To understand Geandy Pavón’s work as a photographer one must ask the following question: What type of relationship does the vanitas have with photography?
The vanitas is perhaps the pictorial genre that, in the most emphatic way, attempts to capture an instant, to freeze it in time, to snatch it away from the flow of time. But in order for that to be possible, and this, too, is captured in the vanitas better than any other genre, it is necessary to distinguish in the instant the time that flows and will continue to flee, and the time that stagnates, that will never again occur. The original name of the vanitas or bodegones, one that the name still-life does justice, was immobile life, immobilized, still or quieted. This genre immobilized a corner of life’s flow in order to reveal the expiration, the skull that beats in every becoming.
But this can only be realized—and this is another one of the lessons that the vanitas genre offers photography—if a stage is produced of an instant that has never occurred. The bodegones, the vanitas create a fictitious space and a time where the living and the dead, the animate and inanimate accumulate, presided, frequently, by a skull, by the allegory of death. We can dissect time if we create the image of temporality that has not been experienced by anybody.
What is uncovered by photography does not differ much. The living and the dead can only be discerned if an objective lens, indifferent to the passage of time, interposes between the eye and what is dying, what is expiring in the moment captured. In every other form of image, the eye that sees and the image, what is seen, are subject to the same temporal rule, the eye and the image flow and die at the same time.
The lesson from the still-life that photography recovers is that in order to split what flows and what stagnates, what lives and what dies, we have to create a fictitious scene for the instant, a stage. Only with respect to a fictitious instant, not experienced by anyone or only experienced by a lens-eye that does not die, not subject to time, can one do a dissection of what on an experiential level we live only as a becoming.
What Geandy Pavón’s photography captures by reading the photographic portrait through the vanitas, is that in order to have a critical gaze before the instant, in order to discern the different corners of time that converge in it, lost time and time to come, time that flees and time that dies before our eyes, one has to create a scene, a theater, to make visible what all experience in time hides.
Geandy Pavón’s photographs exhibit the theatrical, artificial, staged character of what is photographed. What is photographed in his case has never been a part of experience, it has never been lived by anybody. Something that has never been seen unfolds before the camera, a novel world, and the first ones to see it are the photographer and his spectator.
The second question that one has to ask in order to understand this series by Geandy Pavón is: How does one photograph a myth?
Every myth, as Ovid knew well, narrates a metamorphosis. It is the story of how one enters and leaves a form, how one leaves and enters in time.
In myth is where a corner of time that only another can live for us is configured: the beginning of our time and our end. What we know of our beginning is something someone told us; what will be known of our end is something someone else will tell about us. It is only possible to live the end and the beginning in a vicarious manner, through others, through what someone else says about it. The only way to experience the arche and the telos of our story, of all history, is thanks to somebody who lived through it for us. The temporality of myth, therefore, is of reenactment.
Every myth, Greek, Christian, or Afro-Cuban, is a reenactment of the beginning or the end of times. The beginning or the end of something is only experienced as a reenactment.
Almost every photo in this exhibit reenacts a myth. Each photo, therefore, recreates, reconstructs, an instant in a story, the myth, which by its very nature is a reenactment. Another question arises: How does one reenact, reconstruct something that originates as a reenactment?
The solution that Geandy Pavón proposes to this enigma is to add a possibility, a novelty, something new to the beginning, at the origin of everything. In his recreation of the myth of Echo and Narcissus, for example, the only image that we see in the midst of piles of dirty plates in the sink is that of Echo. Echo, who only reflects, repeats what others say but who cannot be reflected, who is unable to make her voice reproduce what lives inside her, is the one who discovers her reflection in the dirty water marked by pan grease. A dirty face, stained by the exterior, but a face after all and at last. Pavón’s photography grants to Echo what she never had, a face, a reflection of her interiority.
The third question that one has to ask oneself when it comes to this series is what the moment of quarantine contributes to these photos. What kinds of photos does one produce when one separates from the world for forty days in order to prevent our life from contaminating others or so that others’ time is not lethal to us? What kinds of photos does one take when one cannot breathe close to others and one cannot feel how another body somatizes time?
To answer this last question, and to close this reflection, I am going to pause on the photo that Pavón does of the Pietá, one of the images with a long tradition in the West.
In the photo that recreates the Pietá, Imara López, who serves as the model in all the photos of the series, portrays Maria with a robe the color of Oshún (Yoruba goddess of fertility, love and sensuality) and a face mask, the same ones that the pest that devastates us has turned into a fashion. The son that lies on his mother’s lap, like the classic icon, wears an orange cape, and is represented by the artist himself. The iconic sculptures and paintings of the piety—Michael
Angelo, Tizian, El Greco, etc. —mix Christian and pagan concepts. The piety, in the Classical world was the passion for the origin, “ab-origen” is what the Spanish philosopher Higinio Marín calls it, love for our ancestors. For this reason, Aeneas—who left a burning Troy with his father Anchises on his shoulders—is the emblem of piety. Christian piety adds a new affective circumstance to the Classical passion: the passion for the son. The virgin and the son constitute for Christianity the iconography of piety because Jesus is the son of Mary and father of humankind. Pavón’s photo adds a level of complexity to the Classical-Christian image: the piety of the twenty-first century. One can carry the son or the father, take him on one’s shoulder, but one cannot breathe, conspire with him.
Professor, Carlton College