Lorena Guillen Vaschetti Interview

From the series Historia, Memoria y Silencios.  lorenaguillenvaschetti.com

The slides?  They were my grandfather’s – intriguing family pictures that were almost lost… Everyone looked so different from how I remembered them… so happy!  As if the past had not been as I imagined.  How different is my idea of the past from how the past actually was? The slides were in a sand-colored box. Some were loose, others wrapped in small packages. I decided to keep these unopened and with them I write and rewrite my own story.

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti.

The more I look at these images the more I’m drawn into the world they inhabit.  In re-photographing her family’s slides Lorena makes magical and painterly recreations of her family history.  Each image is like a mini drama and together they form a captivating narrative.  The book itself, published by Schilt Publishing, is an artful creation. The black backgrounds allow the characters to emerge from the page, the viewing experience is like watching a screen play come to life.  I feel like I’m flicking through a book of film stills, yet they are actually someone’s family album, a document of their existence. It is in this tension that I find the most satisfaction.

It’s only a document in part.  Is it possible to have an accurate depiction of the past when ones viewfinder is occupied by someone else? What was happening on the other side of the frame and what about the moments before and after the shutter is released?  Sometimes a photograph can replace or confuse a memory or make us think we remember something when all we remember is the picture shown to us years later.  If it wasn’t complicated enough, the artist adds her own voice to the equation (via editing and re-photographing), enhancing the story, bringing it up to date and including herself, albeit invisibly, in the material.

It is Lorena’s grandfather’s view of his life and we have the opportunity to access that experience, filtered through Lorena of course.  It is the joint vision between two generations that takes this work beyond the traditional family album.  The playful collaboration asks questions of our own family histories and how the passing of time has made us who we are today.  It brings to mind memories of my own grandfather on holiday with his new video recorder. And after he died, looking through photo albums of images he took thinking there was so much of his life I didn’t know.

Memory and photography question what is real and what is imagined.  When Schilt Publishing contacted me asking me to review one of their artists, I was excited to find Lorena’s work and explore these themes with someone who had approached it so eloquently and artistically.

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti was born in Argentina, studying architecture and anthropology before committing to photography.  Her work has been exhibited worldwide, including South America, the US and Europe. Historia, Memoria y Silencios is her first book.

SB: Can you briefly explain your image making process, ie what did you do with the slides and how are they changed from the originals?

LGV: I photographed on a light table using a macro lens with a very narrow depth of field. The slides were all in focus but I created a selective focus while shooting.

The formal structure of the images is of course the same as the originals, but not only do they look different they also have a different meaning and a different purpose.

Was there an element of chance here? What did that add to the work?

Yes, there was an element of chance in the sense that I discovered a “new” image within the image while I was changing the selective focus. I believe it added to the work the feeling of how memory works in our minds: selecting capriciously some details that stay in focus while the rest remain blurry.

The original images are very artful.  The colours and composition seem like the work of a professional.  Did you know your grandfather was a talented photographer and do you know if he saw himself in that light?  

My grandfather was a winemaker and had no education in the arts.

I was so surprised when I saw the slides, they are really fantastic images! We all knew he loved taking photographs but I don’t think the “audience” had any idea how good of a photographer he was. I hadn’t seen any of the slides since I was a child. I believe he felt he was playing with the camera, the same way he did while he was cooking: he was such a great cook too.

The images he appears in are also wonderful, probably shot by his wife, my grandmother.

Do you think he had a specific agenda in what he was saying or was he simply documenting what he saw?  

I think he was simply playing…

For example it seems unusual that there are no ‘people-hugging-with-fixed-smiles-for-the-camera’ type shots that occupy most family albums. Perhaps it was you who omitted the fixed-smiles in the edit but why do you think he took pictures of people looking alone or a risqué one of a woman bending over in a mini skirt?!  

There were some more traditional images within the group I recovered but I chose not to include them in the edit.

It had been a difficult time for them and some of the images represent that feeling. I chose these because they were the ones which made, for me, the most honest portrait of them as they were during that sad time.

The woman bending with the flowery dress was my grandmother. I found many images like it! He liked his wife so much…

Let’s talk about the editing process.  How did you decide what to include in your selection? 

It was a very intuitive process. The images look quite different in their “original version” so once I had photographed them I selected the ones I found the most interesting and representative. I understood then that I needed a narrative so I invented one.  Instead of taking a chronological approach I wanted to produce the sense of approaching from the outside in.  For example I started with images of travel and then moved to inside the home.  Alongside this I chose to begin with more youthful images, moving towards a more mature and intimate conclusion.

And then it was like creating a song… if there was a note out of the harmony then I would change its order; and if it didn’ t fit anywere then I would not include it.

In the complicated relationship between photography and memory what do you think is photography’s main role in constructing our ideas of family histories and memories?

Photography is a witness to history and collaborates in the construction and reconstruction of the organic, ever changing memory. I think it is important to think of the silence, the unknown element between the pictures, because in it there is the potential to re-write our past and with it our present.

Does the project make you feel closer to or more distant from your family?

There was a lot of understanding and acceptance in the process of creating this work. I definitely feel closer and more at peace, as if I have spent a long time with them.