#Here: A Conversation with Costanza de Rogatis

Below is the English translation of my most recent article for La ONG’s blog. This time I interviewed Venezuelan photographer Costanza de Rogatis, with special focus on her social media images. The original Spanish can be found here.

Costanza de Rogatis (Caracas, 1976) holds a B.A. in Arts from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a Diploma in Photography from the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, in countries such as Venezuela, Italy, the United States, Latvia, and Finland. This past August, she opened the individual show Puente at Tresy3 gallery in Caracas. However, I know Costanza’s work mostly through her personal Instagram, where she has developed a discourse that unifies the aesthetics of her work in other formats with the possibilities of mobile photography – more recently, she has been sharing a series on the body titled with the hashtag #Aquí (here). Focusing on her work on this social network, I asked Costanza for an interview via a collaborative Google Doc, in which we sketched out some reflections and shared screenshots. The following text is the result of that exchange.

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Before starting this Doc I looked at your Instagram grid once again, and I sensed a proposition of sorts –not just a theme or aesthetic, but a conscious display. I’m interested in several things about your use of the Instagram platform. How has the language of the snapshot with a mobile camera forced or helped you develop other facets of your photographic language?

The aesthetics of the snapshot interests me because it is instantaneous and leaves little room for pretensions. I like the idea of being able to make pictures without more preparation than carrying my cell phone and making photographs as I need to on that particular day. It often happens that in producing some of these images I have an impulse to see what I can do with the shapes of my body, as my mood changes throughout the day or week… also, the directness of the snapshot makes it very close and real to me.

I find it interesting when a professional photographer shares her work on Instagram, because the moment of consumption (or contemplation) is totally uncontrollable. Your audience is scrolling down according to their own preferences, and your image might be visualized in the middle of others that may collide with it or decontextualize it. Have you ever had this in mind?

The truth is I don’t think about how my images will be seen within the maremagnum of images on Instagram… I imagine that among my followers are the people who work with me at the office, my relatives, people I have met by chance, and total strangers, and all of them have a different background and interests that are different from mine. I suppose that, to some of them, my images of the body might seem strange, but it’s something that I can’t control. I don’t think I care to control it either. Mine is just a voice –maybe just a few words– in that stream of glittering visual information.

And with respect to your grid, do you approach the “assembly” of your own profile consciously, with any proposal?

I like to think of my grid as a thread with a certain visual continuity. It is definitely not a narrative, but when I make my images, I see the order they are carrying and I try not to allow any cacophony between them, or if there are any, I try for it to take me somewhere. The grid helps me understand where I go, and question why certain images I like more or less in relation to others.

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I have always liked Instagram’s design because it presents a sort of exhibition wall, even with its white frames. The “exhibition” is usually null, because most of us share images socially without necessarily thinking of an aesthetic coherence. In your case, however, it’s easy to feel the visual continuity. What is the social aspect of sharing an image created with artistic intentions?

I think sharing images on social networks is totally different from other means of diffusion or circulation. It might be more delicate. At first I was very scared of sharing my photos on IG or Facebook, because I didn’t know who would be seeing them, but then I understood that those images belong to me –they are a part of me–, and I’d better divulge them, and not say I’m a photographer without ever showing anything while waiting for a moment decided by others to show my images. In a way, when I publish them (and now, as I write this, the meaning of the word “publish” seems different), I “manage” the way my snapshots circulate (although I can’t think of anything less manageable than social networks now!): I like immediate feedback, in the sense that certain comments (obviously not all) make me think about how my images might be perceived or the way I approach the photographic fact.

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“In our society, seemingly open-minded, reckless, with an abundance of nudity and in-your-face sexuality, there is a significant loss of touch. Human contact has been reduced to intimate moments, and touch is now being sought even during the most unexpected daily life activities, where we establish ephemeral, temporary connections with strangers. “

Your images are full of skin, flesh, veins, wrinkles, folds. Above I placed the text of another of your series that resonates with the discourse you have developed lately on Instagram. Why the drive to share close, sometimes amorphous, details as snapshots? Is there any aspect of using your cell phone camera that makes that approach easier?

If I think of the photographic series that I have done so far, I believe that the subjects of intimacy and closeness with people has been revealed to me in different ways. The text you used is from my series Skin Hunger: I see the closeness, humanity, affectivity in physical contact, in the skin, something as inescapable as touch, that even being perceived as an image –in its visuality– manages to reveal and activate that memory, the synesthesia of being touched and touching.

