Interview with Luis González Palma, Photographer, PHotoEspaña

Guatemalan artist Luis González Palma uses the medium of photography to approach themes of memory and identity. Working predominantly in portraiture, he draws inspiration from religious and Baroque painting, as well as from his former studies in architecture and cinematography, and from his own ‘mestizo’ background. Many of his images focus on the plight of the indigenous Mayas and the mestizo people of Guatemala. We speak to the photographer about his practice, current exhibition Constelaciones de lo intangible and participation in this year’s PHotoEspaña in Madrid.

A: Your portrait work makes reference to historical art painting – mimicking the intensity of the gaze of the subject. What do you wish to instil in the viewer through the use of this motif?
LG: What particularly interests me about my portrait work is to generate a certain empathy between the image and the viewer. I want the viewer to be able to see himself or herself in the fragility, vulnerability and precariousness present in the portrait. If there are questions, they are in an existential level, related to the uncertainty of life, death, love and disaffection.

A: Images fromTu / Mi Placer and Jerarquias de la intimidad (la anunciacion) depict solemn or pensive portraiture shots and spaces, in which you have juxtaposed something that does not belong or is very curious. Can you tell us about your inclination towards ‘the uncanny’?
LG: The idea of working with images that somehow express ‘the uncanny’ comes from the same Freudian theories where the uncanny is regarded as “the familiarly strange, or the strangely familiar”. The settings of these series reflect a puzzling, dreamlike world, out of phase from reality but recognizable in some way. The main idea was to create images of mental spaces loaded with a certain symbolism related to loss and emptiness.

A: What is the reasoning for the different forms of manipulation seen in your photographs?
LG: Strictly speaking, photography is not what interests me the most. My concern is with the image itself. I am interested in its complexity, what it hides, the mysteries it hides. Each image requires a particular support so that it can contain the tensions I want to express, that is why each image works on certain materials. Depending on the materials, the sense of the image can be amplified, making its reading more complex.

A: Through your most recent series, you say you wish to document that which is ‘invisible’. What aspects of fundamental human experience have become the most important to you to communicate as a tangible experience through your work?
LG: One of the main aspects of the human experience is the void. The existential void. Being aware that we drift in an incomprehensible and fragmented world. Alongside this there is fear, uncertainty and the contingency of life itself. My project somehow is to find ways of representation that evoke these experiences close to the unspeakable or to silence. Images where you can explore your meaning in the world.

A: In your opinion, how do platforms such as PHotoEspaña benefit artists’ careers?
LG: When you want to share your practice with society, you have the idea that there is something important that your work has to say to others. Festivals like PHotoEspaña serve as a platform to spread this idea, to expand a way to understand the world and its mystery. The work is realised by the viewer, and such encounters make it possible for many persons to have access to your own obsessions. From that situation, it is possible to have feedback that contributes to continuation of your process and therefore, to grow as an individual and as a creator.

Luis González Palma, Constelaciones de lo intangible, until 18 October, part of PHotoEspaña, Espacio Fundación, Telefónica, Fuencarral 3, 28004 Madrid.

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1. Luis Gonzalez Palma. Mobius. 2014 © Luis Gonzalez Palma. Courtesy of the artist and PHotoEspaña.