Iñigo Sánchez: loving the subject and its other

I met Iñigo Sánchez‘s work because he was part of Hélice‘s comprehensive training program 2016/2017. Hélice’s team is the one behind Propeller, the magazine I became involved with, and it was just a matter of days before I ended up meeting the author of some of the photographs that used to be featured in a wall at Hélice’s studio. So Iñigo, who has been living in Lisbon for the past few years, has become quite interested in the ritualistic plays of the community around him. Having studied anthropology and musicology, the way he relates to his surroundings is quite unique. Because I’m very allergic to patriotic symbolism, elements of what we could call “portugalidade” – which I find mask a catholic, conservative and authoritarian way of thinking about human relationships -, I wouldn’t normally be seduced by Iñigo’s work, who has been photographing the fado community in one of the most emblematic neighborhoods in Lisbon – Mouraria. Truth be said, I wouldn’t give his work much of a chance, for too many obstacles would stand in the way. For instances, whenever I find the word “orgulho” (pride) my tendency is to change directions and Iñigo has a work entitled “Orgulho Bairrista” (roughly translated by pride of belonging to the neighborhood), which provokes sudden rashes all over the libertine in me. 

© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.
© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.

However, the project displayed here, “Luta Mouraria!” (Takedown), which Iñigo developed while attending Hélice, is somehow of a different nature. Although it retains the author’s drive to investigate human relationships, it also starts to show its own autonomy, giving away signs of an independent language: a photographic one. I can’t help but think about the barthesian punctum when I look at these photographs. They definitely puncture their most referential layer and, I would like to suggest, the intentionality behind them. 

© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.
© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.

The core of this project lies not far from his former ones. To sum it up, Iñigo became interested in another community ritual, namely the greco-roman wrestling practice in the neighborhood’s sports club. I think of this as a ritual because I have no doubt that magic things happen here; in the middle of these four walls, the most valuable thing is created: connection. Yes, we could make generalizations and say sports bring people together and wrestling and boxing are noble sports and whatnot, but there’s something special going on in these images and I think it relates to a particular dynamic that is drawn between the floor and the subjects’ heads. In fact, I would also like to suggest that in this group of images one could project the basis of human relationships: either we’re being put down by the other (here the father, really, the big Other), who we refuse to identify, for we’re not ready to be our own selves; either we’re being helped by our equals, our partners, to stand up, move forward, become our own selves. There’s other possibilities, of course. For instances, while searching for these “selves”, free from the constrains of the Other, we play, we crawl, we laugh and cry…  

While connecting with the self we play and we mimic and that is where Iñigo’s project seems to be particularly mature and original. In the subject’s bodies there is a presence of the other. Sometimes a gesture that is replicated, often a shadow that transforms their distance into an abstract form, maybe the mark of human connection. I see love (in the form of its greatest generosity, agape) everywhere in these photographs. And that’s their punctum for me. Although it’s clear that the author was not driven by the informative content his images could convey, it’s impossible to say that it was his intention to create a project about love. I suspect it wasn’t’.

© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.
© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.

So this is not a project about wrestling, as it appears to be. The proximity between these bodies, as well as between the bodies and the floor that supports them, and even between the bodies and the photographic rectangle that encapsulates them, was captured in a way that is extremely subtle, ephemeral and transcendental. It’s definitely the sign of a happy community that it manages to engage, physically, and mimic rhythms, whatever the nature of these rhythms. I’d say this proximity between the bodies and the floor suggest another quality, namely humility and that is the opposite of that one feeling I despise: pride. Humility is about knowing the ground we step on, but mainly about being able to empathize with the other, to recognize our human condition in the other’s condition of being human.

© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.
© Iñigo Sánchez, from the project ‘Takedown’, 2016-2017.

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