Working with my phone reveals other things in relation to the body and its image: I am at the same time inside of me and outside of me when taking the photo. Sometimes I get to see myself while I make the image, and I suddenly think that those parts of the body are like interstices or transits from the inside to the outside of the image… I’m still not clear about this, I’m discovering it…

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In the selection above I liked the coincidence of impressions, textures, contact traces –the footprint of some kind of pressure. Then I found your documentation of Antonieta Sosa’s images, and I was struck by these moments in which you place your work in dialogue with that of others. I also added a screenshot of the break caused by the pictorial image in the middle of your grid; in this case, I feel it is a sort of linear hypertextuality: since you are seeing this, look at this related image. How do you see it?

Indeed, as I make my photos I find, sometimes even casually, as in the case of Antonieta (I found those images in the Museo de Bellas Artes’ photographic archive, thanks to Rigel García), the work of artists who have developed the subject of the body, and I am pleased to see the similarities with the movements that I am doing in my work… Everything is part of that great arsenal of references that we accumulate through time in our heads –and that, at least consciously, we don’t remember–, and which emerge in the things we do much later… In a way, it is like feeling part of a tradition and wondering, at the same time: What can I say now? Will I have anything else to add? The same thing happens with the photograph of the painting, a detail of a breast that I meant as a wink, a joke … the trompe l’oeil of the painting captured by the photograph… At the same time, it is a wink to the morbid fascination that so often is generated in social networks (in all media, really): the naked body… a breast… a breast that might be censored?

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I feel the same about this image in which your hand dances with Yvonne Rainer’s. I see in your Instagram many photos of photos, photos of records, always with the intervention of your hand: your hand always tending a bridge between the external document or the situation that escapes the picture and the eye that captures it. What does that tending of hands mean in the construction of your language?

My hand in relation to images in which I want to dissolve, that excite me, in which I recognize myself on the outside. My hand as a self-portrait, as the feeling of my being. My hand, as you say, as a bridge between my interiority and that exteriority. My hand, which appropriates the beauty of the outside and makes me part of it. In my hand I am, always, inescapably.

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This brings me to Puente, which is your most recent work. The text that accompanies it says: “A bridge… unites that which by nature seems to be separated. A bridge connects two banks, near, distant, divided. It contacts the opposite, communicates. A bridge, photography, manages to sublimate that which lies in subterranean waters, silent, stealthy, seeking to emerge when reason and feeling have been demarcated, and gives a visible body to the imagined and lived, to envy, to pain, to absence, to love, and to desire. This is my bridge to cross and not stay half way… “

I feel that, in that text, there is an echo of what  your hand represents for me in the snapshots you share. I would like to know a little more about the dimensions that the photograph unifies. Is photography a method to unearth/visualize meaning in the form of a visual image? Or are you referring to a bridge that is tended to look at, the creation of meanings that the viewer (or yourself, then) does in front of your work?

Photography manages to unify that which lies within me with the external world, an image that survives in me as an intuition that manages to become a form when it is externalized, or that is identified on the outside with a feeling it resembles. A means to speak without words, to encode emotions, to show, to make visible before my eyes, to understand (me). Each time I photograph I build a bridge, I expose myself, and I cross a bridge –I cross it, between what I am and the other, between what I am and the others.

The photographs of the exhibition show the importance of the display in space. Why the overlap of images? What were the criteria?

For me it was important that my photographs had a certain freedom to occupy the exhibition space, that they were not tied to the idea of consecutive linearity and the margins of the frame, especially since the spaces of the Tresy3 gallery can be quite difficult. I wanted my photos to inhabit that space, so I worked with Sagrario Berti and Aixa Sánchez to form new groups of interrelations between the images, generating a narrative based more on visual coincidences between them than  what each one could say separately: making pairs and sets in which the images could say different things.

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If the photograph is a bridge that joins two opposite banks, what are the possible obstacles that a photographer might find when trying to build it?

I think the obstacle is one’s self: to be willing to show up in your work, to inquire, to ask, to doubt. Do not be honest with yourself. The rest, I think, comes additionally.

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Has the constant confrontation with your body through the camera impacted you personally in some way ? And if so, has this effect sharpened or changed since you do it using mobile photography?

It has certainly influenced me as an individual to observe my body through the construction of images. There is a process of understanding of the physical as matter, as volume, and as a fragment and at the same time as a whole, that starts with the idea of taking the photo and concludes when the shot is effectively taken, as I perceive myself. It is not the other’s gaze on me, it is my gaze that unfolds from within and unfolds outwards. It is the space that I occupy as a body, the space that I give myself in the image, on the outside, in a frame, in the closeness with my own body, in the here and now. In the case of mobile photography it’s strange, because depending on the images I take, I can see the shapes through the screen at the same time as I see my body physically present on the other side. I am seeing myself from within and from outside at the same time.

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All photographs belong to Costanza de Rogatis and are used with your permission.
More of her work:
Portfolio: http://costanzaderogatis.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/la_cost/
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