Meaning & Identity Part Two – Jo Mazelis

In the second part of Jo Mazelis’ Introduction to the photography in Issue Seven, she discusses the work of featured artist Humberto Gatica.

In the late twentieth century photography was still fighting for a place among the fine arts and trying to distance itself from ‘the snapshot’; a word that demeaned the non-serious or the clichéd. Black and white photographs took on the mantle of serious art while colour with its unselective messiness was for the most part rejected. Until, suddenly, colour was the thing and monochrome images seemed fey and tradition-bound.

I first saw Martin Parr’s new colour work while attending a workshop with him in the early eighties. It seems stupid to say it now, but it was a shock—life in its polyester nastiness, its nylon and plastic bad taste, its gutters running not with blood but ketchup. It was a brash world, crude, ugly, in your face. My own work then was black and white; I strove for beauty, elegance, controlled composition. I avoided trailing electrical wires, items which obtruded with their functional modernity, bad wallpaper and other non-aesthetic ‘things’.

But the photograph is democratic; it renders the everyday into a selected and thus ‘special’ event so that each object becomes more than itself. Every photograph is saying ‘Look at this’ and bestowing importance on its subjects.

Humberto Gatica’s images are a combination of found objects and staged objects; in these he is attempting to say something, not only about the objects themselves, but also about his experience of life. The picture of the broken light bulb on the cover is the starkest, the most beautiful, puzzling and also the most sensual. When I say ‘sensual’ I mean that it’s an image that evokes more than one of the five senses. Looking at the image one can almost feel the rough hairiness of the string, the cold metal of the light fixture, the jagged and razor sharp edges of the broken glass bulb. It is only by reading all of Gatica’s images together that they gain power and meaning; the thistle head becomes spikier and more alien, while the corncob seems both phallic and tortured; a symbol crucified and exposed, no longer a source of life-giving sustenance, but a thing to be feared and reviled. That Gatica spent nearly a year in prison during Pinochet’s regime in Chile perhaps makes more sense of these images, but even without that knowledge they speak more broadly to the human condition; seeming to say that while we are all creatures of nature, we are also capable of controlling and destroying both it and one another.

Jo Mazelis is a prize-winning novelist, short story writer, poet, photographer and essayist. Her debut novel Significance (Seren, 2014) won The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize in 2015. Her latest book, a collection of short stories entitled, Ritual, 1969 (Seren, 2016), was named one of Wales Arts Review’s Ten Best Books of 2016. Her first collection of stories Diving Girls was short-listed for Commonwealth Best First Book and Welsh Book of the Year. Previously she worked as a freelance designer and photographer in London. She has photographed Tilda Swinton, PD James, Kathy Acker, Nan Goldin and Miranda Richardson amongst many other leading artists, writers and actors. Her work has been exhibited at Camerawork, London, The Pontardawe Arts Centre, Glyn Vivian Art Gallery and Dylan Thomas Centre. 

Humberto Gatica’s images are featured in Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd.

© Jo Mazelis, 2017. Images © Humberto Gatica, 2017.