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Beyond the image: How Spanish photographers Albarrán Cabrera formulate experience through pictures

Categories: Western Europe, Spain, Arts & Culture, Ideas
"The Mouth of Krishna" series Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2013

“The Mouth of Krishna” series. Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2013

For Spanish photographers Anna P. Cabrera and Angel Albarrán [1], time, memory and beauty constitute the three main pillars of their professional and emotional approaches to art.

Signing their work as “Albarrán Cabrera”, the couple’s bold pieces stand out in today’s competitive photography arena due to their use of a wide range of processes and materials, including platinum, palladium, cyanotype and gelatin silver printing. They have also developed processes that incorporate Japanese gampi paper [2] and gold leaf in their pigment prints.

“All this serves just one single purpose: we want to have far more parameters to play with the viewer’s experience than just the image itself,” they said. “The texture, color, finishing, tones and even the border of a print can give extra information to the viewer.”

Albarrán and Cabrera have exhibited their works in the United States, Spain, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Lebanon and Italy, among other countries. Their recent exhibition [3], “Subtle Shadows of Bamboo on Bamboo”, ended on March 10, 2019 in Antwerp, Belgium. In April 2019, Albarrán and Cabrera’s photos will be exhibited at AIPAD Show  [4]in New York by IBasho Gallery and also at Art Paris  [5]by Esther Woerdehoff Gallery.

In an interview with Global Voices, Albarrán (b. 1969, Barcelona) and Cabrera (b. 1969, Seville) discussed their work processes, worldview and the secrets to working together as a couple.

Omid Memarian: Notions of memory and identity figure prominently in your photography. What's your personal connection with these themes and how are they reflected in your work?

Anna: Everything we are is memory. When dealing with anything related to science, you draw on what scientists have already discovered to understand the world. Regarding identity, you are who you are because of your memories. You are your first anniversary, you are your mother’s memories, you are the memories of your school days. You are all this. Even the way we conceptualize time to understand reality is based on memory. This is more evident in people who suffer from memory loss. For them, time does not exist.

“The Mouth of Krishna” series. Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2016

We hope that our photographs trigger subconscious associations in viewers based on their memories. We even prefer that the viewer interpret the photograph in a way totally different from what we had originally imagined. Thus, they will create a new set of ideas for themselves.

Memory is the thread that weaves all of our series. “The Mouth of Krishna” is the core series. It is the result of all our learnings so far. It is related to how our memories keep our reality consistent, how we categorize what we perceive and how we interlink it.

From time to time, we realize that some concepts gain more importance and then this generates a new portfolio. Thus, “This is you here” studies the concept of identity and how it is created based on our memories.

“Kairos” revolves around the idea of how humans perceive time. Time is not something tangible, it’s just a property of the universe. We create the concept of time with the help of our memories, and we divide it into past, present and future.

"The Mouth of Krishna" series Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2016

“The Mouth of Krishna” series. Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2016

OM: You have spent a lot of time in Japan. How does this particular geography connect to your worldview of art and culture?

Angel: Japanese culture is very important for us and our work. This culture, as many others, is subject to many stereotypes and enormous misconceptions. At the beginning, you can fall into the trap of its aesthetics and philosophy. But once you study the language, its people and history, you discover the reality about this country: the good, bad and horrible things that any country has. And yet, there is still something fascinating: Japan offers us a completely different interpretation of reality compared to our Western conception. We all live in the same world, but it is interpreted from many, and totally diverse, points of view.

The Western world is obsessed with symmetry and perfection. We understand beauty shaped by universal laws, granting great importance to the perfect and the eternal. Japanese aesthetics are, however, very different. They see beauty in the impermanent, the imperfect, the rustic and the melancholy. They long for what is not eternal, slightly broken, modest and fragile.

OM: The aesthetic aspect of your work is very bold. In a world in which classical depictions of beauty have been pushed aside, how is your work being received in the art world?

