Into the depths of the surface

by Marta Dahó

[...] unnoticed in the broad stream of the perceived
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Life reveals itself as a fold in which images participate
Andrea Soto Calderón, Imaginación material (Material imagination).

Around 1920, artists like Lázsló Moholy-Nagy broke new ground in the practice and understanding of photography by proclaiming the virtues of the camera as an instrument of potential vision. Seeing in all directions, freeing the modern gaze from the prison of perspective, increasing its dynamism in space: the aesthetics that Moholy-Nagy formulated, both in his essays and in his photographs and films, involved a renewed awareness of perception. Disconcerting frames, unusual perspectives or fragmentary visions, that had previously been considered mistakes, became new experimental resources not used so much to create artworks in the traditional sense, at least not at first, as to reveal a new way of knowing. The camera opened up endless possibilities, essential in order to extend human vision that was too limited. Years later, some of these arguments would resonate strongly in Walter Benjamin's writings, especially in his famous essay on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, in which he alluded to the experience of an optical unconscious that could be accessed thanks to the very means of the camera. Through the mechanisms of interruption, framing, focusing or enlargement facilitated by visual recording devices, new configurations, entirely unknown, made their appearance. It was then up to the beholder to recompose their fragments, to interpret the blind spots that emerged on the threshold of the visible, to embark on an exploratory journey.

The extent to which these discourses reverberate in the way Diego Ballestrasse addresses the pictures in his family archive is easy to perceive, especially bearing in mind that his approach has implied crossing a boundary that is seldom transgressed. Entering inside the photographs, he wanders through them as if they were a space to be bridged, and this entrance into the material surface of the photographic objects has revealed an unexpectedly vast place to be explored. The process is not so much a confirmation of what he already knew before crossing the fourth wall which gives the title to the whole series, as a need for an emotional encounter with his family's past, led by a desire to approach the moments his birth began to be designed, or the first years of life, lacking in precise memories. Crossing the fourth wall, that imaginary boundary between the stage and the audience has meant, in this case, the possibility of reaching something unknown which, following Benjamin, can only be brought to light by the camera.

More specifically, the investigation that unfolds in the set of these photographs traces a sort of drift through those other spaces shaped in the gaps, between the bodies, the objects and the structures of these scenes: floors, staircases, walls. Perhaps it would be even more appropriate to say that what happens in these images is that the gaps have acquired a central presence, disrupting the expected visions. This paradoxical prominence is not easy to name, located as it is in what is often dismissed as residual — an absence we fail torecognise, a void, a pause that defies immediate identification with the meaning of the scene. Thanks to this suspension provided by the fragment, other information contained in the depths of the photographic surface emerges to be identified.

This continuous imbalance, produced by frames that do not follow the usual parameters of photographic composition, introduces a deviation that dislodges us from the dynamics characterising our behaviour as observers. The opening on to another space of potential vision invites us to develop less predictable connections with these images, and the fact that their meaning has neither been stipulated nor restricted beforehand enhances this possibility. Diego Ballestrasse's curiosity upon entering his family archive has not been constrained by an eagerness to redefine situations. Hence, the recognition of this optical unconscious rescues a freedom of seeing, intimately associated with the liberation of a past that is sometimes too confined.

In this process of taking a photograph inside another pre-existing photograph, that has its own stories and material nature, another unique circumstance arises. Many of these 'post- snapshots' denote a clearly cinematographic aesthetic, almost as if they were frames taken from different films which share the same spirit that notices the slightest of gestures and what appears to be circumstantial, announcing what remains 'beside', underneath or behind. Still images that mark something open, transitional. To cross the fourth wall is to shatter the certainty that the scenes we are seeing ended a long time ago. They all refer to a photographic act that has run its course. Now that we are able to see it from multiple points of view, almost as if recomposing its scattered fragments, we may confirm some of its effects and affectations such as the significance of asking bodies to draw closer together, of brushes, glances, that which was shaped by a flash, outlining the shadows of gestures orilluminating opaque signs. This structural framework and the shreds of the events it contains, closely linked to the rhetoric of family celebration, has once again been photographed. The frame inside the frame, the fragment of the fragment, the photographer engrossed in the gestures of other cameramen subtly reveal how the camera – the photographic camera – is still the means employed to improve our view of what dwells in theinterstices of memory, albeit revisited here by other technology. The photographer's engrossment in these images also derives from a computer screen; accordingly, the procedure analysed by Diego Ballestrasse in La cuarta pared appeals to another unconscious, one that is not only optical but also technological. The fact that its electronic effectiveness is much less visible than the festive exaltation of the photographic performance itself does not prevent other conditioning factors from standing out in this confluence of times and technologies like new blind spots in the network of relations connecting the familiar, inspiring us to embark on future explorations to continue transforming the present.