A fragile archive
According to German philosopher Martin Heidegger “The most elemental process of modern times is the conquest of the world as images”. When the world is transformed into images man’s position is understood as a vision of the world. It is true that this term, ‘vision of the world’ could easily give rise to the misunderstanding that it is a mere passive contemplation of the world. This is why, from the nineteenth century on it has been stressed that this vision of the world also and possibly primarily means a vision of life, as man has placed his own life at the centre of any relationship. In his work Introduction to Modernity, Henri Lefebvre sees in this position a subject who is suddenly at the mercy of the organic around him, a gigantic intelligence surrounding him, simultaneously consuming and rejecting it. Now all that person can do is seek the solidity of something real as his only point of support. However, faced with the evanescence and fleetingness of real things, one of modern man’s obsessions appears to be the search for solid ground. Unable to find this point in reality itself, he finds it in its artificial double, its symbolic reproduction, its image.
Photography might have offered the mythical space where a solid vision of reality could find sustenance. According to Arlindo Machado, the entire optical mechanism of photographic cameras was invented as a solution to the problem of automatically obtaining an artificial perspective. In this way (and thanks to the technical possibility of fixing the image on a photosensitive medium) an illusion of reality which would transform the photographic image into a sort of “window” to the outside world was being perpetuated. Photography thus came to provide continuity to a figurative ideal already consolidated in western art from the 15th century. According to Machado, this figurative ideal encapsulated the ideology of the bourgeois classes which was starting to take shape during the Renaissance and for which the representation of the world had to mirror its ideals regarding control, possession and centrality, justified by a rational order and marked by the hegemony of vision. The history of photography in the nineteenth century is particularly illustrative when recognising the imperative canons of visual representation in circulation since its invention. The pre-eminence of scientific rationalism, associated with the human being’s need to handle absolute responses, transformed nineteenth-century photography into an instrument in perfect tune with its era and the society which used it. It is not surprising that the documentary and indexical functions have become a paradigm of the nature of photography. Nor is it surprising that puritanical cultures used these characteristics to attempt to eliminate subjectivity from the language of photography. This, however, was not feasible in a century where romanticism coexisted with rationality in a territory full of antagonisms and painful schizophrenia.
It seems fitting that we should put this initial period of photography into context when talking, in the twenty-first century, of iconographic archives; more so, when tackling, in Gabriel Campuzano’s project, what he calls the City/Imaginary, a type of archive that works “as a deposit for the sedimentation of personal imaginary. An accumulating archive to deposit and classify materials which only represent the fragmentary result of the efforts to construct a City/Imaginary using material from dreams themselves.” The archive is a systematic register of documents of the past. It can get close to the present, but at no point does its nature allow it to predict the future in any way. It is possible to simulate its classification methodology to build a fictitious archive, but at the cost of creating doubts about its veracity.
In Gabriel Campuzano’s City/Imaginary, the reality of public space and the symbolic and social body seem to want to make concessions and be associated with the spectral dimension of memory through a fantastic narrative. A narrative which is not articulated in literary terms, but classified in compartments, which in the form of an album try to contain, “the reflection of its most emblematic urban elements: Fortress, Cathedral, Town Hall, Palace, Station, Graveyard, Square, Market...” Each of these locations is a space with strong symbolic meanings, that is to say, a space in which we can, either partially or as a whole, read the identities of those who dwell , visit or once lived there, the relationships between them and the history they share. These are rhetorical territories, spaces where one recognises oneself in the language of another; in short, they are a universe of recognition, where everyone knows their place and that of others, a set of spatial, social and historical points of reference. In the words of Marc Augé, "identity is constructed at an individual level through our relationships and experiences with others”. This is also very true on a collective level, as Andalusians well know, since they have traditionally developed a social field for intercommunication between private and public spaces, where limits are tacitly established by centuries of coexistence. Therefore, in this imaginary city there is no desire to recreate non-spaces following the definition of Augé, rather, this concept is turned around to return it, using experience and individual memory, to a location recognisable in iconic terms.
To attempt this representation, Gabriel Campuzano uses a material which is now almost in disuse - instantly developable Polaroid film - and manipulates it to reduce its realism. The images appear to be deteriorated by the passing of the years, thus weakening resistance to contrasting them with the original spaces, to checking their veracity. An exercise of complicity with the viewer: an invitation to play. Faced with the more than probable melancholy that the pictorialist patina of the work evokes, Campuzano tries to revert this trend including elements from street furniture or exclusively contemporary icononographic codes, causing a collision between urban semiotics and melancholy references arising from pictorial mannerism. In fact, these layers work in the same direction - to orient the spectator towards recovering his own semantic memory of the scenarios. In general terms, the information represented in the semantic memory refers to knowledge of the world and the experiences lived by people. It follows conceptual guidelines, that is to say, relationships between concepts and their hierarchic importance which are organised in accordance to their meaning.
Urban imaginaries are generated by citizens themselves using their ideas and representations of the city, their relationships with the city, the ways they inhabit it and they practice its human condition. Immaterial and unrepresentable, in imaginaries it is possible to seek urban objects, architectures and forms, they can be sedimented in urban rituals, but it is with difficulty that they can be assigned a single image, since they resist and model themselves, escaping from any unique and conclusive representation of themselves. In opposition to the hegemonic accounts offered by the various managers of all things urban, this project presents the chance to construct mini-accounts from traces and remains, both physical and virtual, left by history and the intense life which nourishes the diverse ways of being urban. Because the imaginaries make it possible to study the registers of citizen participation in the symbolic construction of the city. This is why Campuzano refuses to carry out closed cartography. As he is an architect, it would seem obvious that many of the parameters of representation used by architecture would be revealed in viewpoints used for his photographs. Indeed, this influence can be recognized in some of them, in shots that reproduce the angles of the axonometric perspective or slightly inclined elevations in accord with the citizen’s viewpoint. But the formal distortion applied by Campuzano to these polaroids and transported to watercolour paper works in a direction that is different from the academic one. It is a type of photography that aspires to disturb, through aesthetic effect, the rationality which stems from the indexical paradigm of nineteenth-century photography.
Gabriel Campuzano’s polaroids are deliberately exhibited as an eminently aesthetic object, to break the link with rationality and allow access to the subjective imaginary, both individual and collective. From this point of view, anything aesthetic must be understood as an element of interference which alters the supposed clarity and fluidity of the relationship between subject and reality. In turn, the patina of time accumulating on the totality of the images generates other metaphors - beyond the atemporality that materializes from its disconnection with the present. The fragility of memory and its tendency to distort are transported to the formal surface of images, in an exercise which tends to highlight the project’s conceptual coherence - almost a symbolic imitation of the transport of emulsions carried out by Campuzano.
The appearance of his photographs alludes to the images created to simulate a three-dimensional effect, except in that these lack a device to allow them to activate their illusory effect - usually glasses where the lenses have been replaced by two colours: green and red. The loss of register between layers, responsible for echoing three-dimensionality, can be interpreted as a certain nostalgia for old-fashioned techniques which added fantasy to the contemplation of images, such as stereoscopic photography. These aimed to achieve maximum realism through maximum surprise. The spectacular nature of this optical effect was widely used during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the objective of attracting the viewer’s attention and exciting his admiration. The beginnings of photography were closely linked to its alchemic nature and potential for magic. This was very much exploited in the universal exhibitions, where the great advances of modernity were, and are still, presented. Originally, the objective of the nineteenth-century universal exhibitions was to gloss and show man’s mastery of technique. This spirit is still present at the start of the twenty-first century. Romantically-inspired techniques for the creation of utopian documents.