LIGHT­ING A LABYRINTH

Ar­gen­tinian pho­tog­ra­pher Ale­jan­dro Chask­iel­berg’s forth­com­ing pho­to­book Laber­into sees pho­to­jour­nal­ism mar­ried with art­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, il­lus­trat­ing that all re­al­i­ties have light and shade. Now, thanks to the Auck­land Fes­ti­val of Pho­tog­ra­phy and the A

New Zealand D-Photo - - FOCUS | ALEJANDRO CHASKIELBERG - WORDS | ADRIAN HATWELL

A tiny vil­lage tucked in among the grassy plains and craggy hills of Patag­o­nia, El Hoyo is host to a re­mark­able se­cret. Amid the scenic forestry, pleas­ant moun­tain slopes, and crys­talline wa­ters of the south­ern­most re­gion of South Amer­ica where El Hoyo is lo­cated is hid­den an 8000m2 labyrinth: 2200m of wind­ing path­way sur­rounded by im­mac­u­lately man­i­cured shrub­bery walls. This se­creted labyrinth is cur­rently muse to renowned Ar­gen­tinian pho­tog­ra­pher Ale­jan­dro Chask­iel­berg. Known for his long­ex­po­sure night-time pho­tog­ra­phy, com­bin­ing pho­to­jour­nal­ism with an artis­tic cu­rios­ity, the pho­tog­ra­pher was nat­u­rally se­duced by the maze’s com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral beauty, sa­cred ge­om­e­try, and ro­man­ti­cism. Hav­ing found the labyrinth by chance while on a camp­ing trip with his daugh­ter, the pho­tog­ra­pher ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing mag­i­cal within its flo­ral walls and re­solved to make it the sub­ject of his next project. Us­ing his sig­na­ture ma­nip­u­la­tion of light across a mid­night can­vas, Ale­jan­dro set out to vi­su­al­ize the mythic in­tox­i­ca­tion of this sin­gu­lar des­ti­na­tion. “I al­ways wanted to be an ar­chi­tect, to con­struct, to build some­thing ma­te­rial,” he ex­plains, “but I work with light, so I thought, let’s use this space to cre­ate struc­tures with light, to cre­ate vis­i­ble struc­tures that were not pos­si­ble to do phys­i­cally.” The re­sults of the project are col­lected in his forth­com­ing pho­to­book, Laber­into, and thanks to Pho­to­book Fri­day at this year’s Auck­land Fes­ti­val of Pho­tog­ra­phy, lo­cal au­di­ences will be the first in the world to see the pub­li­ca­tion ex­hib­ited. As one of the ma­jor guests this year, Ale­jan­dro will be pre­sent­ing both Laber­into and his previous book project, Ot­suchi: Fu­ture Mem­o­ries, at the event, run­ning May 31 to June 22. The Ot­suchi project was another long-term work for the pho­tog­ra­pher. Fol­low­ing the 9.0-mag­ni­tude earth­quake that struck Ja­pan in 2011, the largest the is­land na­tion had ever ex­pe­ri­enced, Ale­jan­dro trav­elled to the dec­i­mated fish­ing town of Ot­suchi to doc­u­ment the fall­out in his unique style. It wasn’t un­til his sec­ond visit to the com­mu­nity that he hap­pened on the key to vi­su­al­iz­ing the mix of de­spair and hope he could sense in this town — he found a fam­ily photo al­bum that had been de­stroyed, its im­ages run­ning

“I al­ways wanted to be an ar­chi­tect, to con­struct, to build some­thing ma­te­rial,” he ex­plains, “but I work with light, so I thought, let’s use this space to cre­ate struc­tures with light, to cre­ate vis­i­ble struc­tures that were not pos­si­ble to do phys­i­cally”

