Since the very first time that I held a camera in my hands I became interested in taking pictures of the lives of people around me. By looking at these photographs and spending time with these people I was able to question things about myself and my choices in life. Just like John Berger said, children watch before talking and as Pedro Salinas stated later on, we name flowers in order to differentiate them, and the more we grasp our language, the more we learn about ourselves.
Two years and a half ago, as a student, I began to work on a photographic project about young people of Chinese descent living in Madrid. Having previously focused on what was close to me, I was now interested on approaching what lied further away.
I would take long walks around Usera, the Madrid Chinatown, and would ask people if I could take their picture. In their heads, they had the image of a middle aged male reporter doing this to write an article for some magazine, so seeing me was quite surprising for them, as they considered me to be an innocent girl belonging to their generation. So they started inviting me to their parties, their private Facebook groups and even to a wedding. We also worked together organizing events like the Chinese New Year.
However, I began to lose interest in taking pictures of people on the street that were OK with me doing this just because they didn't want to say no or who were not really interested in telling their story along with me. I began to wonder if there was any point in talking about the “Chiñoles” (Spanish-Chinese) if they weren’t the ones telling the story. Did it make sense to continue playing the role in which “I” was an “artist” making “my work”?
Was I going to sell the pictures of these immigrants in a gallery later on without them seeing a penny of those sales? Or perhaps make a photobook? I was sure that I wanted none of that. Moreover, the communication between us was superficial so the images were not translating things the way I wanted them to.
During this process I met Xirou Xiao. We did not talk much but we started to meet on a frequent basis to make pictures.
Xirou was like no one I had ever met before. Little by little, the interest about others dissipated and it was replaced by our mutual curiosity. Each movement that Xirou made turned out to be unpredictable and symbolic. I can’t really put it into words but I felt that our communication was becoming very deep and that the pictures I took of her could express what I had been looking for among all the other portraits.
But, what should I do with all the material I had of the “Chiñoles”? I didn’t want to leave it behind because I was sure that it was both socially and journalistically interesting. Although they were not images I wanted to work on again, they all told stories worth sharing.
Xirou and I thought about organizing different activities to do something about this: since I would no longer talk about the “Chiñoles”, I decided to use that material to work along with them. During an exhibit I held in Usera, Xirou and I printed out the pictures and gave them to high school students that attended the show so that, with a bunch of glue and scissors, they could craft collages using them.
Why had the images of Xirou displaced the rest and taken up their space in my mind?
Xirou and I were creating a project that did not reside in a photographic object but rather in the mind of the one that is imagining, in the act of looking, in our heads and gazes. While exploring documentary work I realized two things: that reality itself had become photographic and therefore there was no need to add on more simulations; and that the borders of our understanding are shaped by a language and a way of seeing and being in this world. The looser those borders are, the more light we will let in.
The worlds that Xirou evokes and the messages she sends out were the most open and honest that I had been able to find. So I started using photography as a way of reproducing a reality different than mine, in order to turn to photography as a poetic extension of what my eyes could see.
While I was working on this article I asked Xirou which were her favourite pictures and why. I was interested in seeing which ones she would choose because that would reflect what she wanted to show and, at the same time, it would challenge my abilities as a portrait photographer. After all, did she feel represented by the images I had taken? Her choices surprised me. She told me that she had chosen these pictures because they simultaneously set her in three times and spaces: the past, in which we shared a moment that we decided to turn into an image, the present, in which we are touching and looking at a physical object, and the future, where she would like to be in a certain way despite the fact that she was the one that appeared in the pictures. She told me that she saw things that she did not know she had o that had been represented with words instead of images.
And this is precisely there that the magic of photography is found.
“La Casa Mía ” (My House) portrays the encounter between two women that come from different cultures and speak different languages, but share an equal desire: to find their place in the world and make a home.
The project is born from mutual curiosity and it explores human adaptability, as well as roots and uprooting.
1. BERGER, John. Ways of Seeing. Bacelona: Gustavo Gili, 2010
2. SALINAS, Pedro. El defensor. Alianza Editorial.