The invisible camera

A few days ago, I asked Pablo Corral: What camera do you dream of, what is your ideal camera? Without hesitation he told me: I want a camera that automatically adjusts to my retina and that is invisible.

“This is not a photographer”, I thought: “This is a poet.  He doesn’t just want a camera that doesn’t exist, he wants one that will never exist.

So Pablo is just another lost poet who dreams of the impossible?

Is he? Perhaps not. Not so much. Because some very concrete conclusions can be extrapolated from that dream:

One: photography understood as an immediate extension of the human eye.

Two: the photo machine (and all its technology included) as an inevitable hindrance.

Three: photography as a direct means of capturing the world.

Four: photography as another sense of consciousness, better, of the spirit, head and heart included.

Those of us who have followed Pablo Corral’s artistic career – and we have followed it for many years – have seen how faithfully he fulfills these premises. Pablo Corral explores, investigates in the world, looks for triumphant moments, yes, those in which light helps; but above all he looks for realities, forceful, indisputable truths: clear certainties: such is the main spring of his poetics: the truth of the world. What could be truer than nature and its elements, and certainly its inhabitants? What could be truer than the Andean Cordillera, made of the largest rocks on earth: crisp mountains, sinister volcanoes and eternal snow-capped peaks, lined up along 8,500 kilometers?

This poet has, then, his own territory and it is this, the Andes.

These vastness, these mountains, these abysses and peaks of vertigo, with their valleys and pits, refuge of cities and villages and hamlets, will always be subject to the constant battering of the Earth’s primordial elements: the dazzling suns, the harsh winds, the earthquakes and eruptions, the baths of volcanic ash, the hail, the icy gusts coming from the snowdrifts. 

Truly: a land of vertigo and defiance.

So much concentrated vigour, so much retained strength, have endowed the people of the Andes with an elemental, basic wisdom, the wisdom of survival. Anyone can see it in these eloquent faces that Pablo Corral shows us: tough, hardened, burned by the elements (and very much in spite of the typical unavoidable hats, which are also regional identity marks). There is a challenge in them: these faces resist, endure like rocks above the periodic cataclysms, the misery and misery or the hard work that, like atrocious plagues, haunts the Andean people. It doesn’t matter: they will always know how to face them, even with resignation, as we can see in that austere, grim, dignified image of the two sisters who look at the disaster that has left them an earthquake, with the serenity of those who understand that it was not the first and will not be the last. Or with the enigmatic claim that we can see in another shocking photograph: that of the black harvesters of El Chota: on the left, a staircase like a cross; in the foreground, a condemned man of the earth: the look, sad, perhaps baleful, like an accusation, the hand of his companion placed on his shoulder, a solidary hand, calm, but like a coming out of the basalt, carved and polished by blows of work and sun.

In a memorable text, “El corazón cuando duele” (The heart when it hurts), Pablo Corral, the poet – for he is not only of images but also of words – writes: “If we do not remember our ancestors, if we do not remember the daily history, built by simple people, that which is almost never mentioned in books, it will be difficult for us to know who we are and where we should go.

Their human choice is clear: the truth of the Andean world is in its solid roots, in those simple people of the mountain villages, possessing ancestral cultures, popular tastes so unique, which are also revealed in their festivals, in their religiosity, in their ceremonies of life and death.

In a word, in everything that Pablo Corral captures, in a great way: Let’s take a good look at the beautiful faces of the young dancers of a town near Cuzco, at their finery, embroidered cloaks and sequined and mirrored hats; let’s look at the multicolored figures of the barley harvesters of Cayambe; or the almost childlike Christ presiding over a troop of Good Friday cones in Quito; or the grandmother of Vilcabamba and her great-granddaughter, sitting on an immemorial bench of waiting and long rest.

Let’s also look at the other side of life: the revelry, the partying, the sweetness of life, in photographs such as the one that shows us love in a popular dance in a Medellín neighborhood, or the baroque scenery, lavish in reflections and shadows of a Bogotá trough, or the exultant beat of a peasant drum on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

And all of this housed in superb landscapes (look at the water mirror that on an Andean summit reflects the passage of the wandering clouds) or in earthy villages and lonely places.

The photos in this exhibition belong -and there are only a few- to the book “Andes”, composed by the famous Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa (who contributes with beautiful and moving texts) and Pablo Corral, the only Latin American photographer from National Geographic, the magazine that produces the work with Editorial Océano.

Pablo Corral began taking photos at the age of six; he made his first exhibition at twelve, and later, in the trance of his slideshows for his photopoems, he has tried almost every camera possible; except one: the one that fits his retina and is invisible.

Unable to have one, he remains faithful to his Leica like a violinist to his Stradiuvarius. He knows it by heart, he forces it as he wants, he turns it into his retina, he knows well what he has photographed, the proof is that when he sends his photographs to National Geographic, he does it without developing them, so sure is he of what the chemical mixture of the film rolled into the secret of the sealed cartridges keeps: the security of his look and his technique. That which will later shine in the pages of that great magazine, or that which emerges today, after five years of work and travel, in his book and in this exhibition: the desire to show us the Andean world, as his retina and his heart record it. It only remains for me to congratulate the Alliance Française and its dynamic director Marcel Taillefer, its creative cultural director Hervé Chupin, and “Symbols of Freedom”, the sponsors of this exhibition, and to thank you for your presence and patience.