The Broader picture: Father figures

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The Independent Culture
THE PICTURE shown here is an amiable phoney. It consists of seven photographs of Luis Alberto Coquis taken by his son, Miguel Coquis, and merged digitally on a computer.

Miguel Coquis, a Peruvian psychoanalyst who lives in Paris, took the images of his father one afternoon last year, on a rare return visit to Lima. "My father, who is in his eighties, is a very strong, emotional man, very fixed in his attitudes. I found him in bed, apparently sick, a kind of emotional sickness perhaps brought on by my return. I asked him, `What's wrong?' and he replied, `I think I'm going to die - it's finished.'"

Miguel, a keen photographer, and ever eager to practise his hobby, responded, "Well, if that's so, let's do something important together. What about trying to say goodbye to this man who's going to die?"

His father rose to the challenge, temporarily abandoning his deathbed as Miguel gently guided him into the scenario. First, Luis Alberto posed on the bed as the self who is about to die; next as a self to sit beside the dying self, to offer comfort. Then Miguel suggested he pose as his working self, a well-dressed man wearing a tie. "Good idea," agreed Luis Alberto.

This was followed by a doctor self (dressed in white), to stand by the bed and give medical assistance, and a religious self, Bible in hand and crucifix at the ready. Then there is the onlooking self, a witness to the life story. And naturally, given the cultural traditions of South America, there is also a satanic self emerging with a howl from under the bed to try to steal the soul of the dying self before it departs. "We had a little trouble here," confides Miguel. "My father is old and I had to stuff him under the bed."

He noticed that his father seemed to leave his sickness behind as he entered into the spirit of the occasion and took over the storytelling. "This was not therapy," Miguel insists. "All I do is to try to give the photographic approach a dreamlike quality, to let things unfold as if in a dream. But it was my father who was constructing that dream, not me."

Luis Alberto made an excellent recovery and is still going strong.

Miguel Coquis' work will be in PHotoEspana 99 in Madrid from 16 June until 18 July. For further information, call 0034 91 360 1320 or e-mail