Borrowed mercies [*]
A fragmented reflection on Txema Rodriguez‘s ongoing body of work
Every photograph is the humbling proof that no matter how blissed the
capture may be, our capacity to see will always be hopelessly flawed
Taking a photograph is the silent acceptance of a borrowed spiritual
gift, it reveals the true dimensions of inner space, the ability and
the willingness to welcome what really is, not what appears to be.
Every photograph is a mysterious and kind deed tattooed on the
unexposed film or memory card that turns to be the photographer’s
soul in a given moment.
That’s why being a photographer requires much more than a Japanese
passport, the ownership of an expensive camera or the compulsive drive
to store personal memories in an album or a computer folder.
Ansel Adams said that a photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.
Somehow, a photography turns to be an anomaly, an oddity, just as the
shadows of Hiroshima’s hibakushas drawn by radiation on the walls or
Pompeii’s bodies shrouded by the red hot lava of the volcano.
We fear to deepen into photography, we trivialize imagery because we
fear loss and death, because it’s a lot easier to indulge in our
relentless consumerism and narcissism than to expose ourselves to the
awe and grieving the part of our lives left behind on a print.
Most of contemporary photographers give us what we need to see in
order to perpetuate this numbness, this navel gazing, this stuckness
in a safe and familiar point of view. We hold a set point for beauty,
pain and happiness. We hold ourselves behind a comfort zone determined
by what we choose to see.
We are media-addicts, overwhelmed by visual information, unable even
to aspire to an accurate interpretation. We are blind gluttons of
symbols, tasteless gourmands of the beauty that surrounds us, and
fugitives, trading the present for the angst of past and future.
And suddenly, someone in trance dares to blow the ashes of the unseen,
unlived and perennial present on our eyes, offering the risk and
opportunity to awaken.
For me, Txema Rodriguez’s photographs are a sequence of emotional revelations.
I’m so in love with his capacity to show the edges of reality while
it’s shedding it’s old skin. A friend of mine said that the main
quality of his prints is movement. I don’t agree, even though most of
his ongoing body of work is the fragmented documentary of his own
personal displacements and castaways.
It may sound like heresy, but to me, his photographs are the visual
translation of Edmond Jabes‘ Book of questions. Urban landscapes turn
into quiet deserts, faces into rabbis and inanimate object into
mitzvahs. All of them are answers to existential questions I was not
even able to articulate. In some wittgenstenian sense, the limits of
his wordless language of beauty have become the visible limits of my
emotional world. I merge into their apparent stillness, I listen to
the sound spiritual advice I’m given through his portraiture, I
recognize his territories as my own lost ones, the unmet needs of my
childhood, the ghosts and the wounds.
He is not very fond of technical jargon. As a matter of fact, he would
feel so insulted, embarrassed or saddened by any disrespectful and
snob attempt to analyze and label his passionate drive to wait under
the thunderstorm for reality to arrive and take refuge for a moment,
that I can’t count on photographic theory and wisdom, not even Susan
Sontag‘s or Roland Barthes‘ or John Bergers‘.
The only way to describe his work with dignity and respect is to step
into it barefooted and silent, to be still, to wait and then raise the
eyelids holding the temptation to grab a bunch of easy, sterotyped
language tools to describe the experience, refraining myself from the
urge and the anxiety to do something about what’s coming in through
I can’t think of making his photographs mine, either. I can’t decorate
my house with a Doisneau, a Stieglitz or an Arbus reproduction. I
can’t think of ‘owning’ them in any way. I can hang an Edward Hopper,
I can hang one of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s gorgeous and erotic flowers, one
of her red trees, one of her skulls or one of Egon Schiele‘s arrogant
nudities, but I can’t think of a miraculous photograph confined to a
small conventional room. I need them perfectly framed and exposed to
the astonished eyes and soul of everyone. This need has turned into a
progressive and incurable photography-related Stendhal’s Syndrome.
‘Mortality, vulnerability, mutability’ were the words used by Susan
Sontag to describe photography’s memento mori-effect.
Txema Rodriguez’s work has been always the unintended expression of
life itself, deeper, sharper, crisper, louder. I remember most of his
photographs and they keep bringing me joy and a big deal of sensory
pleasure long time after seeing them for the first time.
I call it his ongoing body of work because every time he takes a
photograph (and I mean every time) he seems to be on a blind date with
the model or the object and they speak to them, they tell him all
their secrets in confession, in serendipious, unpretentious manners.
He is giving testimony of some kind of overwhelming, unbearable
totality and he doesn’t even know it.
Barthes used to call ‘contortions’ to all the photographic attempts to
manipulate the final effect. Txema Rodriguez gives up any intention to
alter the sudden revelation, he holds himself accountable, he aspires
to be invisible, and reality shows up and unfolds in rare and
wonderful aspects, never seen before. That’s the subversive quality of
his work, his unique talent: life speaking through him in silent ways.
He is the one being changed through photography, he lets every
encounter to erode his former self and his soul expresses itself
through the eyes of his models, at shutter-speed. So fast that the
discourse is barely audible.
Ansel Adams also said that a great photograph is a full expression of
what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense,
and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its
This statement relates to Txema’s minimalist one-sentence manifesto:
photography starts where it ends.
I find most of contemporary photographers quite limp and empty, except
those who merge in humanness, like Sebastiao Salgado. I prefer war
reporters and photographers, documentary observers. We have a lot in
common as spectators.
One of the reasons why I love Ouka Lele‘s and Jan Saudek‘s painted
prints is the risk they take to move into the photograph, to
investigate it, to make it explode from the inside without altering
the core message of the still.
Even though Txema Rodriguez is temperate and sober and refuses to add
anything to or take anything from his photographs, they still remind
me what I admire in these both artists. The eagerness to move into the
fleeting moment, the curiosity to investigate, the lust for learning,
the risk to stir up the familiar and make it unfamiliar a corps perdu.
I refuse myself to dwell in technicisms to describe what his work means to me.
We are dear friends and he will probably hate me for being so
laudatory and so extensive.
I don’t care. I truly believe he is one of the great ones. And my
fondness is so justified that I won’t bother cutting off the fancy
Time will be loquacious enough and also loud speaking. My foreword
will turn a pointless and redundant prophecy. If I could, I would
reduce it to an invitation to merge:
Just jump in. Be still. Wait and see.
[*] Text by Paz Puente Greene