Rosana Schoijett. On an Outing

By Claudio Iglesias

In an overall comparison of Rosana Schoijett’s Entrevista (Interview) series (which was exhibited at and awarded by Petrobras 2007) and the works that immediately preceded that series –some of which were included in a good many exhibitions and received considered critical attention-, what at first seems like a startling contrast is also the key to approaching Schoijett’s oeuvre, grasping it in terms of that contrast. Kiosco (Kiosk), the series of portraits of the artist with celebrities (or, rather, the series of self-portraits of the artist accompanied by the famous people whom she had to photograph for a variety of media) can be seen as part of this play of differences; it is possible to make specific observations that would not be evident if this series were considered in isolation. In Schoijett’s work, each piece can be conceived of in an economy, on the basis of the others, and series that seem dissimilar in formal or technical terms also exchange elements when the whole is contemplated. As if born from a deep self-analysis, each new project restructures the meaning of the earlier ones while dialoguing with them.

The keen and immediate contrast that Entrevista formulates in relation to Schoijett’s earlier works also entails a shift in relation to the extensive repertoire of historical references and the library of resources on which Schoijett operates: the first thing that Entrevista evidences and, indeed, flaunts is a photographic approach strongly informed by perspective, where the position of the photographer in relation to her subject is highly significant. We could say that the images in this series are emphatically photographic, if by that we mean that light, the distributions of volumes, the color fields, the moment captured in the shot, the dynamic between a markedly intimate scene and the angle from which it is approached or surveyed, are central concerns. Moments, glances, illuminations. That, among other things, is what Entrevista is about. It is also about concepts and problems that, in photography, have a long history (so much so that they can might seem like academic convention), but that in this work have new colors, not due to the technical mastery they display or their ceaseless emotional accent, but rather due to how these particularities stand against a pre-existing body of work. In effect, the outstanding shots in the Entrevista series –which emphasize, via frames, folding screens and doors, the photographer’s point of view, her transparent presence beyond the photograph– have little in common with the formal treatment of Schoijett’s most celebrated series. In strictly morphological and organizational terms, the varied domestic scenes in Entrevista, with their different degrees of stylization, seem to owe nothing to the rigid point of view and Racine frontality of Temporada (Season). In that series, the subjects –participants in the Rojas/Kuitca fellowship– look like the gods of an ancient mythology, the undisputed stars of a scene that culminates with them. Entrevista establishes another logic; by rendering the depth of field more complex, it seems to distance itself from the portrait in pursuit of a syntax closer to the photographic essay, a syntax developed on the basis of a system of mobile positions: a sort of free proxemics is generated between the subjects and the photographer. The list-like scheme of Temporada –in which the distance and position of the “subject” before the camera barely changes in dozens of shots– is almost the opposite of the fluctuation that characterizes Entrevista, where the demiurge behind the camera moves through the settings she narratives. In terms of photographic points of reference, there is a certain affinity with Nan Goldin, an artist who significantly influenced the discourse of important local photographers, but who never before seemed to have affected Schoijett. Conceptually, this work model entails embracing a connection between the spheres in which Rosana Schoijett circulates and her degree of intervention –that is, the construction of her presence– in the texts that emerge from her work. Her photographs can always be read as documents of external processes and, at the same time, as fictions that Schoijett constructs on the basis of herself, of her own position as a photographer and of her interaction with different environments and situations.

In this framework, Kiosco (Kiosk) has a certain weight; it is a special gear within Schoijett’s corpus. It is likely that the series of photographs of the artists with celebrities will always be, in terms of critical repercussion, less important than Temporada and Entrevista. Kiosco and Temporada were produced at the same time –the first as the B-side of the second. Kiosco grew out of the artist’s need to have a register –in her words, «to take something away from»– her work as a photojournalist for the mass graphic media for which she photographed a vast array of sex symbols, political leaders and athletes who characterized a very specific moment (the mid-2000s) in Argentina’s public life. It’s pointless to say that these images are characterized by the photographer’s presence in the scene. What’s striking is the impact that her presence produces on a visual device as highly codified as press photography. The diversity of these images largely rests on the reaction of those interviewed, their complicity with the possible future exhibition of these images; although at first Schoijett did not see these photos as part of an artistic project, she later confessed to the celebrities that she intended to exhibit them, which provoked an array of responses. What’s most interesting, though, is the way the photographer, magnetic, becomes central to the image. These black-and-white photographs inevitably make reference to Cindy Sherman’s film stills, not only due to their stylization –the black-and-white format serves to diminish the technical irregularities of photos taken in a hurry in situations that are hard to control– but also due to the sense of performance that reigns in all of them. It is as if, when they became black and white, these photographs veered towards cinematography. Strangely enough, these photographs, though they are a sort of addendum to a pre-existing work, do not feel like «backstage photos.» This is due to how Schoijett operates before the camera; she often looks straight into the lens, setting herself up as the Schwerpunkt of the entire composition and fully marginalizing the celebrity in question, reducing him or her to an extra.

