The Lounge Week Ten: Alessandra Sanguinetti

by Heather on May 5, 2008

The Lounge is a virtual Art Gallery, updated weekly. This space will showcase emerging or underutilized photographers; or just people who I think we all need to have a look at. A bit of Eye Candy for Monday.

Alessandra Sanguinetti is a graduate of the ICP, has exhibited widely, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a member of Magnum. Best of all, she’s exhibiting this month as part of Contact’s primary exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). The curators have pulled together a handful of her 70 piece (so far- it’s still in progress) series The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Nature of Their Dreams. This is an ongoing project, which documents the dream-like adventures of two pre-adolescent cousins in rural Argentina.

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Most of the work is staged or at least shows the girls in play (Alessandra explained that she would give the girls “cues” and encouraged them to act out their personal dreams for the future) but at MOCCA there is one “contextual” shot of the girls in front of their Grandmother’s home. Seeing the work for the first time last week, I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the staged and the spontaneous aspects of her series.

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During her lecture at MOCCA yesterday, Alessandra explained that she includes these shots (in the entire series, there are more) to give the series a “context” or “grounding”. In this mini-exhibit of the work, this shot seems out of place, alone as it is. I like the idea of seeing this other aspect of their lives but as it was at MOCCA, I didn’t see enough for the transition between the two (staged and spontaneity) to carry any real weight.

I remember that this IS the life of a prepubescent girl- moving between banal reality and vibrant make-believe. In my memory, reconciling this disconnect was an inextricable part of moving from childhood into adulthood. For this reason, I find Alessandra’s exploration in Guille and Belinda completely relevant and a nice counterpoint to the typical pho jo “girl culture” explorations or exposés. Perhaps within the context of the loss of innocence that we’ve seen done and redone (aptly, beautifully, poignantly most notably by Lauren Greenfield), the naiveté that Alessandra depicts is crave-able.

Alessandra’s lecture yesterday was crowded and we all strained to hear her soft-spoken and barely confident voice. Her description of the project and the girls themselves was heartfelt. Although it is unclear how successful her collaboration with the girls (now into young adulthood, 18-19 by my calculations) will continue to be in the short-term, she knows it will find it’s stride again and plans to continue collaborating with Guille and Belinda indefinitely.

Alessandra went into some detail about her approach to this series. Here are some highlights:

1. During her first two months of staying at the farm with the girls (she used the girls’ Grandmother’s farm for her previous series The Sixth Day) she didn’t think about a project but rather just “went with the flow”. It wasn’t until she reviewed the film at the end of this sabbatical that she realized that she had something and decided to go back for further, more specific exploration.

2. She started by having the girls interview each other about their dreams, interests etc. And she videotaped everything at the beginning. She said this was helpful for her to review and see what was working, and how she might change her approach the next day. Alessandra was eager to show the girls’ “life going by” photographically and the video helped her to “see what was happening and to recreate it visually” She elaborated: “In a child’s mind there is so much more than what you see”. She also showed the girls the video of themselves which both helped and harmed: they “saw themselves as stars of their own life” which peaked their interest in the project but the it also made them increasingly self-conscious.

3. Alessandra’s most important advice came when she was talking about her process and suggested that at this point in her career, making a good picture is not good enough:

It’s disheartening what you find yourself just taking good pictures- pictures that don’t have heart. Great pictures surprise me, they have depth and mystery.

As straightforward as it sounds, this rigor is likely the key to the success and Alessandra’s ability to sustain such an exhaustive project- almost 10 years of documentation have gone into Guille and Belinda thus far.

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Between Memory and History: From the Epic to the Everyday runs at MOCCA until June 1.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce DeBoer May 5, 2008 at 8:11 am

“It’s disheartening what you find yourself just taking good pictures- pictures that don’t have heart. Great pictures surprise me, they have depth and mystery.”

Wonderful observation and NOT as simple as it sounds.

imho – I think this sums up the advertising / editorial divide that we often discuss on professional blogs. Commercial imaging is meant for short term digestion – immediate consumption. Editorial has more time to feed the public and fine art more time still. Fine art often plays in the category of “I don’t really care if you ‘get’ it.”

The difference for me is that I don’t find taking, what I would consider, more digestible images for commercial consumption. In fact I love it; It has it’s own challenges. However, I also look forward to a time (retirement perhaps) when I can switch gears a little. Greatly I admire the depth of incite and sensitivity that photographers like Alessandra Sanguinetti demonstrate.

Beautiful work! Thanks Heather for giving Alessandra a little extra exposure.

Kate Hutchinson May 6, 2008 at 8:51 am

I absolutely love Alessandra’s work and am so happy that you featured her. I couldn’t make it to Toronto this week but she was a great draw for me and I wish I could have heard her talk about her work. It was interesting to hear what you took away from the event. The fact that she has followed these 2 young cousins for such a long period of time and with such great results inspires me to keep going with my Irish Grandmother and Why am I Marrying Him? series. I also find her The Sixth Day images to be some of the most compelling farm shots around. Not at all the cutesy corny images that often result from such an undertaking. Really I’m just in awe of her work!

Heather May 6, 2008 at 8:59 am

Kate, I think I speak for many when I say you should definitely keep going with Why am I Marrying Him. With reference to the longevity of Alessandra’s project, she talked about the importance of sticking with it, even when you think it’s gone dry.

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