SHOTS No. 147 : Spring 2020: SURRENDER
Emerging Photographer ↪: Cathy Cone
FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER: Manuel Morillo Orozco
Interview by Elizabeth Flinsch
All images are untitled from the series Nudopéicas, © Manuel Morillo Orozco
I happened upon Manuel's work in Antigua Guatemala and was overjoyed that when I contacted him, he invited me to visit his home and studio. I was so moved by this series on a wall tucked near the back of his space and immediately knew I wanted to share them here in the pages of SHOTS.
ELIZABETH FLINSCH: Tell me about this series (The Nudes) and your process.
MANUEL MORILLO OROZCO: I started Nudopéicas about four years ago. I had been teaching pinhole photography for twelve years and was asked to submit some work for the first Latin-American pinhole photography book, and I really had nothing to send them, as I never took pinhole photography seriously, just as an experiment. Then I started to make cameras and try different things and had this friend who was modeling professionally to painters and sculptors, so we started to make some work together.
I work with an old jewelry box transformed into a camera for photographic paper. Working with paper gives me the chance to have more time and play with long exposure times, usually three minutes, so I can put actions in a picture, like a short movie in one image. Also, playing with (this) longer times allows me to go away while the picture is taken, so I leave the model alone in front of the camera, converting a very vulnerable moment into a space for meditation or tranquility.
You are originally from Spain, (so) how did you choose to live in Guatemala?
While I was living in London, 1995 to 1999, I learned about a project in Guatemala working through photography with kids from the rubbish dump, Fotokids, so I wrote them asking for a volunteer position. I came to Guatemala in (year) 2000 to work with them for one year. Time passed and I stayed eight years, and when I left, I had already started my own cultural project in Antigua, Guatemala, Casa del Mango, an independent cultural center that has been offering events, courses and exhibitions for fifteen years now. I find Antigua, Guatemala as a perfect place for a photographer or artist to live. It is a small town with a lot of movement, and very cosmopolitan, in an amazing country full of beautiful traditions and a stunning nature. You can live with very little here and have more time to do your projects and enjoy life in a different way, and slower.
I first saw your Espanoramica project on display in Antigua, Guatemala. It is such a striking body of work showing landscape in a new way. What inspired it, and will it continue?
Between my life in London and Guatemala I spent a few months in Seville, Spain, where I got this job as a location scouter for a production company(,) doing advertising and movies. I went all around the city with my motorbike looking for the places to shoot, asking people, friends and family, as we did not have internet yet. It was a beautiful job and full of amazing situations.
In every location I had to take pictures to get a panoramic view of the place, and take some notes to facilitate the understanding of the location. After the whole day, I was going to the shop to get the rolls developed, and then going to the production office to stick them together and present them to the director to decide which ones I wanted to visit personally.
After a few years, I realized I was doing that for myself, as a series, documenting the places that amazed me or strange situations where I had been. I may have hundreds, if not thousands, and with plans to carry on with them, but also knowing that they may never see the light. If my archive gets lost after my death and found years later, it is going to be a mess, so I hope that it is myself who finds it in my next life...
In your studio in Antigua, you have plans for a photography center. Can you tell me more about that?
This place really started as an independent cultural center in 2005. We produced out of nothing hundreds of cultural events. The project has been evolving since then, trying different ways of making the space sustainable. Now that we are fifteen years into it, I want to convert the place as a studio with services for artists, like the darkroom or the printmaking room, coworking space, residence for artists and a gallery, but probably organizing other events, inside and in the streets.
The project will have a big focus in photography, education and shows, mainly alternative and analogic but the doors are not closed to other arts. We will focus also on printmaking, drawing, painting, cinema and sometimes scenic arts. I hope that one day we can have a place for ceramics, too. No hurries, but always growing.
We have had conversations about doubting ourselves and the impact of our work. What draws you back to making photographs, even when it is difficult?
