Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Iñaki Domingo – Interview

Feb 28, 2015 - Andrei Nacu

Ser Sangre is a photographic project by Iñaki Domingo, created in collaboration with the members of his entire family. It now appears in the form of a photobook under a joint imprint of publishers RM, Here Press, and Cuadernos de la Kursala, which belong to the program to support young photographers of the Extension Service of the Vice-Rectorate of International and Cultural Projection of the Universidad de Cádiz. The photographer took advantage of a vacation time to propose a joint project to the members of his family. The idea was for all of them to participate in the decision-making process, from the conception of the photographic project to its final form as an exhibition and book. »With summer vacation as a background, the initial idea of the project Ser Sangre was to create, in a collaborative manner, a visual totem that shows who we are, how we see ourselves, and how we interact: a sort of collective definition of ourselves,« explains Domingo. Each member of the family contributed intuitively whatever he or she thought could be of interest to the project, though none of them had any artistic training or special relationship with creative work. Installations, body painting, recipes, archival work, illustration, actions… little by little, they began to appropriate the world of art in a natural way. These materials are combined with the photographs taken by Domingo, which partly document the proposals of the rest of the family members and partly constitute his own creative contribution to this collective narrative. At the same time, and on a second level, Ser Sangre seeks to question and explore how the family is traditionally represented in family photo albums, reflecting on the reasons why the images contained in these containers of intimate visual memory always tend to look the same. Collections of frozen smiles predominate, to the detriment of other moments, much more frequent in any family’s day-to-day activities. »Why do albums never record the moments that evoke sadness, boredom, anger, routine?« asks Domingo.

