Paz Errázuriz

  By John Veldhoen

I am overpowered by the photographs of Paz Errázuriz, and have not found it in the slightest way a simple thing to address this body of work. Her survey monograph from Aperture arrived earlier this year, and I have had a difficulty confronting the spare series “Heart Attack of the Soul” head on, as well as the section “Sleeping”. On my way to work in morning, I often see people sleeping on the streets, sometimes in the winter when it is very cold. Sometimes, I stop, give a little money, talk to these people, but maybe not as often as I should. It might be wrongly surmised that all of Errázuriz’ subjects are resultant of Augusto Pinochet’s monstrous regime in Chile, during the years these photographs were made. I think that is too simplistic, however. Georges Didi-Huberman’s quote at the start of Paulina Varas’ essay in this volume appears before my eyes, taking my glasses off, before I write this, “Rubbing representation together with affection, the ideal with the repressed, the ideal with the symptomal”. I am called to respond to photographs in a different way every time, called to see ethically, and so much as I can, to see differently.

I don’t think Erraruriz’ photos are the only catalyst for this affect, though. The essay in this book by Juan Vicente Aliaga utterly mystifies me. If I try to pull the strands together, I am as at a loss. I was reading a bit of Margaret Olin’s “Touching Photographs” this week, and glanced a quote from Wendy Ewald, asking “Who or what is it, I asked myself, that really makes a photograph – the subject or the photographer”? This harkens to poet Enrique Linh’s observance regarding a minor literary becoming “like Narcissus”, wherein the photographer (in this case Erraruriz) achieves “a high level of dignification of the subjects depicted, who are in turn deobjectivised”.

If I attack Aliaga, I leave out ways in which I can object to how ideological this book makes the photographs contained within seem. When Aliaga writes about a “Christian matrix” of ethics, the writing never rises to the burden of proof. Nor when writing about the great novelist Eudora Welty’s stunning photograph of a blind weaver does the writer argue convincingly. Aliaga says Welty’s photograph is “distanced”, and for the life of me, I have no idea what that means. Maybe compared to Paul Strand’s famous photograph of a blind beggar, but this is distance only in comparison. Which photo is closer to a greater truth? The section on “An Impeded Gaze”, regarding photographs of the blind, along with Erraruriz’ photos in general, have incredible power, nevertheless. Reading Aliaga’s essay worked against the force of the images for me, but I don’t want to take anything away from the photographs, and what they contain, by trying to format an argument at the expense of the subjects, including myself, more than I have already done. If the argument fails dialectically, or pragmatically, and I can’t tell what it argues for, or against, it isn’t material. This book is an invaluable introduction to the work of a photographer, a survey of vision. That I would account for my experience as a viewer differently than an author of an essay is not meant to detract at all, I would only encourage you, dear reader, to see for yourself.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.