Alejandro Castellote

June 2007

Gods of America adheres to the ethical spirit which a priori should protect the representation of  “others”, so that Briceño has equipped himself with the necessary supports to facilitate politically correct interpretations and to allow him to travel with a minimum of safety through such fragile terrain, specially in an environment as hypersensitive to the subject as Latin America, whose history has been systematically colored by injustices of all kinds toward the original ethnic majorities of the continent. Several times in his introduction to the work he writes of the relationship of respect and complicity he had with the protagonists of the images and his desire to contribute to restoring the dignity of their cultures. In fact, we could deduce that his work confines itself to illustrating the mythical narrative of the shamans, a sort of collaboration aimed at giving visibility to their imaginary world. Taking on this responsibility obliges him to face his subjectivity and his experience with the “informants” in the light of the task of generating an objective cosmogony in which his narrators, as well as he himself as author, will recognize themselves. And all this while evading paternalistic attitudes. It is not easy. His caution should not surprise us, if we look at the ferocity with which some Latin American photographers have been criticized for portraying poverty or representing Indians according to assumptions alien to contemporary ethical orthodoxy.

 

As in the case of Chambi, we frequently find perspectives from below which stress the mythical character of the shamans. In attempting to elevate the subjects to the category of intermediaries of the gods, the setting vaguely imitates the perspective of religious imagery in churches, in altarpieces, stained-glass windows, frescos or sculptures: the spectator always sees from below, accepting the metaphor of power imposed by the height of the icons.  Images as intermediaries between man and his gods. A symbolic syntax – the church’s – taken up historically by all those who have flaunted power with an absolutist vocation; we have only to look at Fascist and Communist iconography to find identical, irritating representations of the heroic protagonists of their revolutions. In any case, beyond any other reading, this series reveals the will to mythologize the figures, and in order to do so Briceño uses landscapes that can evoke each people’s fantasy of the world, placing the figures in a timeless setting, in accordance with the ancestral and primitive character of the myth.  The pre-scientific and ahistorical wisdom of those cultures acquires in these settings an expression with affinities to the archetypal images of Jung, as Briceño asserts in his introduction.

 

Besides the desire to restore cultural dignity, we often find in this work an echo of our bad conscience with regard to the “progress” demanded by capitalist societies. Societies with an imperialistic urge that destroys the roots of minority identities, provoking as a reaction a need – nowadays a furious need – to recover non-rational wisdom and a way of thinking in close relation to the “authentic” values that bind man to nature without mediation of scientific objectivity. This tendency defines its philosophy within the general framework of ecologism.[1]

 

The didactic tone of Antonio Briceño’s photos is involuntarily nourished by the visual model that religions and political tendencies of all stripes have offered their faithful in order to facilitate the comprehension of their doctrines; but in his case it is adapted to the commonest visual languages of our time. We could say that the photographer acts as a visual interpreter in the service of the shamans. The aesthetic affinity to advertisements that we might observe in these panoramic portraits – in a sense, their conversion to the Pop aesthetic – arises from an awareness of the need to use comprehensible languages to smooth the passage of the ideology. What this is, and what the photographer’s intentions are, belong to sphere of interpretation, and, as we said at the beginning, this is a task that each spectator must carry out for himself.

 

[1] See the chapter El mito reencontrado in Gianni Vattimo, La sociedad transparente, Paidós, 1990.

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