to­gether like wa­ter­colour ab­stracts. “In the worst sce­nar­ios, I al­ways try to pick up some­thing that could tell the story in a pos­i­tive way, and those im­ages tell the story of Ot­suchi, of the peo­ple. Even though the im­ages were blurred, the colours were strong, and some new colours ap­peared af­ter the tsunami,” he says. This in­spired the artist to em­bark on a process he calls ‘colour ar­chae­ol­ogy’. He would in­vite sur­viv­ing town mem­bers to re­turn to where their houses once stood, pos­ing them in the dev­as­tated re­mains, cre­at­ing night-time en­vi­ron­men­tal por­traits. He would then use the colours ex­tracted from photos un­earthed in the de­bris to colour­ize these new prints. “I am al­ways think­ing in colours,” Ale­jan­dro says, “so I de­cided to use those colours I found to make a con­nec­tion be­tween my own pho­tog­ra­phy — be­cause I came from the other side of the world — and the pho­tog­ra­phy from the lo­cal com­mu­nity. “It’s about re­cov­er­ing some­thing, specif­i­cally the colours, and bring­ing it back to life in my pho­to­graphs.” This thought­ful, time-in­ten­sive process is ex­em­plary of the dis­tinct prac­tice that the pho­tog­ra­pher has been evolv­ing since he laid hands on a cam­era as a pre-teen. His first pro­fes­sional work was in news­pa­per and mag­a­zine pho­to­jour­nal­ism, but Ale­jan­dro quickly found that the su­per­fi­cial­ity de­manded by the mar­ket robbed him of en­thu­si­asm for the craft. Iron­i­cally, quit­ting pho­tog­ra­phy to study vi­o­lin at the clas­si­cal-mu­sic con­ser­va­tory is what brought him back into the fold with re­newed vigour. “In a way, it was about lis­ten­ing to my­self for four years; get­ting to know my­self,” Ale­jan­dro says of his mu­si­cal stud­ies. “When I started do­ing pho­tog­ra­phy again, it was like I had learned how to un­der­stand my own mu­sic.” And the pho­tog­ra­pher let that in­ter­nal sym­phony ring out with his first long-term project, La Cre­ciente, in which he spent two-and-a-half years liv­ing among the is­land com­mu­nity of the Paraná River Delta, near Buenos Aires. Con­cur­rent work in cin­e­matog­ra­phy and videog­ra­phy in­stilled in Ale­jan­dro a flair for sto­ry­telling and helped birth his dra­mat­i­cally colour­ful nightscape aes­thetic — and saw him take home a slew of big in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­phy awards for his trou­ble.

Com­mit­ted as he is to night pho­tog­ra­phy, the artist has a dis­tinct way of work­ing. Chief among his tools is an im­pres­sive ar­ray of dif­fer­ent coloured flashes — from neutral white to lights tinged with blue, red, or yel­low bal­ances — which he uses to dy­nam­i­cally paint a scene (with as­sis­tance from the moon). He shoots with both dig­i­tal and film; the for­mer to best un­der­stand the ex­po­sure needed in dif­fi­cult mixed light­ing conditions, and the lat­ter to cre­ate bril­liant lu­mi­nance via pos­i­tive film. The process also re­quires his sub­jects to re­main still for up­wards of 10 min­utes per ex­po­sure. Be­cause of the metic­u­lous di­rect­ing re­quired for his scenes, min­gled with the vérité aes­thetic lin­ger­ing from his time as pho­to­jour­nal­ist, Ale­jan­dro has had cause to de­lib­er­ate on pho­tog­ra­phy’s on­go­ing de­bate over truth and ob­jec­tiv­ity ver­sus fab­ri­ca­tion and fic­tion. He ac­knowl­edges that there are def­i­nitely shady ways pho­tog­ra­phers can and do go about pre­sent­ing their work but be­lieves his own ap­proach skirts no such ter­ri­tory. “The thing is not to lie: I say this is what I do, this is the way I do it, and this is my story; the story I want to tell,” the pho­tog­ra­pher ex­claims. “Of course it’s not the truth; the truth is fil­tered by your sub­jec­tiv­ity. “But it’s my truth.”

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MAGIC LAND­ING, 2017. A NIGHT PHO­TO­GRAPH OF A TIPI TENT HID­DEN IN THE WOOD­LANDS OF EPUYEN, CHUBUT, PATAG­O­NIA, AR­GENTINA

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