Two Photographers Show the Passage of Time Through Obsessive Documentation of Their Subjects
Photographers Isabella Lanave and Alessandra Sanguinetti share their work in our annual photo issue.
Alessandra Sanguinetti/Magnum Photos
For our annual photo issue we reached out to 16 up-and-coming photographers and asked them which photographer inspired them to pursue the medium. Then we approached their "idols" to see if they would be willing to publish work in the issue as well. What was provided, we think, creates a unique conversation about the line of influence between young artists and those more established in their careers. This post features an interview with Isabella Lanave and her idol, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and an explanation of each of their bodies of work.
About a year ago, Isabella Lanave set out to document the lives of the two women who raised her: her mother and her grandmother. But when her mother fell ill, Lanave altered her work's scope, and it took on a more focused purpose. Before her mother was hospitalized, Lanave became her sole caretaker for a few days, an unfamiliar role that led, she says, to the "most intense and sincere moments" of her life. They talked about things that they had never talked about before. They discussed their insecurities, their fears, their dreams. When she could, she photographed, and it forced her to confront something that she had not wanted to confront for a long time: her mother's bipolar disorder. The intimate photos that follow offer a look at the relationship between a mother and a daughter—a narrative between a young woman facing a parent's failing health and an old woman dealing with her own mortality. It's a personal tale, Lanave hopes, that's also universal.
While living in the lowlands that cover Buenos Aires, Alessandra Sanguinetti conceived her first book of photography, On the Sixth Day, a look at the lives of farmers and their relationships with the animals they raise for slaughter. As she was working, she also met two young cousins, Belinda and Guille, who were then nine and ten, respectively. They were on the sidelines at first—Sanguinetti was taking photos of their grandmother's animals—but then she began to focus on them. The result , The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams, published in 2010, follows the girls over the course of five years, from their preteens to adolescence, as they navigate their way through childhood. But Guille and Belinda became teenagers. They became adults. They had children. Their childhood faded away. Sanguinetti's upcoming monograph will continue the story of Guille and Belinda as they come of age.
Isabella Lanave: There are several ways to edit a job. I'm going through this moment all the time with my mother's work. Do you have a method when it comes to finding the invisible wire that links all photos?
Alessandra Sanguinetti: When I shoot, I set out with scenes in mind, with lists, and quickly scrawl storyboard kind of reminders. I start off with them, and if I'm lucky end up in completely unexpected places. And I shoot a lot and tell myself I'll decide what works later, and then when the time comes to edit the work, I find myself with an overwhelming array of choices, and I despair a bit and kick myself for not making more choices while I shoot. But once I sit down with the work, slowly, very slowly it all starts coming together and connecting and making sense. I'd like to have a method; it would save me lots of ups and downs, but for me, it comes down to looking through the work over and over, and especially letting enough time go by. Usually the first edits are stiff and forced. When let go of my expectations, I give in and let the work speak to me instead. It all starts to connect and make sense.
When is the time to end a story, if you feel like maybe it never ends?
I don't like endings. Once I get comfortable and familiar I want it to last forever. But endings come on their own when there's no more to be said and no more to be learned. It's just that sometimes it takes a while to recognize it, and other times you know it sooner. For example, with On the Sixth Day, it was clear when to stop. Not because there was an ending, but because I knew that I had articulated all I could. I still see scenes. I see pictures for On the Sixth Day, but I don't shoot them. I just think them because I know I said it the best I could already.
The opposite is true of The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and its continuation, which is what's published here. Even though there's been many times when for various reasons I wanted to stop and say "the end" and tie it up in a knot, I determined early on that this work would have no neat ending, and I'd follow Belinda and Guille for our whole lives or as long as they let me.
It seems to me that linearity of time is not a concern with Guille and Belinda project, although time marking is an important feature of photographs. Was it a conscious choice?
It wasn't in the beginning. For the first couple of years, time seemed frozen. It was all about this insular wonderful world, and it felt like it would never end. The future seemed so far away, the way it does when you're a kid. Then life happened, and it became clear they were changing and the sense of time was accelerating, and that's when I became deliberate in having the passage of time be the core of the work.
Have you ever suffered some kind of sexism for being a female photographer?
A long time ago, when I worked as an assistant photo editor in a newspaper in Argentina, I was the only woman in the photo department for a while, and it was a little tough. But other than that tiny time warp and the occasional surprise when people discover that I'm in charge and not my assistant (if he's a man), I never felt any prejudice for being a woman photographer.