“I always return to the same places over and over again, until I get used to a kind of cycle of illusion, disenchantment and recidivism in which I am capable to understand myself through the images captured”… says Spanish photographer JM Ramírez-Suassi. Born in Majorca in 1970, JM now lives and works in Madrid. His photographs are shot in the same landscapes to observe the change during a long span of time. JM is a self-taught photographer and his works have been exhibited at many locations in Europe and USA besides many print and online features. A set of his images taken from various projects is featured here with his answers to some simple questions:
Sometimes I’ve asked myself the origin, what was the trigger that led me to my passion for photography. I spent my childhood in a small town of a small island. On Sundays, after mass, we would gather for lunch at my grandparent’s house. After lunch, my grandparents’ favourite hobby was to bring out the family albums. They were all made of leather and reliefs. I remember one with Quixote’s scenes, my favorite. It was then, all gathered around the table with coffee scent in the air, when the entire family would go over the lives of the ones no longer among us and, of course, of the living ones, with a “do you remember…?”
I think these afternoons stirred my reveries, since most of the stories told through the pictures, I would adapt and transform them at my convenience. The truth is, with all this troop of prompters around an album, the pictures explained much more than what we could see in them. Definitely, all that had something mysterious for me, they talked about people dead long ago and of others who had migrated and had never come back. Actually, all this is disappearing and I’m aware of it when I take pictures of people. Old people know how to pose much better than the young ones. Nowadays young people interpret photo=selfie and the elders photo=portrait. Maybe that’s why I prefer to steal a photo rather than a posing picture. A picture reminds us that we live in time and we are mortals. However, its power differs from what it celebrates since it is not only a matter of regretting the passing of time, but also, in some way, it preserves us from its burden and when we look at a picture, in this lapse of trance, the idea of death is painless even beautiful.
My evolution as a photographer has been slow. I come from the painting world, but bit by bit photography started to insert itself in my paintings until the latter disappeared completely. Reasons? I love to go for walks and be in tension at the same time as I look and search in my interior. Maybe I believe I can stop time! I’ll tell you a brief anecdote that happened to Antonioni and Tarkovsky while they were looking for locations for a film in Uzbekistan. At that time they both used a Polaroid. I don’t know to whom it happened, but the point is that they took several picture of two old Muslims who were peacefully having tea. Soon afterwards they decided to give the pictures to them but the eldest, after taking a look rejected them with the following words: “What is so good about stopping time?” So the pictures were handed back and the two stood dumbfounded not knowing what to say. Maybe the eldest Muslim knew that life cannot be cut into pieces like a birthday cake, but this is, precisely, what photography does: fragmentation. And if reality can be fragmented, photography is its God.
I’m not a very talkative person. For me photography claims the silence as an answer to the verbal harassment of my conscience. I ask myself questions the majority of people avoid. How can I keep on going? Am I what I want from me? I feel nauseated in the morning, what should I do to avoid it? Well, for me, the answers to these questions are found in photography, a mirror that doesn’t deform nor alter, it simply shows what there is: imperfection.
I’m afraid I don’t have any particular way of proceeding, neither a working method of what not to do. I believe that anything we do explains what we are and what we want. What interests me is when an idea remains floating in my mind during a time because it can move and evolve in very many ways, until one or some of the ways can be manifested in a real manner. It’s like a seed, I don’t really know how it’s going to evolve. The only thing I know is that from this point everything will come out. If I can make it strong and it creates its own identity, apart from me, maybe it can take me to an unexpected place, unknown, that will confront me with what I do. I believe that this is what Cartier‐Bresson meant when he said that there are no recipes to become involved in a story, a situation has to be evoked, the veracity. He spoke of two worlds, the interior and exterior. Both linked to form only one.
Uneasiness and melancholy - I think both have much to do with the fact that I am an islander. If you talk about an island (the same as with a photograph) you’re talking about limitations. It’s the desire and the impossibility of desire. The broken desires, their reflections, the images we erect to confront them, roads which leads us nowhere, the horizons, the limits we assume, all the fears, death. Melancholy is just a hymn to invoke all this. That’s why when I travel I don’t mind taking a bus for 20 hours and look through the windows as the landscapes goes by.
There are many memories related to photography. The images I take reproduce the idea of a personal diary, of notes written down on a notebook. The trip itself, the movement is what matters. It doesn’t matter where I am or where I’m going because I found out that I always take the same type of pictures. It happens to me all the time, even when I am totally positive that I haven’t been to this place, I feel something like a “déjà vu” with the image I took, as if I had taken it before, and maybe this is because of my marked style from which I can’t escape, or, maybe because I keep going back to the same places expecting that time or men may alter the landscape. Not long ago, on the holiday of the Día de los Muertos, I was at the Dolores Pantheon at Mexico City. I was willing to take many photographs but I took none. What happened? People, too many people. You will never see an agglomeration of people in my pictures. On the other hand, some days after, at the solitary cemetery of Tlayacapan with the mountains as undertone behind, I took a series of pictures of an old man sitting on a tomb. His hands caught my attention in a powerful way.
I think photography schools have an important role in teaching and understanding photography. Nowadays anyone can take a picture, but not all of us can give meaning to the picture taken and these schools good task is to assist in this matter. Have in consideration that who is writing all this is a complete self‐taught person, someone who took a longer time to elaborate his work. However, I don’t like the concept of contemporary photography. I consider that photography has to be formal, from the moment its generated within certain limits, being these limits inherited from tradition or by an imposed photographic language. At the same time, these limits are within the limits of the photographer’s belief in what should be or shouldn’t be. The photobooks boom is very interesting. These are usually controlled by the own artist. This fact makes you follow a meditative and critical process such as reading. What is interesting is that a photobook of images is always a possibility. The image will always be an invitation for imagination and will give us the delusion of not living in a static and predictable universe from where all mysteries have been stripped away.
First of all, the classics, but the classics shouldn’t be a relief. I would point out Wall, Di Corcia, Sarfati, Soth, Graham, Sassen, Tillmans, Gruyaert, Teller, Kollar, Winship and many others. However, frankly, I would’ve liked my pictures to look like Cormac McCarthy`s novels and my characters like his. I try to give my characters the impression of being in and out of time, in the world and out of it, away from the make believe world, from the present time, from the fake and from all that shines.
If I had to give advice to someone about photography I wouldn’t know where to begin with. There is no simple manual. The only advice I can give is to be constant. When I say constant, I mean, know well the craft and skills, no matter if you’re Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, and the rest is constant work. And, finally, no one should forget that photography is a language, a form of communication.