The Colombian photographer Miguel Winograd recently exhibited his new body of work titled “Matas” in New York City (6th January, Planta Baja Studio, Brooklyn).
Composed entirely of black and white photographs of forests, mostly his home country, Winograd’s show takes us to a strangely beautiful place with luscious flowers, dark trees and mountains submerged in fog. The deep detailed tones of the photographs (he photographs and prints everything himself in the darkroom) and Winograd’s quiet meditative style really compliment each other, creating a faint emotional fragrance for the audience to follow.
Now Winograd didn’t have an artist statement in the show and when I requested him for more he said,
“That’s right, there was no artist statement accompanying the show, and that in itself might be a statement. I think there is a point to these images not being accompanied by words which outline my intention, methods, feelings or frame the way you’re supposed to interpret them or understand them. For me it’s all about process, natural light, and some kind of intimate, poetic relation to subject matter. And then there is the way the viewer sees them, which I am not interested in dictating. In the best of cases some of them prompt an emotional or aesthetic response. The text in the book is just one reading, as your perspective is another.
As an artist I can understand what Miguel means when he speaks about interpretation but as a viewer this statement opens up a whole plethora of challenges. How much of what we see is dictated by what we know, our prejudices and our assumptions?
Walking through the show, the first layer of the photographers thoughts are instantly visible. The land rich with plants and trees comes in contact with human construction. And as we progress that contact grows, nature overwhelming the broken ruins and returning them to the forest.
This is where the interpretation becomes risky because anything beyond this point is not supported by what we can visually read in the structure of the photographs. So is it a valid point of view when we bring in time and history? Does understanding the show’s title “Matas” affect our understanding? Miguel spoke to me something about that specifically:
Matas translates firstly as “plants” which was the meaning I had in mind with the title. (I think this would be important to mention) A second meaning is translated better as “you kill.” Whether that meaning was hovering somewhere in my subconscious when I decided on the title would be something for a psychoanalyst to say. Earlier I wrote that “you kill” is somehow related to “you shoot.” This is because I’ve always been amused by that verb being used in place of “photographing,” “taking a picture” etc. (“Let me shoot your portrait” and all the camera/gun analogies you can think of).
Does the fact that Miguel’s earlier work has always dealt with photographing situations and subjects that have been exposed to violence* change how we see the work. Or if we should recognise the symbolism of forests as witnesses for the long standing conflict between the rebels and the army?
I feel that that way, the Winograd’s work does evoke very strong emotional reactions, far more complex than just the aesthetic sensibilities of the prints. And in some way it challenges us to rethink what it means to see.
Miguel Winograd’s book Matas is available directly through his website.
*Photographs of FARC – 2014, Butchers – 2015 and of the Refugee Crisis in 2016