Book Reviews

, Moisés, La Fabrica, Madrid, 2017

If he were alive today, Moisés, the late father of Mariela Sancari, would be seventy years.
This is attested to this book of portraits of men made up a group of septuagenarians who posed for the author, after responding to an advertisement posted in various places known of the most significant hubs of Barracas (Buenos Aires), her home district. The sign was written: WANTED men between 68 and 72 years of age with light eyes, resembling the man in the picture, to be part of a photography project.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015

After 2 years, many meetings and over 20 study sessions in the small square of his childhood, Moisés comes to light, in a photo book published in 1000 copies, including a special edition of 25 numbered and signed. The book, shortlisted for the Best Photobook in Les Rencontres d'Arles 2015, shortlisted for the Best Photobook Kassel 2016 and finalist of Guatephoto 2015 Photobook Award, comes in hardcover and with an internal structure that is almost always divided into modular triptychs, both from the right and left, that is formed by three images of the same subject or depicting more likely, in a new human morphology denouncing the soul fragmentation author, a Sancari emotionally shaken that is reflected in these incoherent bodies.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015

Less conservative than the narratives that provide visual un'excursus the subject of the deceased when he was alive, the author advances interesting and more "curable" alternatives, so coming out from the comfort zone of traditional biographical portrait and similar categories, but keeping the rigor of the genre: the physical and perhaps even moral qualities of the people who appear in photos together to substantiate this representative model. In addition, the reconstruction goes far beyond the similarity: Sancari asked the men to wear his father's clothes, including a man (a fictitious father) combing Mariela hair. Ritualism in the photo portrait replicates thus also of the overcoming of pain ritual. According to the Argentine author's premises, the discipline of Thanatology believes that seeing the lifeless body of our loved ones will not prevent us to accept their deaths and the contemplation of the lifeless body of the deceased helps us to overcome one of the most complex stages of grief : denial. "My twin sister and I could not we see our father's body. The reason I never know: if it was suicide or the tenets of the Jewish religion or both. I once read that the primary role of fiction is to foster the evolution, forcing us to be aware and to become for a moment otherness around us. I believe that fiction helps us to "show" the unconscious infinite socket, which allows us to represent our desires and our fantasies".

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015

These considerations, together with the realization of the images, and then have implied an improvement of adaptive capacity than the elaboration of mourning, a kind of adaptive growth. If the approach of the book form is complex, however, it is optimistic and saving; in it are subsumed the "theories" of the classics, blunted the diversity of approach and proposed a gradual, gentle change. To order a photograph in which each subject incorporates a physical or psychological aspect of his father. Resulting joyful mortals dyptychs and triptychs: how to exorcise death in the idea of life. Who cares if, as viewers Athenians of the great tragedies, we see the Furies poetically transformed into the Eumenides.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2015


Valentina Isceri: What were for you seminal photographers or artists in the sector of portrait and who are today the figures that for you represent the best of this genre?
Mariela Sancari: Although I am interested and influenced by other genres aswell, there are many portrait photographers I am inspired by. To name a few, the recently awarded Rineke Dijkstra, Duane Michals and Gillian Wearing.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

VI: Watching the men of Moisés and how the photos are made, I am reminded of the portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael. The canvas was designed to be given to the wife of the famous humanist, often away on business, as a vibrant annotation of his prolonged absences. The touch equals the feeling and through the centuries he looks again. His blue eyes that stare intently on the establish a deep psychological relationship. The figure is three quarter, as the men in your book. The subject of the painting is, if you will, today thanks to the renewal of the contemporary photography exercises with his quotes. Through these looks and these bodies what would you communicate to the viewer?
MS: Thank you very much for the reference. 
I embarked myself into a very personal journey: confronting, through photography, the fantasy of how may my father have looked like if he were alive. I was trying to construct a non-existent fictional image through these portraits. So, in that sense, it was not really about the men I was portraying but more about referring to an impossible image, an impossible search.
The way I photographed these men - all of them with their own clothes and with my father´s woolen racket -, against the same background and with similar body gestures, in a typological manner- remit to my approach to the subject: distant and at the same time very much engaged.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

VI: How long did it take for the realization of this project? (How many meetings, how many people reached via your ad, how many shots?
MS: I did this project during an artist residency in Buenos Aires, my hometown. I was there for 3 months and I photographed over 25 men that I contacted through ads in the newspaper and posters on the streets of my former neighbourhood. I would usually meet with them once and if I felt I needed to take more pictures with that man in particular, we would meet again. As I mentioned before, I photographed all of them with their own clothes and my father´s, so I have quite a big number of images. Then, I returned back to Mexico, where I live for 20 years now, and shot the final portraits of the series: the only man with his eyes closed and with a very different body gesture than the rest.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

VI: Usually hung on the walls or collected in Table frames, the effigy of the deceased infuses almost always spooky atmosphere, a tragic reminder of his unfortunate fate during family gatherings, plunging into the black mystery of death. In your book instead of portraits, albeit in the form of duplicate the original, enjoy bright tones, almost as evidence of your great sensitivity as a colourist. What represent this step from oval original of your father in b/w to the triptychs in color?
MS: I was trying to convey emotions through a pastel colour palette. The blue/grey background portraits refer more to a distant, clinical view of the portrayed subject. The final triptych, with the clear rose background, is a very personal view won the end of an impossible search.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

VI: Your book has been a sales success (sold out) and various awards of the most important European Awards. Would you talk about?
MS: Honestly, it was a surprise that the book did so well, both in terms of sales (it was sold out within 6 months of publication) and reviews and recognition. It was selected as one of the best photobooks of 2015 in many of the end of the year´s lists by many curators and photobook experts.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

VI: What was Moisés, as well as a book?
MS: When I was working on the dummy of the book Moisés, in early 2015, I was also preparing the first solo show with the same work. I was awarded the Descubrimientos prize from PHotoEspaña photography festival the year before, so the solo exhibition and the publication of the book coincide. It was a very interesting process, to work at the same time on the book and the exhibition, trying to think both forms of presenting the images in different and challeging ways.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

VI: What did you do before Moisés and what are the future plans?
MS: I began my career as a photojournalist, working in a large newspaper in Mexico City. I decided to quit and devote to my personal work in 2011, when I was accepted in a photography program in Centro de la Imagen. Since then, I work as a freelance photographer doing both commercial and editorial work. Before Moisés, I did a series called The two headed horse, compose of self portraits with my twin sister.

© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari
© Moisés by Mariela Sancari

Mariela Sancari was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976. She lives and works in Mexico City since 1997.
Her work revolves around identity and memory and the way both are mingled and affected by each other. She examines the thin and elusive line dividing memories and fiction.
She has received numerous awards for her work: Winner of the VI Bienal Nacional de Artes Visuales Yucatan 2013 and PHotoEspaña Descubrimientos Prize 2014, her work was selected for the XVI Bienal de Fotografía from Centro de la Imagen and received an Honorable Mention in XI Bienal Monterrey FEMSA, with her series Moisés.  
Her first book Moisés was selected by several curators and reviewers, such as Sean O'Hagan, Tim Clark, Erik Kessels, Jörg Colberg, Larissa Leclair, Yumi Goto and Colin Pantall, among others, as one of the Best Photobooks published in 2015.
She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Guatemala City, New York, Sao Paulo, Caracas, Fort Collins, Houston, Busan (Korea) and Cork (Ireland).

La Fabrica, Madrid
Number of pages:
64 pages
Without essays, captions or pagination
English, Spanish

Curated by Valentina Isceri

Translated by Emanuele Spedicato