Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Conversation with Cristina Fraire

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

Cristina Fraire's
photography is other worldly, focusing on the rural and segregated communities in the hillsides of Argentina. Like many of the artists I have interviewed for the Nymphoto conversation series, I met Cristina during her residency at Light Work. Even though we had some language barriers to cross, we still bonded through photographs and some of her home-cooked food. Her work is incredibly thoughtful, showing the landscape, the the people, and the emotion. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997 and I'm incredibly honored to share this conversation with you. She does not have a website yet so I hope you can enjoy the images and words here.

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself.

Cristina Fraire: I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eldest daughter of a home full of contradictions. From my parents I absorbed the more transgressive and romantic aspects: an openness of spirit and a sense of self criticism, dreams of liberty and authenticity, thirst for research.

My mother took care of passing on her love for the visual arts, my father a certain exaltation of the senses and a love for nature. Both, an artistic insight.

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

NP: How did you discover photography?

CF: Up to the age of thirty three, I went through several universities, fighting a battle between the powerful necessity of finding my own identity and that of answering the paternal mandate of the "professional daughter". My father's death and at the same time my encounter with photography put an end to my studies in psychology, placing me at the very door of my own desires.

Driven by this newly discovered passion I decided to look for a job as a photographer. Then came an unexpected battle for work: I was surprised to find so much discrimination and prejudice. I had never imagined such irrationality towards the feminine condition existed, and far less so in the field of journalism. I worked in all kinds of publications.

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

CF: Together with my own professional development grew the urge for self-expression and creating my own photographic stories. At the beginning of 1989, I participated in a workshop coordinated by influential national and foreign photographers and editors. It was a one week intensive workshop with Marc Bussell, Fred Ritchin, Sebastiao Salgado, Susan Meiselas, Abbas, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, and Robert Pledge. The experience from the workshop was a landmark for many who participated. It allowed one to produce work with the pleasure of research with a community. The desire of a personal path in photography was reaffirmed and confirmed as possible. I completed a photographic essay on "Medecins Du Monde" and the sanitary conditions of marginal people in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

NP: How do your projects come about?

CF: At the end of 1989, I came across another landmark; a place appealing to my obsessions of isolated communities. An isolated and desolate landscape of the Pampa of Achala was a traditional community where people live and transform their landscape. From this space, I felt a mandate to go back and make photographs. The following year I would start there my photographic essay: An Austere Life, Shepherds at the End of the Millennium, which is based on the life of a shepherd's community that live on the Altas Cumbres in the province of Córdoba (Argentina).

I have developed four documentary photography series about various social groups who are victims of exclusion policies. My concern about social exclusion, prejudice, and identity has encouraged my choice and approach to topics. One of my aims in developing these essays has been trespassing the prejudice barrier, bringing light to the identities of the outcast, rescuing their humanity, culture, skills, art, and showing the “delicate balances” and extreme conditions under which they survive and struggle.

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

1989: My first documentary story, Atención Primaria [Primary Care] about the sanitary conditions in the neighborhoods on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and the task developed by Medecins du Monde.

1990: I start to work on La vida austera (An Austere Life), which is based on the life of a shepherd's community that live on the Altas Cumbres [heights] in the province of Córdoba (Argentina).

2001: Donde la ciudad se interrumpe [Where the City is Interrupted] deals with the housing conditions in shantytowns in Buenos Aires.

2002: Pequeños equilibrios [Delicate Balances] about the life of La Boca dwellers. This neighborhood is very close to the Casa Rosada (government house) and the financial and banking district of Buenos Aires. This neighborhood has the highest percentage of homes with unsatisfied basic needs. I was hired by the Escuela de Capacitación Docente (CePA), sort of teacher training school, and developed the chapter called Niños que habitan las escuelas [Children Inhabiting Schools], a story made up of 30 photos about the lives of the children that live in La Boca to be used in training teachers of state-owned schools in Buenos Aires.

These essays have been exhibited in Argentina and abroad. Besides, they have been awarded prizes by the Guggenheim Foundation and the Fondo Nacional de las Artes (Argentina).

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

NP: What's next?

CF: Nowadays I am returning to the highlands, I began the second part of An Austere Life, trying to mix between the past and the present in new pictures, looking for the present of those that I photographed in the past and shooting them again beside their images taken in the past.

My jobs: I am working in the National Library as Photography curator and in a cultural center related to human rights which is located in a place where - during the last dictatorship- a concentration camp of the army was located.

from An Austere Life, © Cristina Fraire

NP: Thank you very much, Cristina!


Vigó said...

A pure coincidence brought me to the world of Cristina and her work. I saw her fotos on display in Buenos Aires' prestigious Centro Cultural San Martin and was awestruck.
By chance, I met her a few weeks later in a close friend's humble house, in the Sierras de Cordoba.
Of course, the photos 'come to life' in their original format etc. but seeing them here is inspiring. Thankyou!
Andrea Prodan (an Italo-Scotsman who now lives in Argentina).

Rona Chang said...

I would love to see more of this project and read about the area in depth. Cristina, do you have any books? Please make a website!