a perfect moment of revelation.

And there the body gets its revenge for having been crossed, the two dimensions of the shot are not enough for us. Adriana Lestido displays bodies with respect but without false pity; tattooed (‘Darío, te amo’—Darío, I love you), burned, lost, voluptuous, insane, loveless bodies, bodies giving sustenance to children but exasperated, innocent and condemned to oblivion, marked by life and class, prison and the elements; definitive metaphors for a great part of her work.

And as sensuality awakes, a resounding cry for bonding can be heard from the girl—her underwear showing and peeping through her small hands—in the symmetry of Mary and Stella, in the voluptuous reluctance of women imprisoned by so much more than jail. But there is a link, the tie of a lasting but broken separation.

“Don’t ask me about the Infanta Margarita, the dog or the dwarf,” said Velázquez about Las Meninas. “I just paint the air in between them.” That’s Lestido: the air-light between us, healer of bonds, teller of stories either real or possible, repairing love so that one might love again; a lonely shirt draped over a chair, a daughter’s clothes left on the grass, albums with loose photos among the pages, find themselves once more like the pure, damp, grey landscape that makes bodies disappear, unrecognisable, as if a greater bond were draped around us all, a pious dampness; the journey of life.

Adriana Lestido chose to capture time and keep it in suspension forever. Drama flows within her and then creates stories in concentrated nuclei, where everything is climax and there are few transitions. She speaks with her body. Ideology, life and commitment are one and the same to her, they are the gaze and dignity. They seek out tension and make us tense, they place us in contexts so real, so poetic that it is impossible not to cry over what we are, what we aren’t, the unfair, the unbearable and the luminous qualities of life. Her photos are always powerful, tattooed in the light, the shoulders and the focus.

She is forever in exhibitions and award ceremonies but never forgets where she came from, embracing all those who suffer exclusion, all those who struggle against the disappearances and torture. She tells truths with photos, building memory and justice.

And in the end it is all a work of love, of true love, as her mother used to say. And she understood the phrase very well: she allowed us to cry before her photos, reminding us of the tepid sensation of absence, she showed us how someone clings to a neck on a night of passion, she portrayed us asleep with our dreaming children, she took us on a journey that may have been turbulent, but was a journey nonetheless.

She placed us in front of every window, and it is well known that windows can become doors. She showed us every mirror and, as Alice knows, one can walk through them. She restored hope and beauty to us…