Kiosco and Temporada contrast markedly: on a technical and conceptual level, one work could be read as a parody of the other. They both, however, serve as archives, as series organized around discrete elements that can be described in terms of extension or definition. Kiosco, specifically, acts as a bestiary of Argentina’s media life, a sort of atlas of Argentine celebrities that leaves nothing to be desired to Césare Lombroso’s Criminal Man, with its catalogue of brains and moustaches. In this way, this series could be read as the umpteenth version of that Platonic idea of contemporary photography as archive, which, in the case of Schoijett, would take us to her very close reading of the wonderful works of August Sander and of that fertile bunch of German photographers who emerged from the Bechers’ creative breeding ground. But Kiosco is also a diary, a travel chronicle. The series is a person’s journey to exotic places and settings, from Roberto Piazza’s bed to Mario Caponetto’s musty office. The photographer vacillates harmoniously: before that advocate of the Ultramontane right-wing, Schoijett’s expression is calm and grateful; behind Piazza and his dog, on the other hand, she looks somewhat annoyed. The construction of the character is endless and, in some cases -Adrián Suar, Silvina Luna- a joint endeavor. The case of Luciana Salazar is telling: she doesn’t even seem aware of what is happening around her. The contrast between the celebrity’s disorientation –María Julia Alsogaray mindlessly placing her hand on a Mac Powerbook– and the photographer’s obvious control of the scene lies in that wink of the true star of these photographs, before the camera and her audience. Schoijett’s expression might be seen as the end point of the photographs, the point that determines the meaning of the image, as if she were shooting the camera with her mind.

The satirical -often hilarious- treatment, the high level of intervention and the artist’s sometimes explicit mocking contrast with the almost solemn respect that prevails in Entrevista. The scenes in this series are captured from the outside; they take place as if the photographer were not there. In Kiosco, Schoijett’s attitude is the exact opposite: she maximizes her intervention in what happens in the image and deploys a certain temporary inventiveness to grab the reigns and determine a story, like a true deus ex machina.

The glaring differences between Rosana Schoijett’s projects are more than telling; they are calculated and structural. It is not often the case that describing an Argentine photographer requires making constant reference to the differences between different groups of images. In this, Schoijett seems to grasp the philosophy of the photographic archive in a very particular way: she does not collect thematic similarity (and extract, from it, a series of photographs) but rather uses a resourceful procedure to organize different series on the basis of their differences and correlates. With a healthy megalomania and eminent dedication, Schoijett is organizing her work –with a strict and disciplined sense of the whole– in series of series, collections of archives or charts of charts, full of contrast, difference and perplexity on various levels. It is as if she had learned from her beloved German photographers not how to photograph empty buildings but rather a love of the purity of structures and the logical order between permanently expanding chains of specific elements. In the current context, the consolidation of Rosana Schoijett’s work is necessary, and from it much can be learned. The local photography circuit is very different now from what it was like when Schoijett started out. There is a great deal of work by photographers who do not shy away from displays of technical skill or investing in large copies, but who are wholly inept when it comes to constructing a universe –let alone a conceptual framework—on the basis of photography’s resources. Schoijett’s work goes beyond this in that it is not satisfied with simply occupying a white cube or doing well at an art fair; nor can it be reduced to what certain expensive cameras or image design and editing programs can do. Schoijett series of photographs, which can always be explored in a number of ways and always merit another look, are not only an antidote: they are, above all, an excellent point of departure and a flawless source of inspiration for those who aspire to a relevant, ongoing project on the basis of the techniques and possibilities enabled by photography.

Otra Parte Magazine. March 2008. Online article.