Obscura Journal Contributor Danielle Ezzo recently Interviewed Alessandra Sanguinetti in advance of Alessandra’s upcoming Obscura Magnum Commission drop. They discuss her iconic photo series “The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams,” and her approach to the Obscura Magnum Commission.
DE: I see the ‘Adventures of Guille and Belinda’ series not just about girlhood and female companionship, but also about you reflecting on your own childhood, by way of these two close cousins. What would you say the similarities or differences are?
AS: While I spent much of my childhood (summers and weekends) at the farm, I was brought up and went to school in the city (Buenos Aires). Guille and Belinda were born and raised in the countryside. Their families go back generations in that area, mostly working for big landowners.
The similarities might be the freedom they and I had in that space as children.
They were the youngest of much older siblings, just like me, so they were given a lot of freedom as children . They weren’t made to work alongside the parents as their siblings were, so they had time to daydream, wander, play, and make pictures with me. Adolescence is where the similarities ended though, by 15 I was a city teen and stayed an adolescent until I was in my twenties. Beli married at sixteen and Guille became a single mom during highschool, so they dealt with other responsibilities that I didn’t have until much later.
DE: You’ve spent over two decades and you’ve seen the girls grow up. Long term projects like long term relationships needs a level of flexibility—breathing room, as it were—for everyone involved to be able to evolve. There must have been a constant negotiation between yourself and your subjects. In what ways have you grown because of them?
AS: There were many changes in their relationship, and in my relationship with them. Many times a good distance was needed, and I had to learn to know when to stop being a photographer and just be present.
DE: After all this time, are they still as close and do you feel like there’s parts of their relationship that you’ve yet to capture?
AS: They can be very close at times, and other times do not see each other for months. They have very different lives. Belinda lives in the countryside with her husband and children, taking care of someone else’s farm. Guillermina is an elementary school teacher in a big rural town and is a single mom to a 12 year old daughter.
As far as parts of their relationship and lives I didn’t capture, there must be infinite sides, but that would be a question for them.
DE: Buenos Aires is where you spent most of your childhood, but in this work there's a sense of nostalgia or longing for the countryside, the land and animals. What significance does the land hold for you?
AS: My life as a kid in the city is a blur with few salient specifics, but my time in the countryside is very vivid. The farm was where I was free, where I spent hours on my own, just observing—watching how people deal with animals, how animals were with each other, reading, making stuff, taking long walks in the fields on my own, just daydreaming. It’s still that way now.
There’s also the severity of the landscape. The flat monotonous horizon sets everything that moves into relief. There’s nowhere to hide. The constant cycle of caring for and slaughtering animals. The planting and harvesting doesn’t let you forget for an instant how strange and fragile life is. Even with everything out in the open that way, it’s still mysterious for me. It looks like a simple place for an outsider, but it’s not. There’s so much going on, so much history, so many secrets. That’s why I keep going back—it never feels like I can totally convey it.
DE: I recognize two different approaches to your images: one is a theatrical, collaborative exercise, where it seems the girls set the terms of the photo; and another more documentary approach. I love that both modes exist and are applied, as I personally believe it enriches the narrative. It becomes more of a conversation and less about a strict story. I think that’s why many people have called your work ‘lyrical’; it’s multimodal. Tell me more about that, why did you feel it was the right way to build out these projects?
AS: There was no grand plan or method at the beginning. I went along with how things felt, and when it felt right to play with them. It felt right to play pretend. It didn’t feel right to just ‘document’ what was in front of me, but rather to look for what wasn’t immediately apparent, since a child’s life is so much more interesting, layered, and deep than what meets the eye.
As soon as I started to photograph them I felt something was missing. Their voices, their movements, their conversations, so I started filming them with a little dv camera I carried around. Then I would photograph them while they were acting out for the video, and vice versa.
The video got them (and me) excited and liberated them in a way the photographs could not. It made them imagine a larger audience. The idea of an audience made them think about how their words and actions would be perceived and what image they wanted to project. They imagined themselves as actors—as the stars of their own lives—which of course, they are, but sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. I started by proposing that they interview each other while I videotaped them. And that was also how I got to know them.
I found a simple structure by having them play around what they considered the big life themes: birth, courtship, motherhood, marriage, death, and everything in between. I encouraged improvisations, they’d riff from that, and make it about their lives.
To recap, I quickly realized that a mix of them acting for the camera, and also photographing them in their more mundane ‘real’ lives, was the most faithful way I could portray them.
DE: What was the concept going into the Obscura commission, with the constraint of time being a factor, and how did you plan for it?
AS: As soon as I received the commission, I knew I wanted to go back to the towns I've always worked in, in the Province of Buenos Aires and have them be the main subject, instead of the backdrop for another story. Time constraints and deadlines are good for me. They make me work more intensively and avoid overthinking or procrastination, so that was the attractive side of the commission as well.
DE: Do you feel like releasing this collection, an extension of your previous bodies of work, is informed or influenced by the blockchain and the NFT space?
AS: Well, I wouldn't have made this work without the commission (It was always in the back of my mind but I would have kept postponing it.) , and this was possible because of the NFT space.
To view the full collection of Alessandra Sanguinetti’s Obscura Magnum Commission, visit: http://obscura.io
Alessandra Sanguinetti’s Website: https://alessandrasanguinetti.com
Magnum Photos - Alessandra Sanguinetti: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/alessandra-sanguinetti/
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