Rather than as a linear narrative, I think this book works by making the viewer more and more curious with each flipped page, making him to want to view more and to understand more. This strategy of surprising the viewer with every image and leading him in the search for clues to decode the complex layers of the story, as for resolving a puzzle, is something that you have premeditated or was more a response to your experience there? How much in creating this project was instinct and intuition and how much was planning and anticipation? Did you have any strategies in mind before starting the project? When I started thinking about the project, I was trying to answer a set of questions, and those led me to other questions. The more questions, the more layers, and the more layers the more thinking needed to try to make the book accessible and appealing to all kinds of audiences, not only photographers or enthusiasts. I tried to plan as much things as possible before leaving and I had some ideas that I wanted to turn into images as I felt they were essential to the project. At the same time, I knew that I would have few time and lots of things to record, so I needed to be focused, but as many times happens, one thing is what you plan and different one what happens finally. So I tried to stay flexible and adaptable with the existing conditions that I will find and react instinctively to the situations I will find, but at the same time not to go too far away from my original plan. This compromise was not easy, and of course there are things that I would repeat nowadays in a different way if I had the chance, but all and all I´m more than happy with the outcome. The three pieces of text are essential in understanding the work, because these give a voice to the members of your family outside of the images and make the collaborative dimension of the project more visible. “The Best/Worst of the Day” list I think works brilliant, giving us more clues not only about how the family members spend their time, their feelings and the relationship between each other, but also about the photographic process: someone's worst moment of the day was when you've asked them to “roll down the dunes again and again” that he got dizzy; one of your nieces confesses that “the worst was when Uncle Iñaki told me that I wasn't helping him with his photos, that if I wanted to be his assistant I had to be alert and always go behind him.” And one of your best moments was taking photos of two kids, “because the light was perfect and the photos were great”. How difficult was for you to work with your family? And what was the best and the worst moment for you in this vacation? Despite I did it before in other projects, working with my own family represents a challenge for me. We know each other in a very deep way. This might be a good or a bad thing, or even both, when it comes to work. This is not the usual relationship a photographer establishes with his subject and on the top of that I had in this project a double condition: member of the family and photographer. Dealing with this is not always easy but in the other hand I always had the feeling that they trusted in the project and all of them contributed to the project in many different and unexpected ways. My best and worst moments of the trip are also included in that text, I bet you can find them easily. Who could be that excited with the light in that group of people if not me? The traditional family album is constructed around some clear rules, usually putting together idyllic photographs from familial events such as birthdays, weddings, and holidays; not the daily life, and certainly not moments of sadness, vulnerability or conflict. This has the role of creating an idealized image for the family as institution. How do you relate with these conventions of the family album and the traditional family representation? Why do you think it is important to challenge them? I´m OK with people using established formulas to represent their own lives, as I´m too with people shooting selfies nonstop, but as an artist I feel the responsibility to reflect and question certain dynamics on how images are produced and consumed. This is why this project tries to revise how family is traditionally represented in family albums and proposes new ways of depicting the daily routine of a common family. I think that family albums are a really powerful tool as they are containers of intimate memories, but why we mostly see in their pages collections of frozen smiles? Why not other moments are included in them? Daily life is comprised mainly of not-that-peaky moments, then why don’t we usually see this “other” situations in their pages? These are the issues my projects tries to deal with, as I feel pre-existing formulas can be tricky sometimes and might lead us to not questioning things. You have decided to record not only the peaky moments of a group shot with the whole family but also the moments before and after that, exposing the process of constructing and de-constructing the archetypal family portrait. Moreover, you take the peaky moment out from the sequence and place it on the shrink-wrapping paper that covers the book, which you need to tear up in order to access the book itself. By this you are forcing one to perform this symbolic gesture of destroying the traditional family album, to free oneself from prejudices and approach the work with an open heart. The final object is in a way more than a classical book, this performative act that is needed for initiating the viewer is a unique experience that one could have only once and can't be repeated. Can you tell me a bit more about this ephemeral quality of the object? Once again, why should we assume certain things just because? I´m not saying that we should get rid of the traditional family portraits, which I enjoy and admire. But isn´t it interesting to see what happens before and after this peaky moment? I was very curious about this, in fact this was one of the structural pieces of work of the project I had in mind beforehand. The challenge here was to translate this into visual and design solutions. Bearing in mind that these are limited, together with the designer ( we arrived to this solution that I´m happy with and people seem to get it. Regarding the symbolism beyond this action, you explained it perfectly; the idea was that the audience could get involved actively in the way the book should be read. And this is related with the attitude, the need to rethink certain conventions. Photography has constantly evolved and looking back we can see that a huge change has taken place in family album because of the snapshot. How would you define the new mutations that are taking place in the visual representation of the family as a result of the new technologies? In your presentation at the Guernsey Photography Festival I remember you saying that we are now at this point when photography should not be seen as the reality, but a free representation of it. How will this influence the relationship between memory and the new family album? I think we are living a great moment in terms of the evolution of photography as a medium, many new uses appeared in the recent times and the language is developing in fresh and unexpected ways. Technology played a decisive roll in this, and also how rapidly people are adapting to it. The world became digital and new platforms are appearing by dozens. Physical albums as we knew them are no longer used massively, instead hard drives are filled up with tons of non-physical information. But this doesn´t means that the album format is not useful any longer, or maybe just because it’s not that popular it is a good moment to think of new ways to approach it, who knows... In my case I found it was perfect for format the kind of project I wanted to develop. As for the family representation nowadays, I feel it´s more fragmented, we can see something similar to an album in social networks, but the feeling is more disaggregated and inconsistent in a way. Physicality has lost its value and now instantaneity is way more important. This is interesting and changes the rules, so I assume new creative ways to approach representation of the family will appear in the forthcoming future. In most of your earlier work, starting with your very first project, "Mi madre", which deals with the experience of losing your mother in your early twenties, it seems that you have used photography as an introspective tool, to understand who you are, what self means and how you encounter yourself and the world; in another interview you mentioned that you were very influenced by Lacan's definition of "the mirror stage". After “Ser Sangre” your practice has shifted to projects related more to photography as a medium, the visual language and the materiality of the image. Could this mean that you have finally found yourself? I´m not sure that I´m able to answer this question, sorry. I´m not in photography to answer questions but to raise them and to learn how to live surrounded by them, this is what I like most about art and what makes the difference with science. Many solutions are possible, there´s not only one-way to sort out things, and I this is wonderful. What I can say is that by the moment I don´t have the need, as I had before, to keep on exploring the field of introspection, reason why I started researching about other subjects that intrigue me nowadays, like perception for example. Some of this new works will be on display in a show that I´ll have together with the Brazilian artist Ding Musa as part of this year´s PhotoEspaña Oficial Section. If you happen to be in Madrid those days and curious to learn more about this you are more than welcome to come by and say hello.
Iñaki Domingo (b. 1978 in Madrid) is a photographer and editor. His work, produced as a member of the collective NOPHOTO, has received the Premio Injuve de Fotografía and the PhotoEspaña »Revelation« Award, among others. He has received fellowships to participate in programs such as Estancias para Jóvenes Artistas and Mº de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, as well as the Joop Swart Masterclass of the World Press Photo Foundation. His work has been exhibited in galleries and art centers in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. For more than four years he was head of the publishing department of Ivorypress. Since 2010, he has been co-director of the blog, which specializes in contemporary Spanish photography. He is currently a creative editor at RM. Domingo has curated international exhibitions at Krakow Photomonth 2013 and PhotoEspaña 2014. He is a professor at IED Madrid and LENS Escuela de Artes Visuales and frequently gives lectures and workshops on photography at other schools and universities.