A FAMILY AFFAIR

THE BROAD ER PICTURE
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT ALL started quite innocently: my wife's mother, Teresa, wanted a portrait of the two of us for her bedroom. This was 1977 and we had been together for a year. On 17 June, to mark those 12 months, I photographed Susy and she photographed me. Simple portraits: just snapshots, nothing complicated. They were meant to hang on the wall in Teresa's bedroom. She loved her daughter and she had begun to love me.

I was a young photojournalist, who up until then had mostly covered Latin America. Military dictatorships were in power in almost all the countries of the region and terrible things were happening, especially in my country, Argentina. But these things were impossible to photograph: how can you take pictures of the 30,000 young men "disappeared" by the ruling regime? There can be no visual record of a desaparecido. So when I was given the chance to join the staff at Sygma, the Paris-based photo agency, I decided I shouldn't miss the opportunity. It was time to move.

My first son, Nicolas, was born the January after our arrival; when 17 June came round I decided, quite casually and with no definite project in mind, to photograph us all. The framing and lighting would be exactly the same as for the first portraits - except this time we were three.

Something was taking hold. An idea, mist-like, with no definite boundaries. Perhaps the concept of family was born right there: the sense of foundations laid, the knowledge that we would continue to grow, that we would be together forever, even if we didn't know what forever meant. I think it was then that the series of portraits printed here really started.

The years in Paris went by. I travelled a lot, covering the world, spending only short periods at home - though I was there long enough for Matias (the second Frenchman in the family) to be born. In 1980 we moved again, this time to New York. Our years there were joyful and enriching, even though we were relatively isolated: visits to and from Argentina were scarce, and being away from parents, brothers and sisters was hard. We five (Sebastian, the third child, was born in 1984) were our only family.

The series really took off - in the sense of being an ongoing (and never- ending?) project - during those New York years. It suddenly had a life of its own. Year after year, as 17 June approached, we would prepare for our small, private ceremony. An umbrella with a small flash head. Everybody lined up for their picture. As the children grew up, fights starting over who would photograph me. Yet for many years the resulting rolls of film were left undeveloped. There was really no need to see them: knowing the chain was not broken was enough. Later, I did small prints of each photo from the first 10 years and displayed them on a big framed board in our living room. They gave us a sense of continuity, of time passing as we changed, the children growing, and Susy and I getting older.

We kept on recording our faces, in sickness and in health. I began to wear glasses, because the strain of constant camera use caused my sight to deteriorate. Susy's hairstyle changed, with the years and with fashion. Grey hair appeared, eye-bags, wrinkles. But it was the kids whose developments were the most dramatic, growing from babies to children, boys to adolescents.

In 1985 we returned to Argentina and the larger family was finally reunited. Our children recovered their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Susy's parents died: Teresa, the origin of it all was no longer with us, but we went on taking the photos, almost obsessively. Nicolas and Matias are now at university; Sebastian is in high school; and I am the picture editor at a Buenos Aires newspaper. Susy, meanwhile, always pushing us together, is the pivot around which we all revolve.

A photograph is simply fossilised light. The photographer uses that light to cut out slices of space and time, and feed our memories. That's what is happening here: this series of pictures, objectively just a record of my family's faces over the last 20 years, is in fact my attempt to stop - for one fleeting moment - the arrow of time. !

Comments