(Generational) Ways of Seeing
In recent years, other photographic essays by post-dictatorship artists have echoed Quieto’s pioneering anachronistic montages. One notable example is Recuerdos inventados (Invented Memories) (2003), a work characterized by a similar ludic gaze and performative nature as that evident in Arqueologla de la ausencia. In this series, Gabriela Bettini places the portraits of her disappeared uncle, Marcelo Gabriel Bettini, and her disappeared grandfather, Antonio Bettini, in dialogue with her self-portrait and legal texts, many of them extracts from the Nunca mas report, documents that explain the context and facts of the crimes. Some images suggest a subtle disagreement with the politics of the 1970s generations. Playa Grande, for instance, presents Bettini sitting on the beach in Mar del Plata. Behind her is an enlargement of a family picture, taken many years ago on the same beach. Some of the members of this group are now disappeared. It is not difficult to find similar images to this one in the family albums of the Argentine bourgeoisie. The decision to recreate it here is hardly accidental but expresses the photographer’s desire to have such an image in her own family album. Placed within the context of
Fig. 6.7 Pedro Camilo del Cerro, El viaje depapA, photograph, 2007
the dictatorship, the montage denounces the wrecked, artificial condition of the nation, which, far from a harmonious union of families, comprises destroyed and absent bodies. Moreover, the picture exhibits the “conventional family group triangle—on steps, for example, grandparents at the top, parents in the middle, cascading down to the grandchildren on the lower levels,”46 closer to the bourgeois nuclear family than to the militant family, the latter defined by extended and socialized parenting and the rejection of individualism in the name of biological ties.
In El viaje de papA (Dad’s Journey) (2007), Pedro Camilo Del Cerro also includes himself in photographs of his father, Hernan Perez Del Cerro, on a world trip that he took during the 1960s (Fig. 6.7). Hernan was killed by the military in 1977. The scenes document the father’s militancy by picturing him in a humble neighbourhood or proudly shaking
Fig. 6.8 Veronica Maggi, El rescate, photograph, 2007
hands with a worker. Accompanying each image are phrases taken from a letter written by his aunt and addressed to his father: “vos y todas tus cosas” and “de la mano abierta con inventos para aliviar la humiliation del pro- letariado.” Imitating his father’s posture, Pedro Camilo includes himself standing in the background, sharing a meal in the sunshine or looking out of the window as if expecting his father’s return.
Finally, in El rescate (The Rescue) (2007), Veronica Maggi created fourteen colourful pictures of her naked body photographed against a black background and used as a screen on which she projects old family holiday photos of her mother, Mirta, who she never met, taken before her disappearance (Fig. 6.8).47 As argued by Natalia Fortuny, this series is not so much animated by the will to include the daughter in the photographs of the past as it is to provide the clay to animate the body of the disappeared.48 Maggi uses her body to “contain” the body of her mother, just as the mother had once sheltered the daughter in her womb. The daughter’s body functions, thus, as the replacement for the absent grave of the disappeared and also as the recipient of her memory.
All these works are animated by a similar ludic spirit and offer an alternative gallery of images to those constructed around the figure of the disappeared as a suffering body. Quieto has said in this respect that she does not want her pictures to make people cry because she had fun making them and because they show us “happy” scenes:
When I showed these pictures around some people started to cry. I was angry at that reaction. I don’t like people to think that I made these pictures from pain ... To me, my work was healing. It allowed me to calm that obsession that I had for years of not having that picture with my father. Now I do.49
Soledad Nivoli, the author of another photographic essay that created an “iconographic crossword of memory” using the pictures that her disappeared father took in the 1960s and others that she took in the present emulating the original ones, also told me that her mother, her then boyfriend and she used to play a game each time they stopped to see who would be the first to find the spot for the perfect picture.50 Similarly, the humor in Bettini’s photos is also suggestive of the fun she no doubt had wearing old clothes and performing the new scenes for her photographs.
One of Bettini’s images is particularly ironic and playful: someone holds in front of their face the portrait of Marcelo who is making a “V” (for victory) with his fingers (Fig. 6.9). Viewed in the present, this gesture, which was very common and evocative among the radicalized youth of the 1970s, has lost its symbolic power, not least because it is presented in a humorous way: the suit being worn by the person holding the picture and who stands in for the body of Marcelo is too big.
That all these artists put themselves in front of the camera and use their bodies as screens for the images of their parents and relatives (in a manner described by Vikki Bell as “a temporary tattoo”51) also echoes the political revolutionary demands made during the 1970s, summarized by the common expression at the time of poner el cuerpo. In the case of these images, however, poner el cuerpo no longer means to put the body at risk as understood by the sacrificial militant ethic. Poner el cuerpo in relation to these works means to use the bodies as sites of memory and healing in a playful way. Indeed, in her images, Bettini presents us with “a sarcastic pantomime of the everyday life violated by the coup,” the ludic gaze acquiring here a slightly more sardonic tone than that of Lucila Quieto’s more subtle images.52 All these images show, as Paul Ricreur put it, how a memory of a tragic event need not itself adopt a tragic mode of expression.53
Furthermore, it is not only new, virtual realities that these images create; perhaps more significantly, they also highlight the active role of
Fig. 6.9 Gabriela Bettini, Mi tio Marcelo, Recuerdos inventados, photograph, 2003
photography in visually constituting family and kinship. Susan Sontag famously argued that through photography families create a chronicle- narrative of their ties, recording relationships that are already genealogically given.54 For Sontag, in the last decades of the nineteenth century, a moment when the family was undergoing drastic changes in the industrializing countries of Europe and North America, photography became a family ritual that aimed to symbolically confront the crisis of nuclear families by delivering a nostalgic image of what was threatened with disappearance.
Marianne Hirsch and Mary Bouquet, however, have both suggested that it is not so much that photography records already-made families but rather that families are constructed through photographs. For Hirsch, “family photographs trigger in their viewers an inclusive, affiliative look” that projects the family onto the portrayed subjects and “draws the looker into this network of familiality.”55 Photographs do not show blood ties. Rather it is the familial look—a look that contains the knowledge that what we are seeing in an image is a family—that constitutes subjectivity as the product of familial relations and conventionality, simultaneously masking, occluding or ignoring other individual or social aspects of subjectivity that are not related to family. Echoing Hirsch’s notion of the familial gaze, Bouquet points out that “photography does not simply find ready made families but has an active hand in making them appear.”56 Likewise, Nancy Miller has said that “in a way the photo is the [family] relation,”57 and Tandeciarz has argued that “the process of making and consuming images serves not only to reference affective experience, but also to activate or stage it.”58
In the reflexive and autofictional images of Quieto and other artists the familial look is made explicit and visible through their inclusion in front of the camera, observing or interacting with the portraits of their parents. The result is a play of gazes that produces a disturbing mise-en-scene and the rupture of the photographic frame. The young artists are portrayed here not only as children but also as individuals who want to be remembered as remembering, a scene that stresses the role of memory (and not only of photography) in the constitution of family ties.