I like my work and I make it for my own pleasure, but there are always ups and downs. We all have some pressure from the outside, and more if we are going to show our work publicly. In a way, you want people to feel that what you do is beautiful and produces in them an emotion and that the work is well done. It is a bit pretentious, like screaming “Hey, world, look what I have to show you, isn´t it beautiful?”, so it makes me hesitate about what I do and question the reasons why I do it. When I have a show, it is beautiful and embarrassing at the same time, and the next day I feel an exquisite emptiness that leads me to think about what I am doing with my life, and the conclusion that I am walking a very beautiful road and that I did lots of useful things on the way. So yes, let’s carry on!
It is really true that it is difficult to live off of art or photography in Guatemala, but it is probably the same everywhere. On my trip to New York, I met a lot of artists who had to do many other jobs just to pay the bills and do their art in their free time. Here I have time for myself and a big place to work and play with cultural experiments. Money will come when needed, and when it does not come, I can improvise a workshop or something else, and I also have good friends who always help. I am in pairs with life when we talk about money. But for rest, I am not so sure yet, but I feel balanced.
We also had a great conversation about Edward Muybridge and his time in Guatemala. Can you share a bit of that story? Do you see Muybridge’s time in Guatemala as having a significant impact on other photographers in the country?
This is a fascinating story, as Muybridge is a fascinating character, as is his work. This happens very often. Some of the best photographers in history also had amazing lives, check Nadar, Capa or Cartier-Bresson, and that adds a beautiful halo around their work.
Muybridge went to live in California on his second trip to America, this time as a photographer, as he had done the first one as a librarian in New York years before. We are in the Wild West.
He married a much younger woman and they had a son. One day he found this letter with a photograph of his son with a name written on the back, “Little Harry”, so he understood that his wife had a lover. He travels for days to find this man, Mayor Harry Larkyns. He found him and said: “My name is Edward Muybridge, and I am here in response to the letter you sent to my wife”, and shot him dead. He was set free, as it was an “honor crime”. It was the first popular trial, and Muybridge was the last man in history to be declared innocent for an honor crime.
Leland Stanford, his friend and Governor of California by then, asked him to travel to Guatemala to do a commission; he wanted pictures of Guatemalan coffee plantations and to find other reasons to invest in this country and Central America. It is 1875, and Muybridge spent one year traveling through the region, staying six months in Guatemala, where he took more than one hundred pictures that now are part of the history of Guatemala, as Muybridge was the first one to take photographs outside of a studio and show how life was then in this country. After that trip, Muybridge made the horse pictures showing movement for the first time. Stanford, who loved betting, hired him to take the pictures to show that the horse had all four legs in the air at one point. The rest is history. Please give it a look, as they all had inspiring, amazing and funny lives.
I do not think Muybridge has had that much direct influence in the work of the general artists in Guatemala. There is some fascination about him here, but maybe more for the fact that such a universal personality was here and did that wonderful work about the country. I have talked with some people who wanted to do something about him - a movie and a fiction-documentary - well, I would love to travel one day the Muybridge route in Guatemala, spending some time exploring his trip, but for now I am happy knowing that I am standing where Muybridge did 145 years ago.
Note: I was very lucky to host in Casa del Mango the exhibition of his work in Guatemala three years ago. There is here in Antigua a big historical and photographic archive, and they have some of Muybridge´s work. It was the most successful show we ever had and a lot of people learned about his work and life.
Is there an artist you admire? Who has impacted your work?
The first time I saw “Behind the Gare St. Lazare” by Cartier-Bresson, I felt I wanted to do that, I wanted to be Cartier-Bresson. There was this deep beauty in his work, something that really moved me. At those times and in my surroundings it was not easy to get access to books about photographers, and forget about exhibitions. After that, I got access to some Magnum books, so in the beginning I dreamed about being this kind of adventurous reporter, like Robert Capa, and going to wars and have that romantic life of a war reporter, drinking whisky with colleagues at night in the hotel while listening the bombs and then get out in the morning to be shot while shooting pictures, as I had read in some books from journalists. But life took its way and later I realized that what moved me was not photography as itself but the experiences I lived thanks to it. I do not mean that I do not like photography or that it does not move me, but at the end of the day, there are the experiences lived through it that gave me the necessity of expressing and creating, either with photography, drawing, poetry or any other media. Now I feel like spending more time creating with all the materials I already have, and I am always open to new stories and materials to collect.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I am working on a series of pinhole portraits of the characters who participate in the processions of the Guatemalan Holy Week, and then mixing them together to create relations and stories in one picture, always with a bit of humor. Also I am starting to use a large-format camera, 8X10, but I am missing the negative holder, which is not easy to find here. My plan is to use it with paper, so I have longer times of exposure. I want to play with that.
