interview / mariela sancari / by Agata Stoinska & Monika Chmielarz
// How did your early life affect your career choice in photography? // I decided to study photography after I saw images of a friend of mine in Buenos Aires. I was so surprised and shocked by the method of storytelling through photography that I wanted to learn and create images myself. I started out as a photojournalist, working as a staff photographer in a newspaper in Mexico City until 2011, doing mostly documentary and lifestyle photography. After five years with the newspaper I wanted to try something different and more personal so I quit the job and applied to the Seminario de Fotografía Contemporánea at Centro de la Imagen. The seminar was focused on projects addressing personal issues.
// Who are your influences both inside and outside of photography? // At the moment I am very interested in literature and how images relate to words. My husband is a writer so I am more in touch with the world of writers. I am inspired by artists such as Sophie Calle or Duane Michals who work with text. Of course I am also interested in autobiographical work.
// Tell us about the project Moisés and what inspired it? // I started it while I was trying to make sense of my father’s suicide. My twin sister and I we were 14 when this happened. The death of our father changed our lives forever. Since he passed away my sister and I have both fantasised a lot about how he would look like if he were still alive. To ease my pain I wanted to confront that fantasy through photography. In preparation for the project I studied thanatology [the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it]. I found out that if you can’t see the body of the dead person you may stay in denial about their death. That resonated with me as we were not able to see my father’s body when he passed. I realized that I was longing for that image and my project Moisés became a search for his face in other men. From the very beginning it was kind of an impossible project. Of course I was never going to be able to find an image of my father. Moreover, I was trying to see what happens when photography documents not the truth but a fantasy. My initial proposal was to create a typology of portraits of men. As the project evolved this idea seemed a little too detached and analytical. I found working with these men, facing their needs, loneliness and ageing process, far more intense and overwhelming that I had foreseen. I decided to include myself in some of the pictures.
// Did making this project change your perspective on the subject? // It helped me with my grief. I still walk the streets fantasising about how my father might have looked but the emotions attached to this are very different from the emotions before the project. Also I am able to speak about it and talk about this with strangers. Communicating through art deals with empathy. Everyone can relate through art to their own stories. There is something universal about it which touches upon the very essence of the human experience. The project has also helped my sister and my family. It opened the possibility of sharing something that was very dark and hidden in our family. It gave them a possibility to remember my father in a different way, far away from shame and guilt.
// Can you describe your process? // I conceptualise the idea of the series first and then take the pictures. I do a lot of research, read and write and then take pictures. It works very well for me when I work with instructions, which at first glance might look very limiting. But they are my guidelines. When you are most in need of understanding your own projects it is super helpful to have the framework to work with. I usually work very slowly on the project. Pictures sometimes are for me the very last thing in the whole process. For Moisés I decided that I would use typology as a form. I would photograph all men in the same positions, with the same background. Each of them were photographed with their own clothes and also with my father’s wool jacket. I took front, profile, back and 3/4 portraits of all of them. Setting those rules in advance helped me a lot in dealing with emotional distress. I knew I had to follow the rules to shelter myself from my own pain.
// How do you choose a project? // Projects come from my personal experience. I don’t choose them, they come to me. Inspiration always comes from books or movies. Artists work 24 hours a day. They always think about their work and observe how things around them relate to their own processes.
// What project are you working on now and what are your plans for the future? // I’m working at the moment on a new book based on my previous project. I’m using my old images, re-taking some of them. Since Moisés I have stopped taking new pictures. These days we produce and share overwhelming amounts of images. Working on my old images is a metaphor for not really needing to create new work but rather to make sense out of what I already have. I am a different person and I feel different now about my work. By updating the images I’m trying to bring them closer to who I am now. This is a sort of auto-analysis, a way of going deeper into understanding our obsessions. My approach to photography, and to art in general, comes from the necessity to understand my own story.
// What advice would you give to aspiring photographers? // Be true to what really interests you and what you really care about. Don’t try to please the public. As an artist, your work is a lifetime commitment to searching for self-understanding.
Mariela Sancari // born: Argentina / based: Mexico City // project title: Moisés // launch: 6pm Wednesday 2nd May / Running 3-31 May // place: Instituto Cervantes Dublin, 6-16 Lincoln Place, Dublin 2 //
Originally published in Totally Dublin, May 2018