Review: Andrea Josch on Luis Weinstein
Esto ha sido
Santiago, Chile, 2014
Designed by Carolina Zañartu
9 x 11 7⁄8 in. (23 x 30 cm)
35 black-and-white photographs
Luis Weinstein, the editor-in-chief of the South American photography magazine Sueño de la Razón and cofounder of the Festival Internacional de Fotografía en Valparaíso, Chile, has spent more than thirty years recording different aspects of everyday life. (Full disclosure: I work with Weinstein at Sueño de la Razón.) His documentary images capture these happenings not in terms of the decisive moment, but rather in the tranquility of our sociocultural surroundings. It is as if his black-and-white photographs were the representation of a silent gaze, for which infinite possibilities of ordering the world exist through images. One of the subjects most frequently explored by Weinstein is street life: a human geography teeming with narratives which, taken all together, configure the contemporary landscape of Latin America.
Esto ha sido, Weinstein’s most recent book, invites us to revisit the nearly seventeen years of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, forty years after the coup d’état on September 11, 1973. His account begins with the front page of the newspaper on September 13, 1973, with its headlines announcing the takeover by the military junta and the suicide of Chilean president Salvador Allende. It ends with a ballot from the referendum held on October 5, 1988, that leaves no doubt as to the photographer’s political stance. The book can be read from the subjective vantage point of someone who personally experienced the story told in it. The notion of esto ha sido, or “that-has-been,” was formulated by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida to describe the singular motivation of photographic discourse. As regards the relationship of a photograph to its referent, we can read it here as the ineluctable connection to what was there in the view of someone who has constructed, by means of visual annotations, his own life.
The book contains several important visual quotations, starting with the photograph of the Pasaje Bavestrello in Valparaíso, made famous in an image from 1952 by the legendary photographer Sergio Larrain; Weinstein captures it from the opposite angle, establishing a dialogue with the history of the image. Then comes the double title/headline on a photographed newspaper, “The Diary of the Guerrilla Fighters,” to whom this book is definitely dedicated: those anonymous citizens who struggled and resisted. And finally the lament of that blind accordion player, singing to a paint stain, in allusion this time to the resignification of the documentary photograph and as a quotation of the video-art action Oil Change carried out by Eugenio Dittborn in 1981: the Chilean artist poured out 350 liters of burnt motor oil in the Tarapacá desert. There are also self-quotations, such as the incorporation of two photographs originally published in Ediciones económicas de fotografía chilena (May 10, 1983), which establish links with Weinstein’s own personal archive.
If there has been a recurring feature of notable Chilean photobooks and visual publications since the 1970s, it is the fragility and delicacy of their material qualities. Esto ha sido is a book which, through a revisited visuality, achieves a density of layers and readings in both its narrative fabric and its articulated network of intertexuality and visual connections.
Andrea Josch is a photographer, researcher, and independent photography curator with a master’s degree in cultural management. She is currently the academic director of the Visual Arts School at UNIACC University, and founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine Sueño de la Razón (Dream of Reason). suenodelarazon.org
The PhotoBook Review is a publication dedicated to the consideration of the photobook—focusing on the best photography books being published, from the coffee-table book to the handmade artist’s edition, and on creating a better understanding of the ecosystem of the photobook as a whole.