Adriana Lestido

Capturing the invisible

by Valeria Bula.

"You don't reach Illumination imagining luminous images but by becoming conscious of darkness". These words that belong to Carl Gustav Jung, are in keeping with Adriana Lestido's works, the outstanding Argentinian documentary photographer who penetrates the ins and outs of beings, the relationship with oneself, and inevitably with the Other.

Every human being struggles to be included, to belong and be accepted by their peers. Lestido manages to bring to the surface the claims, the invisible moments, the angst and the pain of those that cannot make themselves be heard, but who cry out to be recognized as human beings. In this way, Lestido reveals the bitter reality of those social groups that struggle to be recognized and included within the utilitarian system we live in and tends to discard people. This is how the other works develop, Adolescent mothers (1989-1990), Children's Hospital (1986-1989), Imprisoned women (1991-1993) and Mothers and Daughters (1995-1999).

The photographer takes a hands-on approach, does the field work the same way the social anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski would, and lives with the people of the universe she is focused on. With determination, she dives as from a springboard into that sea which offers unsuspected depths: her lens captures the most irate and sickening sensations, and sheds light on that which the human being dodges, perhaps as a way of resisting all that they cannot stand.

After living during a whole year, one day a week with the women of La Plata Prison Nº 8, the result was Imprisoned Women, an attempt to show the misery they are forced to go through: oppression, loneliness, helplessness, emptiness and insecurity, her photographies are a starting point to trigger questions. In fact, Lestido manages to shed light on what Michel Foucault (in Control and Punish) calls the "micro-penalties" that appear in human relations and how they are produced: absences, carelessness, lack of attention, rudeness, dirt , impertinence both in attitudes and gestures.

Most of these women come from poor families and have children. Inside the jail, the child knocks against the prison bars and calls the prison staff in charge, just as their mother would. The law allows children under 4 years to stay with the mothers (in the Province, the law also allows mothers with children of that age to have house arrest, but that is a different issue) and then, what? Then, many children are left on their own or with some relative if they are lucky enough, homeless or in some institution for minors. Since they are devoid of any family and social containment, they replicate their mother's history.

Another aspect that appears and that Lestido reveals is the male absence. In Imprisoned Women, it is clear to see how many of them tattoo themselves the name of the loved one, but they don't appear. Azucena Racosta, teacher of the Seminar on Criminology, Community and Media at the University of La Plata, and founder of the radio La Cantora – created by imprisoned people, explains that women are immediately left behind by their partners once they go to prison. On the contrary, in men's jails, women stand in line – many of them since the night before – to meet them. In the female's jails, the visiting rooms look empty.

In Mothers and Daughters, Lestido made the follow up of four mothers with their corresponding daughters during three years. According to the author, in spite of having worked in the jail, this was her most intensive task and the one she felt more at ease with. With her direct and testimonial photography, Lestido communicates conflicts, maternity symbiosis, the mother's need, the daughter's need, the naked bodies, the intimacy and the devastation. Adriana wanted to recover her own mother in this task and ends with a picture of her mother in her mind.

During her youth, at the height of dictatorship, Adriana saw her friends disappear, her husband among them, and felt the absence of those who are no longer there. Not by chance, perhaps, her first job as a graphic reporter for newspaper La Voz, was the unforgettable photo of a mother and a daughter claiming for her absent beloved one (March for Life, Buenos Aires, 1982). Suffering and misunderstanding appear. And the need to place the image of the absence.

Self-transmutation and the universe around. In 2010, What is seen is an exhibition that runs from the beginning of her career in 1979 to 2007. With this retrospective, exhibited at the Recoleta Cultural Center. Lestido finished a stage, that of "absences". In this way she reached Interior where she revealed not only the depths of Argentinian landscapes but also her own.

Her pictures are in black and white with the idea of reflecting the contrast between dark (misunderstanding of reality) and light (truth). We could draw a line comparing this point of view and Plato's cavern allegory, that describes the prison of man from the time of birth and how he sees life through shadows, because he does not understand his situation and that there could be something else , that is, another reality that escapes him. "I enter darkness to push forward and it is the sense of moving down to hell which is my way of searching for the light."

Adriana Lestido was the first Argentinian photographer to get the well-known Guggenheim scholarship. Her work is well known both nationally and internationally. She has won many prizes and subsidies such as the Hasselblad (Sweden), Mother Jones (United States of America) and Konex. In 2010, she received the Bicentenary Medal and was appointed Outstanding Personality in Culture by the Legislature of City of Buenos Aires. Since 1995, she is dedicated to teaching and developing workshops and clinics.