by Sara Facio
Book prologue "Adriana Lestido, Mothers and Daughters".
La Azotea Printing House. Buenos Aires 2003.
It might so happen that, just as swans and fans have emigrated from poetry,
so at a time yet to come hand-mothers, serfdom-mothers,
usefulness-mothers might be changed into person-mothers
inspiring poets with a more vital song.
María Elena Walsh*
Adriana Lestido has always surprised us because of the subject-matters she deals with in her photographic essays. She undeniably tends to render visible the bonds of communication among women, especially conflicts of feelings that might be termed as “hidden”, of a kind taking place between mothers and children, and which can even create a different, personal symbology of motherhood.
Such subjects are undoubtedly prompted by very intimate reasons.
Her private history leads her to try to understand the ever-ambivalent exchanges arising between women who are united by bonds as complex and indestructible as the one between mother and daughter.
In all of Adriana Lestido´s works the presence of a female gaze is indisputable. There is in them a latent sensitivity, a deep sense of solidarity, that is closely united to the world of women.
Throughout her entire production we can also perceive the absence of males. This fact neither passes judgement nor is it meant to point at anything. It just shows that they are not there.
Significantly, among the few words contained in her essay Women jailed with their children (1), we find this remark, uttered by an officer in charge of the Law Court of San Martín:
In men’s jails we may see women queueing up -sometimes even from the previous night- in order to visit them. No such thing happens in women´s jails. Women are sort of left all by themselves.
Even in her first essay, Teen-age mothers (2), that male absence was felt as perhaps even sadder, that loneliness as almost unbearable. Those girl-mothers taking care of their children and fondling them as if they were toys, apparently living in total innocence and away from any rationality, filled us with sorrow.
We must not mistake women´s helplessness with the deliberate omission of female presences, which is often evident in fiction or in representations of reality. The absence of the world of women which can be observed in men´s stories is almost total. We mean stories of wars, seminars, universities, or sports, social or amusement clubs of any kind. Referring to the lack of women in Spanish painting of the XVI century, the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez wondered: Haven´t they seen women, haven´t they had sisters, mothers? Several centuries later, we are still wondering. Fortunately there exist a few Adriana Lestidos.
In her latest work, Mothers and daughters, Adriana Lestido goes further beyond in search of clues in her persistent subject: woman-mother-daughter.
As we watch the sequences, we find ourselves facing a narration told in movie-film terms as regards separation of the stories:
in Eugenia and Violeta we see a mother´s fascination at the merriness of her baby´s first baths and even in their shared bath.
Mary and Estela depicts the relationship between adult women, both of them strong, solid, longsuffering.
With Alma and Maura we make a stop-over at teenage and its current signs: close-shaven heads and tattoos.
Marta and Naná pictures companionship and affection, within which an absence is latent.
What first grasps us and is probably her chief originality, is the novelty of our being introduced in a visual way into human relationships so distant from the usual routines.
The protagonists in these four stories convey feelings found in women of various ages. They are united by their belonging to the same social class, and above all, by their transcendent desire to be together. They waver between rivalry and tenderness, joy and boredom, fretfulness and love.
The winding psychological paths which they cause us to feel so intensely, always present intimate situations conveyed with believable integrity.
Since this is a book of photographs, the foregoing amounts to just an outline of the plot. It is up to us now to consider the way in which Adriana Lestido has transferred these stories to the world of images.
There is a constant in the fact that her specific photographic treatment grasps us from the first image to the last. How could we otherwise explain that a story presented in a straightforward way, without technical tricks, without rules accepted out of subservience or broken through arrogance, should make us feel the everyday conflicts of our time, the XXI century, on the basis of tenderness, emotion and honesty.
Lestido´s esthetics is deliberately used so as to reduce the technical impact for the sake of feeling. Thus she resorts to direct, testimonial photographing, without any of the optical niceties that would cool our reception by causing us to think in terms of the technique rather than the content, since the human eye cannot see so much detail as that which is caught to exasperation by a sophisticated lens.
Another find is the quality of black and white that she secures.
Grey in its true psychological meaning disappears from her images as the equivalent to something neutral, diffuse, without shades, and black is thus filled with enormous meaning whether in interiors -where she uses ambient light only- or in exteriors, whether in urban sights or in landscapes.
Her treatment of landscapes is well worth mentioning.
Never before had Adriana Lestido shot natural landscapes, yet she is now including them in the narration just as she would one more character. A landscape provides respite, almost a parallel trip allowing us to better take in the dense stories. It has become a part of their lives and they move in it entirely at their ease.
Blurred roads, veiled by mist or by the opacity of window-panes. Without overdoing the panning, which is so much in fashion and so often chosen by young creators.
Solitary beaches at sunset or at dawn, filled with melancholy. Always with the exact approach so as to avoid producing touristic landscapes that may bewilder us for their beauty but will not agree with the spirit of the story we are being told. Landscapes add to her work a timelessness that enriches it.
The corollary to this is that enormous wisdom presides over the choice of a technique, which, in the end, becomes a style.
It is gratifying to be able to present this production by Adriana Lestido in bookform, with the emotion and creative talent conveyed in it that do photography good.
During the last decade, photographic creation was lacking in works bearing the so much desired humanist stamp, that humanist photography in which the human being made of flesh and bones, feeling, suffering or enjoying happiness, begins to make sense, beyond denunciation, social problems or claims. We are referring to the humanist photography which we have become used to since W. Eugene Smith’s Spanish People, followed by works from true artists of photography. We cannot but think of Graciela Iturbide’s Juchitán, or Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies. They are the ones who, up to this date, are writing through unforgettable images the stories of the people from most of the countries on Planet Earth.
On the last page of the book, as a finishing touch, Adriana Lestido insisted on having a photograph of her mother, to whom her work is symbolically dedicated. Adriana might endorse Olga Orozco´s words **:
And even if you complete the term of that awful conviction of not being able to be there
when I call you,
undoubtedly you again organize the family,
or you tidy up the shadows for me,
or you cut those bunches of frost that embroider your lap, so
as to leave them by my side on any day,
or with an endless thread you try to sew the great wound
in my heart.
Buenos Aires, 2003.
* María Elena Walsh. To one´s mother. Sudamericana 1981
** Olga Orozco. Poetic Work. Corregidor.
1- In Argentina jailed women can keep their children with them until they are two years old. The women are then divested of their paternal authority and a Court of Law decides on the children´s fate.
Women jailed with their children, by Adriana Lestido, is a photographic essay prepared between 1991 and 1993. Backed by the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden.
First presented in 1993 at the Photo-Gallery of the San Martín Theatre, Buenos Aires. Published in 2001, with production by Gabriel Díaz.
2- Pregnant women who are minors and have neither a family nor an income are protected in institutes belonging to the National Commission for Family and Planning Policies of Buenos Aires City.
Teen-age mothers, by Adriana Lestido, is a photographic essay prepared between 1988 and 1990. Presented for the first time in 1990 at the Photo-Gallery of the San Martín Theatre, Buenos Aires.