The inward gaze
Text: Maria Ángeles Sánchez

Agapantos

Agapantos

She says, 'I'm working on the agapanthus now', and her eyes shine in a way that makes working on the agapanthus a passionate adventure.

This is where Pilar Pequeño's creative work springs from: passion. From inside, from truth, from what is unfiltered, without fashions, trends, markets, or real or supposed modernity. From what pours from the depths with such force that resisting it is useless. And not to be desired.

And so she has gradually, in her own way, at her leisure (her images are distilled from the image), you might almost say 'drop by drop', built up a solid, coherent, personal and easily recognisable work.

Because as well as passion, Pilar is a paradigm of determination. Determination is no guarantee of quality in an artistic process. But without it, quality is elusive.

Because determination, in this case, means dreams, illusions, trust, blind faith. Determination, here, also means planning, discourse, language, technical mastery, one's own way of seeing.

Invernadero

Invernadero

A story to tell

Pilar Pequeño's relationship with photography is a story worth telling. And it doesn't take many words. Like almost all the important things in life. Lengthy explanations, decorations, trickery often hide truths that are excessively relative; even though any truth is in itself relative.

In the beginning were the greenhouses; those seemingly harmless places, whose ultimate end, productivity at any price, couldn't be further away from beauty.

But greenhouses are also warm wombs, protective parentheses which furthermore are full of leaves, plants, stalks, flowers, fruit. They are full of the subject matter that until now has fed much of Pilar's photographic universe, which she originally got involved in through plastic, deforming and reinterpreting reality. After that everything began to take on a meaning; and when I say everything I mean just that –everything, including, for example, the slimy trail of slow-moving snails.

At some point plastic was put to one side and part of that reality emerged, in an initial, unconscious step ('at the time I'm not aware of the processes; I only see the path I've followed a posteriori') into the world outside, which was waiting in the form of leaves floating in the puddles in Madrid's Retiro park. Water is now the transforming element, the subversive medium that supports the uniqueness of the gaze.

Mi estudio en la Samnanna

Mi estudio en la Samnanna

The leap towards searching for plants around her took place spontaneously. And from there, says Pilar, 'I gather it up and bring it home to the studio'.

This gives her a greater power of creation. She starts playing with the light, always using natural lighting, sometimes filtered through plastic; she plays with the background, composes scenes. In short, she creates a solid and evanescent reality marked by apparent opposites: the maximum in the minimum. The essence.

Germinating power

She and her photography have the germinating power of the earth. In her hands, agapanthus, lisianthus, chards, quince, tuberose, irises, lilies, violets, umbels, tulips, zinnias and peonies, but also umbels, euphorbias and other wild flowers, eucalyptus, poplar and maple leaves are reborn, transformed, take on new life. And the photographer, an experienced midwife, takes the best of her children and leads them with wise hands from the amniotic liquid, from the limbo of nature, to an existence we can envisage as eternal.

This is photography: an efficient instrument against death through oblivion. But in this case, it goes a little bit further still: without Pilar Pequeño, without her direct action on the subject being photographed, there would have been no reality to safeguard.

Lilium

Lilium

And as she works the miracle, the complementary elements appear: two used plates, a tin tray, the glasses, the vases... Above all, the vases. Pilar submerges the plants in water, continues her game producing suggestive bubbles, she gets so close to the recipient that she dilutes the borders separating her from its contents. And the magic continues.

Broadening horizons

In work that has never had the pressure of the day-to-day, the urgency and the conditioning factors of the striving to feed oneself, commissions can broaden horizons. What began in 1993 with those old plates, that worn tin tray, in 2005 became a series of still lifes –onions, fish, game, grapes, gourds, eggs, figs, loaves-- inspired in the Spanish Golden Age, for the exhibition Don Quijote: una nueva mirada (Don Quixote: a fresh look).”

Another commission gave rise to a project which has its beginning and end in itself: La Samanna. Accommodation and outdoor spaces, plants, the Caribbean, sand, palm trees, rain and the infinite line of the horizon. And an unmistakable connecting thread presided by light, shade and chiaroscuro, which contain a mixture of minute detail, sensuality, silence, privacy and melancholy.

Huellas. Baixo Miño.

Huellas. Baixo Miño.

Before that, this feeling of melancholy, with its impregnated realism, gave rise to Huellas, fragmentos del tiempo (Tracks, fragments of time), in which once again, in widely separated places (many of them close to the sea), her camera slowly soaked up the sediment their inhabitants had laid down on buildings raised and abandoned by the hand of man and nature's reply to that abandonment. Vestiges and, above all, successive accumulated presents, superimposed patinas that gradually shape the new, inalienable beauty. In it, in her endless search, there seems to be a human being missing for whom that ceaseless pursuit is one of the greatest challenges –and sometimes one of the greatest punishments-- of their existence.

In the rooms Pilar photographs, whether in Washington or Saint Martin, Galicia or Aix-en-Provence, there is always someone who has just left; someone, apparently invisible, who has left a trail or a scent behind them, creating a powerful presence. What else can that instant be that is immortalised in Farewell, taken in 1997 in the family home in A Guarda (Pontevedra), in which her beloved Edward Hopper's Hotel Room, a total metaphor for loneliness, becomes an indelible testament to life?

Flores de membrillo

Flores de membrillo

Reinventing Colour

Like all professionals, she crossed paths with the technological revolution, the new course photography was taking. And that meant a substantial change for her; for the first time, she has let colour into her work. A change she has imbibed, assimilated, reinterpreted. Made her own. Recreated.

Pilar Pequeño's colour, while being colour, is hardly colour at all... A colour that goes beyond the chromaticism the rest of us mortals usually perceive. A moving, poetic colour, to which she has applied everything she has learned throughout her lengthy experience. In the same way as she used a very restricted range of colours when she painted with pastels, she now carefully selects what colours she lets into her universe. And it's not such a leap, so much as one more step in a process in which she still gives priority to the things she likes, things that provoke her, seduce her or amuse her. Things which, like new technologies (however much she may say, 'I'm useless at anything to do with machines; I only get involved when there's no alternative'), pose a challenge that furthermore allow her something that is very important to her: control of the process from start to finish.

Nearby landscapes

Pilar Pequeño, with all her passion, with all her love, with all her immense baggage, constantly accompanied by her tripod, her equipment and her dogs, perhaps driven by the new horizons constantly opening up, is now determined to reflect the physical and emotional landscape around her in colour. A landscape in which, as in the early days in Galicia, the main elements are still the light, the tireless flow of rivers, the passing of the seasons and the passage of time and to which, doubtless before long, as well as the Madrid sierra, will gradually be added the Mediterranean land of Polop (Alicante) that is now her home. Wild roses, lemon and orange trees, pomegranates and marsh mallows have already appeared.

'I need to soak it up more', says Pilar. 'But I can see that in these nearby landscapes, also, I'm photographing myself. It's a constant inward gaze'.

And that inside is precisely where the energy comes from to transform reality, to endow it with poetry, to make beauty out of everyday life. Here, in this book, are contained some of the magic powers of photography.

María Ángeles Sánchez

 

Diseño: Óptima! comunicación visual