Anna: Beauty is a very complex topic. It is not only difficult to define what beauty is, but also to deal with it. Prettiness worries serious people a lot. They are afraid that beauty will make you forget what life is really like. But as the philosopher Alain de Botton stated: “We need pretty things close to us not because we are in danger of forgetting the bad stuff, but because terrible problems weigh so heavily on us, that we’re in danger of slipping into despair and depression…The art a country or a person calls ‘beautiful’ gives you vital clues as to what is missing.”

We do not consciously look for beauty in our work. We search through the mystery of the unknown to experiment with the beauty of discovering.

“The Mouth of Krishna” series. Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2016

OM: You have done nature photography in both Europe and Japan. What differences do you see in these two series of works?

Angel: As Westerners, we are surprised and amazed by the aesthetic and philosophical interpretation that the East has developed about the world. It seems very different from ours and yet, both Western and Eastern schools of thought have a simultaneous origin. Reviewing the pre-Socratic Greek thinkers of the Miletus school, we can find in their line of thought a common motivation with the Oriental culture: nature.

Oriental thought, and even more specifically, Japanese thought has not lost this ancestral contact with nature, maintaining it throughout the evolution of its culture. The ideals and concepts of Japanese aesthetics are mainly influenced by religion. In both Shintoism and Buddhism, the Gods are not the creators of nature, but nature is an individual entity. In our Western tradition, the Judeo-Christian concept of a creator or God broke this link and made us separate ourselves from the traditional aesthetic ideals of ancient Greece. The meaning of terms such as Wabi-sabi, Miyabi, Shibui or Yuugen originally existed in our Western culture but they did not evolve as in the Japanese case. We are gladdened by the fact that this common root is present in our work: usually viewers cannot differentiate between the images taken in Japan from those taken in other places.

"The Mouth of Krishna" series. Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2018

“The Mouth of Krishna” series. Pigments, Japanese paper and gold leaf. 2018

OM: What are the major elements that influence your work and the way you look at the environment and objects?

Angel: Different kinds of artists belonging to different disciplines such as photographers, painters, writers and scientists have always had a strong influence on us. What shapes our vision of reality is knowledge coming from literature, philosophy, science, linguistics, architecture, music and the arts in general. Our work is driven by learning. Photography helps us understand our reality. Photographs, for us, are like visual notes in a notebook. These visual notes are taken with a specific state of mind and reflect our mental structure towards reality. Little by little over time, we review our work and this gives us new ideas and perspectives, in the same way that you would proceed with a notebook or a diary.

OM: What are the similar concepts or themes that make your audiences from different continents interested in following and enjoying your works?

 Anna P. Cabrera and Angel Albarrán. Curtesy of the artists.

Anna P. Cabrera and Angel Albarrán. Courtesy of the artists.

Anna: Human beings use their sensory system to go beyond the physical world and into the realm of the mind. We interpret the information we receive and thus we create our perception of the world around us. Space and time are, in fact, concepts created by human beings to understand our own reality. We work with themes and concepts that are universal, that are common to most human beings no matter their origin, culture or religion. 

OM: Art is extremely personal and we see both of your signatures in your works. How does your work represent your personal visions and characteristics? How is your collaborative process?

Angel: We can't see each other working separately from the other. We live together and have common interests. We work individually whenever we go out to take pictures. That is, each of us takes their own camera and works independently from the other. We go together to the location with our gear but each of us concentrates on the spot and works in isolation. Once we get home, our images are mixed and we work in the darkroom or with the computer without thinking who actually took the picture.

Anna: We cannot find negative sides to working in collaboration. What’s more, we cannot see each other working individually. From a logistics point of view, working as we do is very convenient. As we are two photographers, we capture more images and from different angles in the same amount of time that just one person would take. If one of us has a problem with the camera, the other can help. If one gets blocked, we can talk to each other, so we can get focused again. These are just some of the advantages to mention a few.

The creative process is highly stressful. Creators have to make decisions all the time about everything. And as we all know, nobody has the right answer for everything. As a creator, you have nobody to turn to for help.