ON THE GO: Interview with Carlos Álvarez Clemente

Photographer and visual artist Carlos Álvarez Clemente (1990, ES) is currently exhibiting the project To Go Twice on Fotografisk Center’s digital exhibition platform ON THE GO until November 14th. The project is a photographic research of randomly found archive photos, taken by strangers several years ago, in combination with Álvarez’s own newly produced photos. The underlying question in the project is what happens when you explore an unknown family’s archive photos and interact with them through contemporary photography. We have had a chat with Carlos Álvarez Clemente about mixing photographic narratives and personal stories, and turning them into a study of time, familiarity and memories.

Interview by Isabella Aleksandra Fuchs and Pauline Koffi Vandet

Found archive photo, date unknown

So, you found and bought some used 35 mm film rolls when you went to a flea market in Brussels, Belgium. Upon buying them, did you initially think of it as a photographic project or was it merely your curiosity that led you to buy these random used rolls of film?

Buying those rolls was an intuitive even funny action. Then, some months later, I started scanning and restoring the material during my stay in the Media Art department of KASK-Conservatorium in Ghent. By then, I was getting more serious about exploring the possibility of camera-based images as part of my artistic practice.

At what point did you think of using an artistic and investigative approach to the film rolls you found and later scanned? And what exactly was it about these archive photos that made you want to create the project To Go Twice?

The minute I scanned the rolls I appreciated a narrative power, even though I wasn’t sure in which form a project could come out. Then, the idea of mixing them with my own materials (which resulted in To Go Twice) came one or two years later, in a very slow way. The project deals with topics such as the family or the summer. These are topics which take time to photograph.

I think there was a truth in the images in the film rolls that kept striking me. They didn’t look like any other image that I see in my everyday life on the internet.

Found archive photo, date unknown

In the project, it seems like you’re mixing narratives as well as photographic approaches to let it become one great potpourri of intertwined lived experiences through both digital and analogue photography. Meanwhile, we also believe it’s a reflection of time: what has been, what is present and what might happen in the future. Thus, the project seems to combine a relationship between past, present and future.

For us, To Go Twice appears to experiment with theoretical discussions about photography’s relationship with time. Here, using time as a framework to investigate the similarity between the familiarity in the archive photos and current mundane situations today. From your perspective, how do you operate with photography’s relationship with time in this project?

This is a really interesting theme. The act of combining black and white, color-film and high-resolution digital pictures inevitably leads to some frictions about the timeline of this narrative. But I was only interested in exploring these frictions, rather than in hiding them.

I didn’t want to propose any specific reflection on time (which could have been about the evolution in the use of cameras, or about the social structures portrayed in the series). But better think of the images as an infrastructure for different personal emotions. In my case, these images trigger certain feelings, which probably have to do with me having childhood memories of a similar Mediterranean landscape. I assume that – for example – a Scandinavian viewer, with a different background, may feel something distinct. Or maybe not. Discussing this difference makes me have more thoughts about who I am know, now that I live in Denmark.

I think that when photographers work with themes about the past, it’s most of the time either in a political or in a nostalgic way. I’m interested in finding ways of overcoming these two approaches, trying to deal with more complex, or at least different feelings.

For example, I decided to include some black chemical emulsions that I found in the roll. They don’t represent any specific human scene. Actually they are just abstract compositions. But I think including them in the series reiterates the impossible coherence of this story that I’m telling, and points out the very photographic nature of this experiment, if that makes sense.

Carlos Álvarez Clemente, 2020

In your personal narrative and description about the project (can be read on ON THE GO), you describe how you find the archive photos to possess a ‘strange and meditative beauty’. Can you elaborate more on how you are working with the – maybe uncanny – mundane photos and situations of the archive photos in your project?

In the last year I have been using a lot this word – meditative – to refer to my relationship to art. Maybe because of the binge of virtual culture and social media, that we have suffered during the pandemic, we have lost a bit of the reference of time and space that appreciating an artwork may need. In that sense, I’m interested in creating pieces that reveal themselves slowly; that show new layers the more time you spend looking at them.

In relation to this exhibition, I think this is achieved by the rhythmic repetition of elements and characters. Especially in the black and white roll, the same people appear one time after another (many times more than I have included in the exhibition) in a very calm atmosphere, like a visual mantra. I really like that.

Found archive photo, date unknown

Jumping off from the last question, the overall imagery is very recognizable to us and it could be almost like looking at one of our own family albums. To Go Twice is almost like no one’s narrative yet everyone’s narrative about e.g. family and time. It’s both incredibly specific situations merely revolving around an unknown family yet incredibly generalized situations that could be experienced and imagined by everyone.

This way, the project can also be addressed as a study of photography as a catalyst to explore the mind and (constructed) memories – and question ourselves to why we’re intrigued by these ‘lost’ or ‘discarded’ archive photos and how your contemporary photographs complement the archive photos and vice versa. How have you worked with the intertwining narrative of the archive photos and your own photos?

How to build this intertwining narrative was the big question of the whole project. And of course, I thought that using the disciplinary tools of photography was the way to go.

There was the easy choice of buying some second-hand old cameras and doing a “fake vintage”. Or even to play detectives and try to find out who the people in the pictures actually were. But I thought that these options would have killed the artistic dimension of the research.

I understood that this project wasn’t about doing photos that could have also been found in the flea market. Actually, anybody that knows me personally will recognize my girlfriend or some of my friends in the pictures.  I thought it was more about doing an exercise of reaching the photographic place that this archival materials construct. A place built upon aspects such as the light – the harsh Spanish light that hits vertically, violently – which is not the most photogenic but the one that amateur photographers would use. Or the characters. People who have finished having lunch, and drink and talk. That is the moment in which traditionally a person will pull out a camera.

With this regard I have been studying projects of other artists, especially in the realm of cinema. For example My Mexican Bretzel, a movie by Nuria Giménez Lorang in which she uses only archival family materials and subtitles to build a new false-documentary narrative. Or Roma, by Alfonso Cuaron. It was very inspiring to read in an interview how, despite doing a confessional autobiographical work, he decided to shoot the whole movie using high-res digital cameras, instead of the obvious choice, that was to use film. I understood there were ways of unifying the storytelling in a contemporary way.

Here in the end, we’d like to ask what you think the viewer should reflect on when watching To Go Twice?

I know seeing an online show in a really focused way is not as simple as in a gallery. But more than reaching any specific message, I would be happy if the viewer would spend a calm, quiet time looking at the photos as I did.  If trying to find affinities between the pictures, they will probably end up finding resonances with his or her own memories, in one way or the other.

Carlos Álvarez Clemente, 2020

About the artist

Carlos Álvarez Clemente (1990, ES) lives and works in Copenhagen and in the Canary Islands. He holds a MFA graduated with High Honors from KADK-Conservatorium and an Architect’s Degree from UPM Madrid.

He has developed his practice through institutions and exhibition spaces such as Matadero Madrid (El Ranchito Residence), Night Shift – Vooruit (Ghent), The Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Weserhalle Christmas Auction (Berlin) or CAAM (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria). And festivals like Distorsion Ø (Copenhagen) and Eufònic (Terres de l´Ebre), among others. His work has been recognized with prizes and grants including Young Art Prize Gijón/Xixón (Work in Public Collection), Billedkunst Arbejdslegat – Stantens Kunstfond, Residence at Statens Værksteder for Kunst, Injuve Creation Grant, and more. 

For more information, please visit www.carlosalvarezclemente.com

Thank you

We would like to thank Carlos Álvarez Clemente for his cooperation and contribution during the online exhibition on our digital platform ON THE GO. The exhibition ends November 14, 2021.

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