The love that Cristina García Rodero feels for her is such that, every time one of her snapshots becomes visible to her from inside the developing liquid, she feels what she imagines a mother who sees her baby smile for the first time will feel. This is demonstrated in one of the scenes of ‘Cristina García Rodero: The hidden gaze’, documentary throughout which this pioneering photographer – author of the seminal book ‘Hidden Spain’ (1989), first Spanish member of the legendary Magnum agency, National Photography Award, Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts – appears reviewing her work , explaining the foundations of his method and traveling the world to get a little closer to eternity.
By your own admission, you don’t like being interviewed or getting in front of the camera. Why, despite this, did you agree to star in this documentary?
It’s true, in general I prefer my photographs to speak for themselves. But, if the people I want to capture in images refused to be photographed, I wouldn’t be able to do my job; I depend on the generosity of others, both those who allow themselves to be photographed and those who help me access certain places or move among the masses. Therefore, I feel that I should also be generous with other artists, especially if they have as much value and passion as the director of this film, Carlota Nelson.
For a long time, popular festivals had been associated with the primitive, the uncultured, the vulgar and the barbaric.
In the documentary, he recognizes that his profession is somewhere between graphic documentation and artistic creation. How is that balance maintained?
Each person photographed is a world. When he faces the camera he is showing thousands of things, and it is up to me to manage them with as much empathy and as much creativity as possible. And that process is partly ethnographic and partly documentary but, at the same time, each of my photographs is like another paragraph of a great story, which is my way of seeing life.
In your experience, are the ordinary people that professional photographers try to photograph intimidated by the camera, or rather seduced by it?
I think it depends a lot on who carries the camera and how they use it, because there are photographers who are true birds of prey; As in the case of Attila, where they pass no grass grows. In any case, it is impossible to generalize. On one occasion, I remember, I photographed an everyday scene that seemed most tender and funny to me, and a man who appeared in it reacted angrily against me. He treated me like a mangy dog.
In the early ’70s people laughed at me. They said, “Where does she think she’s going? “It will last two years.”
In your opinion, are there things that should never be photographed? Are moral limits necessary?
Every photographer knows when they are in a situation where taking the photo is disrespectful and abusive, even if permission to do so has been obtained. My own limit is the pain of others. Seeing them suffer paralyzes me, I can’t shoot; I cover my face with the camera so I can’t be seen crying. I have a photo of a mother saying goodbye to her 18-month-old baby, who recently died, when they are going to bury him. I remember that, just before giving the baby a kiss, the woman looked at me. That moment was one of the most difficult moments of my entire life to photograph, but also one of my most beloved photos.
The book that made her known, ‘Hidden Spain’, compiled photographs taken since 1973 of the rural world and the festivities and popular rituals throughout the country. Why do you think he was so revolutionary?
For a long time, popular festivals had been associated with the primitive, the uncultured, the vulgar and the barbaric. They were seen as a reminder of the poverty and religious power that had prevailed in Franco’s time. My objective was to demonstrate that popular culture and traditions are not ignorance but wisdom, and that it is essential to prevent them from falling into oblivion.
Is there anything left of the country that ‘Hidden Spain’ portrays?
Very little. They say it to me a lot: “Cristina, the Spain that you photographed no longer exists.” Above all, I marvel at the roads today, they are incredible. I called those roads killers back then.
Currently, thanks to the artificial intelligence, to create photographs you don’t even need a camera. What do you think?
To tell the truth, I’m not sure. I suppose we will have to get used to the fact that there is an area within photographic art based on creation with artificial intelligence, and it will surely have its value, but I know that photography of the real will never die. To be fair, we must assume that all artistic disciplines have undergone permanent transformation due to technological advances. The cameras that photographers have used for a long time have been in charge of making all the adjustments and measurements automatically. I remember that, when I was in the Kosovar refugee camps, there were people who would grab my photometer and put it to their ear thinking it was a telephone.
And about the ‘selfies’, what do you think?
It is an obsession that tires and bores me very much as a citizen, and that worries me as a worker. Nowadays, when I go to photograph an event, it is almost impossible to avoid all the mobile phones that monopolize the entire field of vision. For professional photographers, they are a real pest.
I don’t have children, it would have been very difficult for me to take care of them with the life I have led. And I don’t know what will happen to my photographs when I’m gone.
Did being a woman in a world that for so long has been eminently male make your work very difficult?
In the early ’70s people laughed at me. They said, “Where does she think she’s going? “It will last two years.” I remember Julia Otero once told me in an interview: “You don’t have the physique of a reporter, you look like a mother.” And yes, I am small, I am five feet tall. But my strength is not in the physical but in the mind; The head pulls on the body, and throughout all these years it has become stronger. Now, I am 74 years old, and I know that I have a quarter of a TV show left before my body stops obeying me.
Speaking of the passage of time, how concerned are you about your legacy?
Very much. I don’t have children, it would have been very difficult for me to take care of them with the life I have led. And I don’t know what will happen to my photographs when I’m gone. There is a museum that bears my name, and I am thinking of creating a foundation to save my family the headache of managing all my work. But before that happens, when I am no longer able to travel to Mexico to photograph the Day of the Dead or to India to attend the Kumbh Mela festival, I will dedicate myself to working on my archive to pave the way for those who will come after.