SOUTH AFRICA

By Txema Yeste

Whereabouts in the world do I catch you at this moment?

 At home, at home.

Lovely place, right?

Yes exactly, the best place in the world. (He laughs)

What where you doing in NY when we started talking about meeting?

I had tried to compress the dates to do a load of editions all at the same time, so I wouldn’t have to be travelling interruptedly, and have a bit of time here at home and even do some producing of the stuff… The fact of having everything compressed lightens things up for me a lot. They are more logical work rhythms. And what about you? You were in Portugal, right?

 Yes

What where you doing there?

 I got back from Espinho yesterday because I am directing a documentary and I had been selected for a festival and I went to defend it and I have won a prize, so…

Wow! Congratulations (he laughs)

 (I laugh) Thank you, thank you very much.

That’s great, right?

 yes, yes. The truth is I had no idea of the existence of this festival, my producer sent the request without telling me and when she received the email saying that I was in… it has been a surprise.

Great! That’s fantastic man, you can let me have a look… Do you have it on Vimeo?

 No, not at all, we are still in the preproduction stage, we haven’t started filming.

Sh**, and you already have a prize? (He laughs)

 (I laugh) That’s what my dad said to me. You haven’t started and they are already giving you prizes… this is going to go wrong for sure. (laughing) We will start filming in August or September.

Videos are another rhythm. The truth is I tend to get stressed because the timings are slower but on the other hand you have too much time to mature things…. I don’t know whether my way of thinking would make me have to change things constantly. I don’t know if it would be good for me.

When you work with projects that have different rhythms you just have to respect them, right? And speaking of stories and times, I wanted to ask you about South Africa.

Have you seen the video?

Yes, yes.

And what did you think about it? Did you enjoy it?

 Yes, very much.

Yes? (He laughs). It’s a trip, the idea was to compress a life experience concentrated in a small mental trip about what one has gone through in a quick way. The feeling of transmitting the vertigo of the own work, because in the end it came out this way. Every project takes its own shape unknowingly, and this one has taken this shape.

 In this mental trip translated in images that fly very fast, which has been your trip under these images?

The idea was to capture something that already existed right now in the present. To transmit that way of wearing objects on heads by people translated in a video, that more structural side. Later, researching in South Africa we realized it was something that was actually disappearing, rather like observing a trace of the past.

 Something on the verge of extinction.

Yes, this world in which we live in kind of makes us more plain, we are cut more and more from the same cloth. On arrival we realized there are small taxis that connect small villages, there are roads that keep improving and people don’t have the need to carry trees or sacks of rice from one place to another.

 You get there in search of a more paused rhythm, where people have time to carry things on their head from one place to another, a very different measure of time, and you get there with your crazy photographer and globetrotter rhythm and you find that all that is disappearing, and everything tends to resemble that crazy rhythm of  yours.

(He laughs) Exactly. And in fact it goes at a vertiginous pace. The magazine and the idea is oriented towards our relationship with objects, and what I find there is a visual festival. In every corner there is ephemeral art of some kind, people do ready mades… the more impressive part is when I get to Johannesburg and I go to the outskirts in the areas where people make their own houses out of debris, from objects they give life to and make their houses with. With all the pride, changing the landscape and it’s something in the nature of the alchemical. It’s like they give cars and pieces of metal a completely new use out of the blue… and in a very noble way, very beautiful. It impressed me in a very positive way and something I didn’t expect took a very important part of the project.

 I really like a lot the fact of the velocity, the vertiginous rhythm in which they make and are pushed towards images. A constant flow.

Of course, nowadays we are used to a brutal quantity of images and visual stimuli. Our level of visual conception is a lot higher than 20 or 30 years ago. Today everyone has a formed opinion of almost everything. Not everything is valid anymore, it is not as striking. There is really little that is new in the visual world. There has been no change in language, a new way of seeing things… what there is more of is a revisiting of old formulas with which people feel comfortable, within an already accepted code. In this way, technologies have advanced a lot, maybe TV is the discipline that has evolved the most and developed as a language. In Instagram itself to be successful tou have to be constantly posting.

How do you manage with Instagram? How is your relationship with it?

The truth is I simply have a professional relationship (he laughs)

 All right, it is one. And an important one.

It is a relationship. I use it more as a professional medium that as a place of expression.

Doesn’t your private life slip in through that window, then?

I try not to let it happen, at the beginning I took it more like that but later then, seeing what I saw, I tried to disconnect a bit from that. I saw there was something about how things got tangled up there that didn’t make me feel comfortable.

As an artist and artisan of images, what is the difference between depicting a story that already exists in the world, like some of the reports you did for EL País Semanal, and fashion, where you create it in its totality?

For me the treatment is the same. In fact, a story exist because it is a search of something… It is true that in the world of fashion you have to make a little script previously, and from there the very same day of the pictures you throw away the script and create another reality (he laughs). The way of working in the end is very much alike. The only thing that is not alike is the timing, in one you have to produce a series of images the very same day and everything must come out right, whereas in the other there is a time wherein things can go wrong and you can go back and take it from another angle. When it comes to constructing images it’s the same because in both situations I go in with something already created in my head, or something that I expect to find. I normally don’t find that but something very different, to which I give shape from another angle. But it’s always good to have that starting point, that pre-script to allow yourself to be surprised.

