Andy Goldstein: Vivir en la Tierra

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Vivir en la Tierra (Living on Land), by Andy Goldstein is a traveling exhibition of 65 large scale photographs that is touring several Latin American cities. The images were also published in a 2012 book titled Vivir en la Tierra by the Buenos Aires-based Edhasa publishing house.  CANVAS discovered this exhibition while it was in Cartagena, Colombia and thought it a must to share with our readers.

Argentine photographer Andy Goldstein travelled to 30 makeshift settlements in 14 Latin American countries to invite residents to pose for photos, however they wished, in their residences.  A total of 210 people agreed which created an exhibition with a powerful reminder of present day poverty and the living conditions of many South American families.  These photographs depict the unique utilisation of limited space, objects held dear and the faces of those living in hardship.  Some visibly haunted  yet others happy despite their surroundings.  It is impossible to look at these images without wondering what will happen to these people,  the future of their children and how they will survive.

Born in 1943, Goldstein has taught photography and art education at the Panamerican School of Art, the School and the Institute Jean Piaget Renard and was professor of the Department of Photography at the National University of Rio Cuarto, Cordoba, Argentina.  In 1975 he founded the school for creative photography in Buenos Aires.

His photographs are part of the permanent collections of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Argentina, the Museum of Art Modern Buenos Aires National Library of France and the Galerie du Chateau dEau, Toulouse, France, as well as numerous private collections.  His photographs have been exhibited and published in various galleries and museums in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, and Switzerland.

The following is an interview between Goldstein and infosurhoy.com writer Eduardo Szklarz regarding this body of work :

Infosurhoy: How did the Vivir en la Tierra project begin?

Goldstein: The series is a continuation of a different series, Gente en Su Casa (People in Their Homes) that I did 25 years ago. At that time, as we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography, I wanted to know how people would deal with the situation of posing for a photograph. My question was: What would happen if I told you that I wanted to take your picture, in your home, and you could pose however you wanted? You choose the place, the clothes and your posture in front of the camera. And, when you’re ready, you can give me a sign and I’ll take the picture. I worked like this with dancers, artisans and other cultural groups. I also photographed people who lived in a makeshift settlement, and it was a very moving experience. I wanted to keep working in that direction, but life had other plans. And then, two years ago, I was finally able to resume the project.

Infosurhoy: How did you reach these settlements?

Goldstein: That was the problem. The project was ready. I knew I would travel through the countries of Latin America and I had rehearsed the technique that I would use for the photographs. But still I needed to reach these settlements. Where were they? How would I enter them? And – I say this jokingly – how would I get out of there? That was when I met the folks at TECHO, an NGO that works in 20 countries in the region, building houses for people who live in extreme poverty. They took me to about 30 poor settlements in 14 countries. I decided to donate 100% of the copyright for the first edition of the book to them. At the end of the book, I include the GPS coordinates for each settlement. Interestingly, if you search for these places using Google maps, for example, there’s nothing there. It’s as if they don’t exist.

Infosurhoy: How was your experience with the residents?

Goldstein: They were very willing to take part in the photographs. I explained what I was doing in the harshest possible manner. I said: “I’m traveling through Latin America to do a book of photographs of families living in extreme poverty.” In other words, I told them to their faces that they were living in the worst possible conditions. “I want to document this reality and I’m going to choose five families (or people) from each country. Would you like to be one of them? The book will be shown around the world in order to help make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen.” All of the people were very welcoming.

Infosurhoy: What were your impressions?

Goldstein: Traveling through these settlements was a very moving experience. Many of the residents have televisions and other appliances, but they live on dirt floors. In Mexico, I found an enormous amount of iconography and powerful religious syncretism. People lived in rooms full of color, despite their terrible situation. At the other extreme, there’s Haiti, where the victims of the earthquake live in a state of total dispossession. When I went in to one of the tents, for example, I saw an 18-year-old girl, the mother of a little boy, who only had a backpack and a bottle of water. Another woman slept on a bed of stones.

Infosurhoy: What technique did you use for this project?

Goldstein: I used a panoramic technique. Each image that you see is not a single photograph, but 12, 15 or 20 frames merged using special software. It’s sort of like a jigsaw puzzle made from a variety of frames. The image hasn’t been altered – it was simply made using a variety of pieces, which keeps everything in focus. Up to this point, this technique had been used in large open spaces – to photograph all of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, for example. What I did was adapt it to tiny, enclosed spaces. It was almost unthinkable because of problems related to perspective. Working with distances, there’s no problem, everything is 100 or 500 meters away. The hard part was being able to work in two- or three-meter spaces.

Infosurhoy: What kind of camera did you use?

Goldstein: A 20 megapixel Canon 5D digital full-frame, with a format that would be equivalent to conventional 35mm film. Because the picture is composed of several pieces, the image, once it’s been put together, contains nearly 500 megapixels. There’s an extremely high degree of detail. In fact, the photographs in the exhibition are very large, measuring two meters by one meter (6’6” x 3’3”).

Infosurhoy: Some of the people featured in the book exude strength, while others appear desperate. What were your preparations for each photograph?

Goldstein: First, I would let them prepare themselves. They would decide where they would sit, who would appear in the picture, all of the details. That would take up to an hour. Only after that I would start taking pictures. The shots were not instant – they would have to hold the pose for a few seconds. As a result, they had no choice but to stay relaxed. Their posture was spontaneous and real.

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