Latinamerican Art

Marcos López (born in 1958 in Gálvez, Santa Fe, Argentina, lives and works in Buenos Aires)

If one word doesn’t work, you try another. The image is something else. Especially when it comes to portraits. There’s no room for meandering, nor can you place adjectives on them. The secret is to be alert when an encounter occurs. You must pay attention to the intensity of the gaze, the gestures, the position of the hands. At this stage of the game, I believe that there’s no need to take two hundred pictures to say what needs to be said. A few well-made portraits that speak about two or three basic, central feelings are enough.” (Pact of Silence, 2006) 

Perceptive chronicler

Marcos López is the portraitist of his country Argentina, to which for many years he has been holding up a mirror—both fondly and critically. He assumes a role that exists in nearly no other country in Latin America: an idiosyncratic and eccentric chronicler of the everyday cultures surrounding him. Always keeping the necessary distance, his profound empathy imbues him with a seismographic perception that allows him to photograph all the crazy, exhilarating, sensuous, tragic and melancholic ups and downs in his society. It is of fundamental significance that he has absolutely no reservations. He is indeed particularly partial to the precarious and the vulgar; he never hovers above his subjects, but rather engages with them from below in order to then dignify them in monumentalized photography. He himself says: «I tell the story from the margins, from the standpoint of the underdog.»

Early black and whites

Casa de estudiantes, 1980/2006, B/w Gelatin silver print on Ilford Fiber Paper Multigrade, 29,8 x 39,9 cm, Photography: Peter Schälchli, Zürich, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

From the early 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s, Marcos López worked exclusively in black and white and in small formats. These outstanding photos have meanwhile slightly fallen behind his overwhelming color photos. Nevertheless, his early works are of the greatest quality and inarguably worth a close look—not in the sense of precursors, but as examples of his then already matchless photographic art. They are exceptional portraits; the faces seem to originate from silent films, psychodramas unfolding immediately under the surface, evoking film noir. Abysses open—also of definitely erotic and sexual nature—without, however, disclosing themselves to us. With his typical mixture of intellect and emotion, Marcos López brings us so close to the ones portrayed that we feel we know them. Expertly and full of ease, he plainly gets to the heart of their most important traits, with their precarious and fragile features always shining through.

Enter colors and props

Buenos Aires, la ciudad de la alegría, 1993/2006, from the series “Pop Latino”, C-Print, handcolored with transparent inks, 100.3 x 136,5 cm, Photography: Peter Schälchli, Zürich, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

In the early 1990s, colors entered into his photography with a bang, and there was no return from there. Marcos López immediately finds his way to his «super realismo criollo», a wild mélange of vulgar, provincially tainted, excessively theatrically glorified, and contorted sub pop culture. He literally creates «local colors»: this is the most suitable term for his photographic appropriation and upgrading of colorful, everyday life in all its crude tastelessness. The portrayed persons are provided with some or other kind of prop, as was common many decades ago in professional portrait photography worldwide. These props are donned much in the same manner as the symbolic attributes on the customary pictures of saints. In this way, Marcos López developed his very own, personal «everyday-saint-iconography» marked by a stunningly vulgar aesthetics.

Kitsch and profoundness

Marcos López is a master of travesty. Full of elegance, irony, and mischief, he plays the entire range of kitsch and so-called bad taste with virtuosity. He zestfully and fantastically challenges our solidified viewing habits with his keen sense for the surreal and absurd. His clichés are at times unbearable to us because they inexorably hit a sore spot. In their acrid starkness, his allegorically charged tableaux vivants have a quality of a downright veristic realism—which comes hand in hand with a humorous, frivolous, irreverent, innocent yet cunning, affectionate smirk. «By carnivalizing photography, this artist perverts the document’s credibility, subverts the role of the image as a pillar of historical narrative, and joyfully intervenes in the very history of the image.» (Juan Antonio Molina, 2004)

The photos by Marco López are unforgettable, like a good movie. To conclude in his own words: “Objects also symbolize things. In Rogerio’s portrait, the airplane is an airplane, but it’s also an offering, an object of desire, and a missile. We already know what the yoke on the neck means. And as for the color, the red in the background has the strength of the classics. A mutual enhancement occurs along with the color of the model’s skin: violaceous black. Big red lips. Perspiring Carioca. Profound Yoruba. Authentic Cuban. Dark-green Haitian. Marimba. Katinga. Kilombo. Candomblé.” (Pact of Silence, 2006)

Rogerio (sudor y lágrimas), 2005/2006, from the series “Sub-realismo criollo”, Color photograph, Lambda system print on Kodak paper, handcolored with transparent inks, 155,6 x 92,4 cm, Photography: Peter Schälchli, Zürich, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich


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