Written by @loretosocorro
The Castle of Mata will host, from June 09 and under the celebrations for the founding festivities, the latest project by Ángel Luis Aldai: "The City is you", an exhibition that portrays the city through its women .
How did this Ángel Luis show come about?
In 2010 I had taken some photographs of women in Africa and that was very popular. From the Culture area of the City Council of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the proposal was launched to do a job like that, in this city.
Aldai explains that although this project also includes women like Mary Sánchez, born in La Isleta and who is "the voice" of the Canary Islands, Nardy Barrios -the first woman to rise to the national parliament-, or Dolores Millares Sal, for her work in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Gran Canaria, what was interesting was that it be as anonymous as possible.
How is that anonymity achieved, what criteria have you followed to choose and show that unknown woman?
In some cases I wanted to show women in unusual jobs and who perform tasks in a world of men, as a tugboat owner. In this case, I did the search by calling acquaintances at the dock, asking about the women who were in those companies.
On other occasions I looked for and photographed a housewife who is the mother of nine children from the Jinámar neighborhood, the president of a neighborhood association from Escaleritas or ladies from Tamaraceite…
How was that search and the Aldai meetings?
They've been like blind dates. The beautiful and endearing thing is that we had never seen each other: neither I them, nor they me. I didn't know the physique, the age... The meetings were in the women's environment: their work, their neighborhood, their home.
Why in the environment of the women photographed?
Going to their land was important to start a conversation, meet, look at each other, look for the place and then start taking the photos, until the magic of that unique moment came out.
How many photos on average do you shoot until you have that moment?
More than average -I can take thirty to fifty photos perfectly- what I do value and I usually calculate is that if after fifteen minutes I don't have a good photo... and what's done, it's done!
Can you describe one of those photo shoots?
When I start there is a certain nervousness in the person I am going to portray; sometimes they have doubts about whether they will look good... I tell them "leave it in my hands, that's my part...", and the nervousness disappears in them while I take photos. I begin to see them, the looks, how they look, how their gesture is being put on... it's a matter of getting something out of each one, until I have a moment in which I think I've already taken that good photo.
How do you live it?
It is an unrepeatable moment, it is a pleasure. I really enjoy it because I realize that I have the image… I already have it!
When the cameras were not digital, did you also notice or wait for the development?
I come from a totally analog culture and I worked the same way. I don't look at the photos I take a lot, just for a moment to control the lights and then in production, then yes. I'm also surprised because I thought I had the good one here, but it's the same thing a little earlier or a little later.
Do you do touch-ups?
No, no... at best to remove a stain on older women. What I do is use some light and contrast parameters, so that they all come out as natural as possible. Mitigate everything with light, with a super open diaphragm and a minimum focus, looking where to focus and blur to have an interesting effect. The idea is to focus on the person and her gaze.
Are the women he has photographed going to be surprised?
I think they are in for a very pleasant surprise. And with the importance that I have given them: with the photos well printed and very well framed, in a very nice space like this museum. Most of them have not been portrayed, it will be the first time in their lives.
Those who already know these women, what will they see in their portraits?
They are going to discover another part of them, which is what I have tried to achieve.
The exhibition "The City is you", with the eyes of anonymous women, what city does it show?
I have taken the photo in its surroundings: I visited La Paterna, Schamann, Playa de Las Canteras, Vegueta – Precisely there we met in the middle of a report and he photographed us: the singer Nereida Peña, the photographer Yaiza Socorro and myself, another “blind date” of the three of us with him- I visited the woman in her environment. The important thing is the portrait, but something from the city is always there: a taxi driver in Schamann, a woman with her clothes hanging. The person and the city united.
Hence asking for some reflections from the participants?
Yes. We are going to include twenty reflections on the city in the exhibition. They will be labeled on the wall. Apart from seeing photos, I want people to read too.
Have they been thoughts of women who love the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria?
Yes, and they all have a personal vision of the city, all different. This is curious and beautiful. I had the help of Alicia Llarena, who saw all the texts.
Hands -Aldai's- that do not stop housing an imaginary camera throughout the interview. Light and shadow. Stillness and movement. Portraits, reflections and something else about this project that Aldai reveals to us.
I am making a book, with three magnificent texts by Alicia Llarena, Melania Domínguez and Inés Herrero, who are three totally different women. The book will be the one hundred and twenty-five photos in the exhibition and it is the project reflected on paper. It will be presented at the end of the year and will include more than the sample and the texts.
What else will it include?
At the end of June, when the exhibition is over, I am going to summon the women and give each of them their photo and let them enjoy that moment: take a selfie and send it to me…. that documentation will go with the assembly, the guided tours that are made, the entire exhibition with the inauguration, the pick-up… All that world will be in an important book, well finished.
It seems like a job done with love...
It is a pampering of the city and the people, because I have been surprised by the kindness and empowerment of the women who have wanted to participate in this project. I have had a marvelous relationship with all of them, because of the complicity... I have met one hundred and twenty-five women, I think only five were known to me, the rest were all blind encounters. They are magnificent.
Has no one refused to be photographed?
No, nobody. Someone has told me that she was very embarrassed… »I look bad in the photos»; but I reassured them. Ninety-eight percent have said yes to me at first. "Yes, whenever you want, right now, I get nervous but we'll stay..."
Are all the women in the sample adults?
The age range is from 16 to 88. There are girls who are studying ESO, one who got number 10 at the EBAU and who is now studying in the Netherlands, to older women like Mary Sánchez, a German baker who She has been making bread in La Isleta for 30 years, a very nice woman who runs the San Cristóbal fishermen's brotherhood, the lady from Jinámar... All ages and all social strata in the city.
Ángel Luis, do you look back and see your first photos?