For some years, I have been painting with chemicals on photographic paper and mixing them with the “celograms”, something I do playing with chemicals on negative film and then enlarging. It is more of an abstract work, but I am also starting to do collage using that as a background and pictures from my archive.
I keep documenting other things, mainly traditions from Guatemala and other events like demonstrations or still photography for cinema. Sometimes I get a job from a news media or an institution, but I love to do it for myself anyway, it is always a new experience and I love being a witness and being there in the middle.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
Lots of stories to tell, but better to share them with a coffee sitting in any of the wonderful parks in Antigua, Guatemala. ■
EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHER: Cathy Cone
Interview by Douglas Beasley
Cathy with Pins Behind Curtain. © Cathy Cone
Head in Birdhouse. © Cathy Cone
Jon Behind Curtain. © Cathy Cone
I met Cathy Cone recently at a photo workshop in Vermont. I sensed both her artistic trust in intuition and her intelligence. I knew she was part of Cone Editions but not sure how she was related. When I saw her very personal world view through her photographs I became a big fan of her vision and manifestation. Some excel at one or the other, but I deeply respect those who value both.
DOUGLAS BEASLEY: You are a painter as well as photographer. Which came first and how does one affect or influence the other?
CATHY CONE: The first time I developed film was in college I and used a Diana camera. The water was too hot and caused the surface to reticulate. I had anxiety about sharing the prints at the critique. Regardless, I had the sense that there was something beautiful that I liked about the mistake. The professor turned that critique moment into something that has always stayed with me as a process of discovery and making. He asked me whether I knew the work of Seurat, which led to an investigation of painting and an early recognition that the medium itself was transformative. Painting a photograph is another way I develop a photograph. Both mediums are transformative and often work together as a duet. I had an experience of one of Ralph Meatyard’s photographs that we are printing from his estate. I came around a corner and felt engulfed in light. I was disoriented and thought I walked directly into a William Turner painting, except it was black and white. I wasn’t concerned with whether it was a painting or a photograph and for a moment I entered a state of ecstasy. I’m an artist and I use whatever tool is needed.
What inspires you?
I find inspiration in the transformative. I studied Tai chi and Kung fu for many years. My Sifu had a quote on his classroom door that read ”Better to be a warrior in the garden than a gardener during times of war.” I try to remember that breaking the construct of what’s known in order to rediscover or re-imagine a way to bend a new corner and it can be quite uncomfortable. I try to stay in the heart and to practice better self care
I love your self-portraits We featured one in Issue #139. Why self-portraits? What are you trying to say that you can’t express through using models?
I’m working inside myself to translate the language of inner to some form of outer representation. In that sense, I’m listening through the imagined realm using myself as the model. It’s not only convenient, sustainable, but I also like doing my own stunts. I’m also interested in archetypes, psychological states; doing my own modeling helps deepen my concentration and contemplation. I feel it allows the images to possess more of a kind of visual perfume. I love the line from a favorite Rilke poem: “How do you point a finger at a smell”?
You and your husband own Cone Editions and are makers of the famous Piezography B&W inksets that replace the color inkset on Epson printers. Tell us about the working relationship between you and him.
My husband, Jon, is the master printer and we’ve been fortunate to sustain a creative business together for many years now. We had this idea early on that in order to make our individual work, we needed a source of income. We began to collaborate and print with artists at our first studio in New York and have always maintained our separate studio spaces. We’re a good team and we’re both devoted to evolving towards deeper understanding and cultivating our separate passions. Being in service to artists has also been a lifelong pursuit. We work really well together and his sense of humor and cooking skills go a long way. Love asks the hard questions. This year we’ve been invited for the first time to work together collaboratively on prints at the Tusen Takk Foundation. Stay tuned! ■