Photos from Buenos Aires
Beatriz Sarlo

1. The place

Seven hundred photographs of unknown faces. Nevertheless, they are faces from Buenos Aires, the city where I have lived all my life and therefore, they are somehow familiar to me. Are they different from the faces from other cities included in the project? I do not know, but I think it is important to pay attention to some of the data.

Immigration to Buenos Aires started long time ago. Since the last third of the Nineteenth Century poor people began to arrive, mainly from Italy and Spain, and also from the South of Russia, Jews from Odessa and Poland, Arabians from Syria and Lebanon. This foreign population mixed very quickly, except in the case of the Jews and maybe of the Arabians. But the children of Jewish and Arabian immigrants did integrate despite the resistance from the reactionary minorities, the citizenship and the nation. The Argentinean relative homogeneity does not originate there, it comes, in the first place, from the cultural community imposed by public education during the first decades of the Twentieth Century, which allowed really spectacular social ascent processes.

The Creole or mixed races people of the Argentinean population, who arrived to the city in floods after the thirties and very strongly during the government of Perón since 1945, did not fully alter the aspect of Buenos Aires as a city of Caucasians, of Mediterranean white people. A city where the Creole stamp is detected, but without the cultural and ethnic strength which is present in other cities of Latin America. It is also important to mention that during the last twenty years, when many cities in the world were receiving groups of immigrants racially different from their own inhabitants, that wave of new migrations of poverty, famine, unemployment and wars did not affect Buenos Aires (a city that is nowhere), but only as an exception. In more recent years, a small number of Koreans and Chinese, relatively educated and wealthy, give Buenos Aires a certain "exotic air", to which it was not used to, but it is not strong enough to radically change the urban landscape, or the demographic configuration of the city.

We have then the faces of an almost European city in the farthest southern region of Latin America. In Buenos Aires everybody gesticulates a lot like southern Italians, even though their grandparents might have been Spaniards or Russians. The language spoken in Buenos Aires, which we the inhabitants of Buenos Aires call Castillian and not Spanish, has a phonetic in which the Italian immigration features are still present. On the other hand, Buenos Aires is a city that had magnificent times in the past and was considered to be cult and "European", and today it houses thousands of poor and unemployed people.

The photographs were taken in Recoleta, a rich neighborhood that has something particular about it: middle class people who live in Buenos Aires or in the suburbs use it as an entertainment and cultural place. In this neighborhood there are several art galleries, a museum, cinemas, a beautiful colonial church, an artisans fair, a shopping mall designed by Clorindo Testa, the best and most well known Argentinean architect. On weekends, the neighborhood is full of people who do not live there, while its residents run away from it for two days, they go to the countryside or remain in their houses. Different waves of steady and temporary population give Recoleta Square, where the trailer of this project was parked for a while, a socially mixed character.

And if I had to define the culture of Buenos Aires I would say that it is a culture of mixtures.

1. The photographs

A city is a historical map in which you can see many cities of the past and sketches or premonitions of future cities. Different times which follow each other in space coexist in a city (you find a nineteenth century palace and next to it a modern building), or sometimes they juxtapose each other (when the contemporary interventions are carried out in buildings from the past). A city, which even in that part of it that has a character stylistically more defined and concrete, can never fully erase the traces from the diverse moments of its history. We may travel through a city following the conflictive or integrated lines of those past times.

This book presents another type of itinerary. In each photograph there are different time marks that speak also of times gone by and of their duration. Behind these faces there are histories that we will never get to know. There is nothing between one face and another, there is space for speculation only. Photographs are mute. On them there is only the trace of an expression, a half smile, a slight frowning of the forehead, and a few social clues such as the hairdo, some earrings, the beads of a necklace, or the collar of a shirt.

These faces offered themselves by their own will to photography, but they only showed their surface. Alexander Honory did not look for expressiveness or subjectivity, he did not favor difference or monotony. Rather, for Honory’s camera the faces were an event: not something in which it is necessary to delve in the past in order to obtain sounds, but a surface which may be captured accepting beforehand that we are able to know very little.

The title of this project is One world of many faces. And the book is that: many faces which are not related among them, but that have one thing in common: they have been taken by someone who was looking for established regularity. This regularity comes from difference, which does not originate in a situation that is always the same, nor does it come from illumination –always identical—, nor from the focus, exactly the same and achieved with the same lens. Honory placed all his models in the same situation in such a way that either familiarity or variety appears to be produced only by the physical presence.

Photographs arise curiosity and, at the same time, they exhaust it because regularity is a strategy that from the very beginning rules out any psychological and picturesque aspect. Nevertheless, this book gives us a task to be realized between those two extremes of regularity and difference. To recognize the common aspects that exist between men and women who never shared nor will ever share anything else, but the fact of having been included in an urban space: Vienna, Antwerp, Bogotá, Buenos Aires...

Alexander Honory looks for identity and difference at the same time. In order to achieve it he does exactly the opposite of what we are used to do: he interrupts the speed of mass media and offers us hundreds of fixed photos (or hundreds of videos with the same focus). It is a vision exercise along a lineal syntax that may also turn into an odd syntax, if we rebel against the order of the book and open it at random. This is possible because the book has an arbitrarily established order: the one in which the photographs were taken. In this way, a situation at random that nobody could predict intervened in it.

Another interest aspect is that the models have expressly authorized all these photos. We are far from capturing the sudden and even secret image of the others. On the contrary, each one of the models accepted to have the photograph taken and gave what according to what they wanted to, sitting in front of the camera. The photos register this tacit acceptation and do not look for anyone to give more than what has been prepared. In a world ruled by mass media, where cameras are always after their models, where the telephoto lens is one of the arms used by the photographer, these photos are an assertion of willingness and freedom.

Since the Eighteenth Century, naturalists and travelers when facing diversity, were willing to establish human and natural typologies. Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, Honory’s photos have a place in the opposite end of typologies. The photos do not attempt to represent any type. Their models were selected without any logic of representativeness and search of constant qualities. Really, it would be inexact to affirm that the models were selected, because an explanation of the project was given to them and they chose to be part of it.

In each one of the photos a difference was captured which, paradoxically, shows a common ground that is not social, ethnic or geographic. These photographs manifest the philosophical and political thesis of a conventional equality that makes it possible to detect a display of differences. In front of images in situation (of which the mass media have plenty), Honory has chosen to present us with images abstractly placed in a city, of which nothing is shown, except hundreds of faces. This reveals confidence in the pure image and an idea of established generality, both articulated and heterogeneous. Honory’s photographs put forward an egalitarian space that in a different time would have probably received the name of mankind.

Beatriz Sarlo

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