I have many photos that no one has seen. I see them alone.
That should be banned...
No, no… that is customary, because I do a lot of work and I always keep something just for myself. If there's a chance I'll take them out but if I don't I'll look at them myself.
From the year that I was traveling through Africa and visited nine countries, alone, with a driver and that was a tremendous adventure, I made two exhibitions. Well, from that trip I have a section of photographs that no one has seen and that for me are the best: women aged thirteen or fourteen who work as porters with zinc basins. You see them sitting with the basins and… the mafias mistreat them. It was the ambassador who introduced me to some of them, at a school, and I began to take photos of them with the basins, each one with their own. It's wonderful work.
Tell us more…
I also have a work on the tricks, in black and white, which I have not shown either. They are photos of when I was doing work for Tourism in Fuerteventura, with the shepherds. I was running with them. I was just another pastor. From there I saved photos for myself. It's hard for me to take the best photo, I have that habit, I keep something for myself and from my early days as well.
When did you start taking photos?
In the year 72. I had never picked up a camera although I had cultural interests: I liked art, I painted; but one day a good friend asked me to take a picture of her and I had no idea, nor did I know how to load a reel and had to have some manual parameters.
I went to the house of a photographer friend and told him to show me, with a Rolleiflex that shot eight photos.
It is a beautiful camera that had to be looked over. My friend put the reel on me and told me to put it on 11 aperture and 250 speed. “Don't move it, you focus and that's it”. I took the photos in the Alcaravaneras and went back to my friend's house.
"Let's reveal it...", I said yes and started to watch him: how he removed the roll, how he put it in the cylinder in the dark room and when I saw the red light it already began to fascinate me.
Has a new world opened up for you?
When we put it in the enlarger and I saw the light with the negative, I said to myself "how interesting all this is", but when I put it in the tray and I began to see the photos as they were showing: that image being born... it was like magic. And then, being able to choose whether to cut it or leave it a little longer... from that moment I wanted to be a photographer. I convinced my mother to lend me money to buy a Nikkormat camera, cheap and still.
What kind of photography did you do in the beginning?
I started doing a lot of child portraits, first communions, weddings. Later, when the Patronages were created -in 78- and the tourism and construction boom began, there were hotels that wanted photos for their catalogues. I was assistant to two great photographers: Tulio Gatti and Alberto Farah, Italians who were working here. With them I learned what production work is. We went to the hotels loaded with huge flashes and slides had to be developed.
When did you start in landscape photography?
I started taking landscape photos in 76 or 77. I was very interested in photography and I was lucky that it coincided with the creation of the Tourist Boards and that photography began to be in high demand; which led me to start traveling to all the islands, which is something that I liked and still like. I was combining landscape photos with portraits, I made fashion catalogues. I also did journalistic photography, for many years, when I was in charge of the music festival and from '89 to 2006.
What photograph do you need to take?
The corporate document. Hence this exhibition. I wanted to make it a documentary, like the step that I was missing and that I always wanted to do.
Aldai's talent is that he is able to give us the light he sees in the people he portrays and, furthermore, the light that emanates from the place. What light do the photos of the islands have?
It is a special light: clean, bright and so different in each season. That of autumn is different from that of summer, due to the height of the sun and how it affects it. To make one on the beach you have to take advantage of when the light is overhead, so that the water turns turquoise because it takes out the bottom. Fuerteventura is an island to take photos in the afternoon, from five o'clock in spring.
What is the light of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria?
I always work either very early or after three or four in the afternoon. In the Playa de las Canteras is where you can only photograph at twelve in the morning. If you photograph high up, because the light hits and returns to the sea, and it is more stupendous and the sand whiter.
Going back to the exhibition at the Castillo de Mata, Aldai tells us that what he has tried to do in his portraits is that they all have a very special light. We asked why the black and white photos.
It is my first exhibition in black and white. I wanted to do something different, something that I lacked: photography that is a bit of a social document and using a 50mm lens.
What does it mean to use the 50 millimeter?
It is what the eye sees. So I have to be very close to people. I have not wanted to use a lens, nor a telephoto lens to get to a meter or meter and a half. Talking and achieving the connection with the person. This makes it much easier to zoom in and also the type of camera I have because I'm focusing over here -Aldai shows us again his hands full of a nothingness that is the friendly camera and he shows it and points to it so well, that we see it with nothing more than his gestures and his words- but the optics are slightly displaced to the right, so you look at me but I am photographing you with a certain displacement. This gives something to the look, different, close.
And it makes people forget about the camera…
Exactly. Also because I use a camera that is not very bulky that allows me to talk while taking the photo, laugh with the person...
Will "The city is you" have a second part?
It's fine like that. There were eighty photos at the beginning and I ended up with one hundred and twenty-five. There came a time when I said to myself “I have to stop”, because the dates were approaching, but interesting things were coming to me.
How do you disconnect from such intense work?
It's not only the photos but also the production that has kept me busy for a year, so when I'm done with the book I'll stop. But I stop taking photos. I have the physical need to take photos.
Do you rest doing photography?
Yes, I take the car and go. I take photos on the outskirts of the city, I take landscapes, it depends...
When are you going to show us what you have in store?
Every year, year and a half, I will try to do something to keep me active. Not only photos, not everything is based on taking good photographs. You have to look for the ideal moment because the important thing is to articulate it in a project and give it shape. You will see, those who visit the exhibition that, although all the photos are different, in different places... they have a link. The project is beautiful and for me it was very gratifying.
The shadow that Aldai plays with also appears in the interview and is part of this trip that he has offered us. The hidden treasure of this photographer tells stories that, at the moment, are only for him. Meanwhile, at the Castillo de Mata in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the women who pose for his gaze will reveal other ways of being a city.