Agustín Zuluaga Olarte is a Colombian photographer with a deep and mature work. His images reflect a powerful dialogue between his imaginations and his perceptions of reality, sometimes dreamlike and always charged with emotion. His book Santísimo Sacramento (self-published) explores, through photographs from his family archive, notions such as memory, forgetfulness and lucidity, associations in a reflection related to the medium and the photographic image.
“Our memories change and dissolve in our minds constantly. Memory loses its codes, it gets altered and has to be recreated. Our lucidity and memory are assaulted by oblivion. Memories only come light a light thunder that fades away as soon as it appears”.
Agustín Zuluaga Olarte, Santísimo Sacramento, Self-Published, 2016
It is always difficult to understand the deep reasons why a photographer puts effort into publishing a book. For the architect Augustin Zuluaga Olarte, that need to represent memories and the dissipation of remembrance in a book format became necessary after the loss of his father and the development of Alzheimer syndrome of his mother Teresa del Santísimo Sacramento. The relation between images and memory is one of the oldest problematic issues photography has been dealing with. We could even think that this topic is born with photography itself.
Three years ago, browsing through his father belongings, Augustin found a set of negatives and photographs, an archive of images of his parents when they were young. The essence of his family history was contained in those negatives. Both his parents were smiling at the camera and recording most of their trips around the country. Nothing in those images could make one think about loss and forgetting. The innocence of life was still printed in those photographs as a fresh memory. By reading the novel Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer, Agustin understood that in literature and in arts writers have been describing from the inside most of the mechanisms of remembrance. In Swann’s Way, Proust gave the sense of smell and taste the capacity to engage an emotional reaction of the mind, as if those senses where containing man’s access to very deep memories. Not so long ago, scientist discovered that those were in fact the only senses connected to the hippocampus, the part of our brain that contains our long-term memory. How could photography reveal long-term memories? Is there a way for photography to connect the photographer's family story with his actual sensitiveness and grief? How can photography open a different way of expressing our reaction towards the mother’s inevitable loss of memory?
Those questions guided the editing language adopted by Agustín in his first self-published book Santísimo Sacramento. They were a compass for organizing folios and sequencing images and texts that could recreate a very personal journal into the mother’s illness. At that time, Julián Barón opened an experimental workshop on photobook making in Bogotá and this gave Agustin the first clues on how to embrace all those images and make them fit together.
The book starts with blank pages, as if they were a mind trying to remember what has long been forgotten. Then comes emptiness and void, impressions of what is no longer there, moments that have been archived and contained and that only photography is bringing back to present. The next chapters talk about the parents, the family memories and Teresa’s passion for flowers. All those memories have been gathered to compose a sensitive conversation between the photographer and his memory, the fresco of a san being confronted with loss. What is most striking is the way this book makes a personal experience become universal and allow all kinds of interpretations.
When PUNTO DE FUGA asked Agustin about the essence of the book editing, he shared the words by Borges as a metaphor of his deep search into the mechanisms of remembrance: “Memory of man is not a sum or an addition; it is a disorder of infinite possibilities for the mind”. That is what that magnificent book is about, infinite possibilities of dealing with the fading memories of a family history.