Eirini Grigoriadu reflects about the concept of distance in her essay about typologies published in the magazine “Ars Longa” in 2012 stating that the portraits of the German photographer Thomas Ruff offer a proximity to the individual where we can see each detail of another human being, although we are protect against a personal encounter.
Thomas Ruff strength such a distance between the viewer and the portrayed, creating obstacles to difficult the identification of the individual: using plain and neutral backgrounds, and avoiding showing distinctive elements as clothes to define a type. This approach is radically opposed to the style used by Sander 50 years before, who insistently used the background and clothes to contextualize the individuals and to remark their individuality.
I wanted to articulate my work around the idea of a distance between the subject and the viewer, choosing a theme completely unknown and without no previous references. The challenge was through a series of portraits outline a profile of group of people that are in the foundation of the artistic trade: the artisans.
I chose a medieval market held in the town of Vigo between the 1th and 2th October to complete this exercise. Here we can find two kind of sellers: the artisans that mainly sell products handcrafted by themselves, longside the resellers who merely sell products manufactured at a large scale by industrial factories.
I chose artisans because, in addition to the reason mentioned above, in my opinion they represent the paradigm of personal motivation, creativity and business skills to perfection. In addition, the way of life chosen by almost all of them are inconsistent with current standards of life: the security of a steady job.
Perhaps this helps to create a clear cultural gap between two ways of life possible: those who live clinging to the assurances of a conventional life, which turned them into the alienated work-force that produces goods that neither they see nor belong to them (Marxist theorist alienation), and the latter, who participate actively in the design, manufacture and sale of the products that they make for a living.
Before taking the pictures, I introduced myself to each one, telling them what the purpose of my work was, and chatting with them for a while to get a better understanding of each person. Basicaly, I asked them a few questions about the kind of work they do, their background, experience and practising years, future expectations and so forth. Because I didn’t want to interrupt too much their activity, I didn’t spend more than 5-10 minutes with each one, except with Mario (saddler) who gently explained to me a lot interesting questions about how the artisan trade in general, and his speciality in particular. He invited me to the interior of the stall, showing me some of his remarkable works. All the artisans who I addressed kindly took part on the survey. To take them the pictures I invited them to stand in from of the stall, so in that way we get a greater the feeling of proximity with the subject. Some of them were asked not to smile, trying to be themselves, although the really one who performed as I wanted was Tomas (painter).
The quality of the products sold by these artisans is quite remarkable, that require the use of complex techniques and many labour hours for making them. It is striking, the fact that the prices at which they sell these items are well below the real value they have due to the considerable amount of hours required to elaborate them.
Regarding this particular typology, I decided to choose black and white processing in order to strength the expression of the individual, avoiding the distraction of colourful backgrounds. I did not consider any special order or sequence on which the pictures should be shown; I’m predisposed, for documentary reasons, to show them in the same order on which they were taken and I think that it is an small amount of pictures to achieve a very different reading based on the sequence of the pictures. Maybe, using the picture of Tomas (the painter) as the last one the final meaning of the series becomes more transcendent.
Finally, I would like to recall the idea of the typology as a way to construct a discourse, which tries to “classify, record and preserve the expandable” (Incirlioglu, 1994). In a market increasingly dominated by supermarkets, brands and fierce advertising, the vocation of these artisans represents a kind of heroic resistance against the global economy and products with planned obsolescence. This small collection of photographs is a tribute to his work.