A mirrored window
by Francisco Provedo.
Using camera traps, Francisco gives us a fleeting access into the animalness;and from that necessary distance we see death through an opening that makes us question our own human mortality.
They say they saw an animal, a cougar, a kind of strange cat, or a fox. They saw him go by one time, they saw his footprint, or he killed some sheep and left the evidence behind. They saw him casually, almost without a possibility to see him again, as if it was a vision more than a fact.
I’ve had a marked admiration for the world of wild animals since I was a boy, for news about prehistoric animals, fossil findings, animals seen in strange situations, or anything linked to them. Open landscapes, feathers, wind, biologists’ drawings and notebooks, creaks, caves, skirts, rocks, moss, arrows, bones, also travelogues, boundaries, places with little population or none at all.
When I was a boy I went to a family field with my parents. I remember perfectly sitting in the front seat of the car during the 5-hour road trip counting absolutely every animal that passed along the road. We would arrive at night and I would start my silent list: 89 hares, 4 guanacos, that many rheas, that many pichis, a fox—if we were lucky.
I went to sleep thinking of those animals we had seen, lingering in my head remained an image of that instant that takes a hare to cross the road at night. You couldn’t see anything beyond what the car headlights shone.
We would go out at night to hunt for hares, we carried a flashlight that shone very strongly, we would turn off the van’s motor, turn on the reflector and I would play again at counting animals, and distinguish them by the color of their eyes at night. Foxes, sheep, hares, nightjars, sometimes something dark and elusive I couldn’t identify.
And there I lingered sort of switched on, something kept me thinking when I returned home… What was that dark creature that barely showed his back or his tail among the grass and left during that same night?
Appropriated images help me rebuild those childhood memories: explorers’ drawings, biologists notebooks, maps, fossil details, animals that have only been seen a few times and there was hardly an outline of their silhouette.
I walk hours on the field, 9, 10 hours, sometimes I spend the night. I go out and walk very carefully with my camera, I walk in a way that must be funny, I try not to take any wrong steps. I walk and I collect the objects that always interested me and that give me clues about life in these places: fossils, bones, roots, feathers, among other things. I put them together and I photograph them over a black background.
When I find a place that interests me, I photograph it and leave a camera trap installed, it’s a camera that is activated by a movement sensor, and captures images or videos of whatever passes in front of it at that moment.
I’m interested in the elusiveness that occurs in encounters with wild animals and at the same time in how elusive and infrequent the representation of these encounters, or the lives of those animals, is. As if we were trying to show something that won’t allow us to be represented. Maybe our difficulty to encounter them is the threshold that separates us as species from all of them, and that condemns us to an insurmountable distance.
The attempts to come close to understanding these animals’ lives don’t grasp the animalness—a semantic distinction I use to understand the distance that separates me from other things—and with full awareness of that idea I like to play at testing the limits of vision and the encounter with the animal, alway knowing that it’s impossible, and that its representation is nothing more than a vague memory, a ‘I saw it at such place, I heard something’, I can approach the animal, but animalness always slips away.
I always expect that dark creature that continued its path, I’m looking for the two cougars that came down very hungry that winter and left their tracks near the house and then escaped, the white guanaco (Yastay) that wanders around Bajo Caracoles and takes care of those who walk alone in the countryside and who are respectful with their walk, I’m looking for the dwarf horse (Hippidion) that lived around there centuries ago and left for me his teeth, his ribs, I look for the still whale, some vestige of Kooch, I look for the Patagonian seahorse, the mountain monkey, the scrubland cat, the south Andean deer.
I’m not interested in a direct encounter with them, I don’t want to use a telephoto lens to see them up close, to me, doing that is disrespectful, is to not understand that there is a huge distance that separates me. I’d like to see like they see, go unnoticed, wait, hide, camouflage myself, be silent, or yell really loud. Get together in a group, be hungry, run, jump over a wire, nest in a big rock, or hide in a hole sheltered from the wind.
I wonder about a lot of things when I walk alone, what would happen to me if I’m left here alone, if I get hurt, how long would I survive, how long will I be here...there? What will I eat if I’m left alone? What is the extreme situation for these things? Where does this all lead me?
To look at the world through a camera trap is to look from a necessary distance: there is no one human in that moment.
However, what we see is ourselves. In an inseparable totality.
Humans, we die, and we are done.
Animals die, and continue. Isn't this circle the thing?
Open up, scatter, bury. Make it quick, enable, allow. Do not do anything other than what you are.
I lived through this project before doing it. I was exposed to death since I was very young: watching an animal die, seeing it right in front of you, not doing anything to prevent their death. We humans build huge walls so as not to see it. But death is what a boy in the country sees constantly, because it is the most direct exposure to being alive. You see death for the lack of explanations.
I saw an expelled placenta on dry land. I contemplated, for hours, a bird hatching from an egg. I constantly looked for burrows, caves, nests, fledglings, cubs. I felt the stench of a rotten hare. I smelled a dog’s milk in a pup’s snout. I saw a bunch of feathers scattered in a thorny bush. I conserved, like a treasure, a motmot that had drowned in the lagoon.
Isn’t this what death is? The most direct exposure to observe animals?
Photography & Video
2017 (on going project)
Published in November, 2020
Volume 4, Issue 8