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First prize III edition (2022) of the "Hippolyte Bayard Award"

Disappearance, especially that of human beings, poses serious conflicts for photography and confronts it with decisive challenges. The fact that the objects (subjects, bodies) to be represented do not exist upsets the traditional, “realistic” logic of the photographic operation, which can no longer be conceived as a reliable indication of a complete reality. According to this logic it is inconceivable that the referent has withdrawn before marking presence. It would be feasible in the case of people who were photographed and later disappeared, but then they would not have been photographed as missing, but as likely to disappear.  

However, the case of the politically disappeared makes other approaches possible, close to those assumed by the so-called “post-photography”, more based on the tricks of the concept than on the manipulation of the machine; more prone to the versatility of the gaze and the nonsense of creation than to referential fidelity. Bernardo Puente's essay proposal aims to build a story not from the photographic capture of facts and individuals whose figures repair their own loss, but through rhetorical operations and poetic hauls that skirt the gap of the lack; through images capable of pendulating over the void and giving a glimpse, briefly, of new historical paths. In other words, they allow the past to be opened up to alternative possibilities to those imposed by an unfortunate history whose brutal inequality has removed thousands of people committed to building livable futures from the scene.

W. Benjamin says that it is the function of memory to summon the past in order to assign it better tasks. Art cannot change the past or directly build other futures, but it can imagine them: that is, it is capable of enabling their dimension of possibility. This is the best political bet of the photographic image, of art.  

Bernardo Puente's essay works on the memory of the disappeared linked to his own memory. He imaginatively reconstructs a family album that starts from a photograph taken the day before his uncles were kidnapped without return (before they were turned into specters, into pure names with no body or known grave: no recorded death). Puente works with photos from prior to this practice of State terrorism and, through artificial intelligence devices, reconstructs the characters as they would look today: imaginarily returns to them their mown present. The original, documentary photos (the Barthesian studium) appear on another plane, veiled by transparent papers, like “spider webs”, typical of the albums that kept the analogue portraits.

The disappearance of people not only adulterates the order of the representation: it also disturbs that of time. The album is forced to be read from the present (an impossible future of a truncated past) to the founding scene, which shows the family with their living relatives. But it is also driven to be browsed in the opposite direction: tragedy dislocates time, says Shakespeare, unhinges it and shoots its moments in opposite directions. Bernardo Puente's album does not seek to repair the absence, but it does aim to face mourning in the key of representation: it deals with traumatic memory from the stratagems of the image. Through them, the private event can become an event: a dimension that generates constant meanings, pending on the irreparable void of meaning.

Ticio Escobar

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