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Polaroid, or an essay on symbolic power.

Photographs don't lie, but liars can photograph.

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The moment a photographer chooses a subject, he is working on the basis of a bias parallel to the bias expressed by a historian.

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Accustomed to studying stronismo  as a historical discourse from words, thinking and writing about the sequential work of Bernardo Puente has been an interesting challenge. Polaroid proposes an analysis not only of the past as history, or of the cult of personality from symbolic power, but also pretends to be a political and social exercise of present time, and even with some fear I must admit, grimly about the future.

Liar and complex, Puente also takes not only the photographic resources of immediacy -so identified with the 20th century- but also leads us through traps related to the photographic narrative itself: the supposed accessibility and sincerity of instantaneity._cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_

The dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner  had several pillars and bases, some more, others less, solid. Although the Colorado Party and the Armed Forces compete for the first places, the cult of his personality was definitely one of them. And it is currently, before his physical disappearance, one of the biggest allegations of his existence. 

This is the starting point for Bernardo Puente. Given his own family history, it is not surprising that it was about a civic-military dictatorship in the Río de la Plata. 

In some Asunceno flea market, where there are always plenty of stronismo fetishes, the artist has obtained a colored and embossed portrait, printed on plastic, of a very close-up of the dictator dressed in gala military uniform. The object, cheap, printed to be distributed massively, could well have been deducted from the salaries of public officials, national teachers, police officers and the military, or delivered during electoral campaigns where, more than demonstrated, it always ended up winning by an overwhelming majority. Conceived to be framed, it was expected that, more than an ornament, its presence would "sanctify" and expel all shadow of doubt about the loyalty of a Paraguayan family towards its "Only Leader".

Puente takes the past and brings it to the present by forcing it.

Away from everyday life, the imagined Stroessner, solemn, firm and powerful, for whom time also seems not to physically pass, is photographed a little more than a dozen times under countless filters, real and artificial; true and illusory, in order to identify feignedly segmented periods of his government.

Only something so completely false can be authentic.    

If the most popular slogan of immediacy is naturalness and frankness, are each of these pictures taken from the original, true because they are exact? In this second axis, on which Bernardo Puente rests, begins the moment of the historical and symbolic discourse on power.

To the fetish Stroessner, idealized and copied mass-inexpensive-portrait, the artist symbolically crosses representation with one of the phrases that has been most insistently used for populist purposes when comparing dictatorship with democracy in Paraguay: the security with which windows were left open in the home.

The course of the day in a window that may well, moreover, unconsciously hide behind bars -contradicting the central foundation of the phrase- is the representation of time in all the portraits copied following the direction of the hand of a historical time-clock.

Light is almost as disturbing an element as shadows. Although it should provide more clarity in the details, the image seems to acquire an oversized force in the shadows, disturbingly scrupulous, at every movement. Meticulous with every detail of the uniform and the shapes and lines of the face, the weight of power becomes suffocating and suffocating. In fact, the light (his time in government?) only reinforces the latent image that ends up being patiently built in the shadows. 

Stroessner is no longer in Paraguay. It is not even alive, and in each segment of present and future time it remains latent. 

The representation of its power and the impact of thirty-five years of authoritarian government left a model of society built or is it society that continues to be determined to build an ideal state from a past that is no longer there.

Does every image tell a story or is it History? Is Polaroid a mirror or a symbolic shape?

Is this perhaps the artist's trap-metaphor?


Ana Barreto Valinotti

Asunción, September 2020.

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