What is common in both stories is that element of nature that photographers like you are able to tame, the light.

Well, light is everything, photography is that. What is true is that my way of working is a bit as though I like to reinvent myself every time. Something remains in my work, it’s the personal taste and the way of looking at things, the own attraction. Every time I finish a project I forget it easily. I wipe the slate clean, I start from scrap, I like that way of working where I don’t build on top of things but always start from a point 0. One has his background and the way of resolving things is similar, experience does accumulate. But I never have a pre-established  idea of connecting a story from my past with a future one. I always try to find a different element, that every story has its own soul. I try also to make my vital moments get involved in the process, I myself change too and start seeing things in another way. I try to keep growing and create from there, from that vital part, and things that happen to you in the everyday life, that keep changing the music, the script…

The stories finally filter in… that’s why maybe in this video of South Africa the image has that texture or layer of the past, because it’s something you expected to find and, because it wasn’t exactly so, you have transformed it into your idea of the story?

What was clear to me in this video is that I wanted something fast, I didn’t want to do something very anthropological about Africa, because I didn’t have time nor intention of investigating deeply. My time was limited, I was there for 9 days and in those 9 days we were driving in a car and we did around 7500 km. We drove without any set destination, we just came across scenes and we depicted them. I knew that doing something like this, without a real study background, was going to awake my interest for the emotional and vital part of this trip. It was a short but very intense trip, and I wanted to pass this intensity on. And it came up to me that the best way of doing this was by filming with a super 8, it is very accessible, technically it is very easy. It was a bit like going for a hunt. The colours… I was interested on that amateur side of the shooting, to later throw it all up and make those little visual haikus. I have nearly experienced the trip more during the production than during the trip itself (he laughs). You go back to see things from a lot of different angles, and you see things that you hadn’t really stopped to look at but suddenly speak loud and clear during  the production.

Have you ever worked as a photography director in any film?

No, I have never done that.

And would you like to?

Well yes, to be honest film making is something that I’ve always loved, but I always feel very trapped, I am always a bit wary to start something in which I feel so ripe. I still feel like I am in a research process when it comes to photography and I sometimes lack time to develop the odd script I may have. But soon I want to get excited with some story like that.

If a story that makes you fall in love suddenly appears and the ask you to be the responsable of the photography… Would you like that?

Of course, I would like that very much.

What relationship do you have with objects?

What relationship do I have with objects? That is a good question. You’ve caught me there (He laughs). I have thousands of things, I am a bit of a magpie. I think the objects I have are more out of memory, they are almost absurd as objects. From a pinecone to a small clip, toy, that I nearly found on the street. Things that remind me of a particular moment of a day, or period in my life. But as objects, they are not very descriptive.

I imagine that an important object for you is a camera. Do you remember your first camera? The first one you considered yours, that empowered you.

A Nikon F801, I must have been 18 or 19 years old. About it feeling mine, everything I had used previously were my dad’s or granddad’s old cameras.

Do you remember the momento you allowed yourself to be a photographer?

Yes, when I finished COU at the time, when I had to go to university there wasn’t any degree that interested me and there I saw I had to do something visual, that was my thing. But I gave a small step towards television, the sound and image I studied for two years. There I saw that TV wasn’t my thing either, but there was a subject which I loved which was photography, and which I was obviously good at from the beginning. From the first day it was something where you say… it  was extremely easy for me, besides the mutual interest between the camera and myself. It was almost like a love story, everything very intuitive. From the beginning there was a part of me that wanted to investigate further, and take a look from another perspective. It was beautiful, I remember that it was a beautiful moment, and I was 19 years old. There is when I decided I wanted to be a photographer and until this day. (He laughs)

Are those seagulls, what I am hearing?

Yes

 So, you are very close to the sea?

Ah, yes. The sea and I…

Well then, with this beautiful story that you have told me I think I am going to hang up, because you are making me very jealous right now. In Madrid it is very warm and I the sea is quite far from us.

(He laughs). It is also hot here, eh?

Yes, but there’s a seagull close by reminding you that you are very close to the sea.

Hey thanks then, finally we could talk. Well I, and as I was saying… words are not my thing, images are, but words always find it very difficult to come out.

And you were going to say that as somebody said…

No, I… i couldn’t remember  the name of the photographer, but I saw a documentary film about him not long ago, from Eggleston, where he talked about his work and how he understood everything… He said: “words and and images are two completely different beasts”. (He laughs)

Totally. Very beasty and very different.

Exactly.

 

DANIEL FERNÁNDEZ-CAÑADAS

BONUS TRACK

 The day after having this conversation with Txema Yeste, I receive a Whatsapp, from Txema, with the following:

 

Message 1:

“ Hello Dani. I kept going over our conversation and the lighting and I have been thinking about it.”

Message 2:

 “And I came to the conclusion that in photography subjects end up imposing on the photographer and he acquires a vision towards the subject, for which he is lacking, therefore, any means of signature.”

Message 3:

“I am referring to the issue of style and comparing it with the art in which the relation between different periods of his work is more visible.”