Dust to dust. Photography by Juan Rulfo
It has been said many times that an artist's genius is not a wholly personal product.
The so-called historical or cultural influences become a reality in the
simple regional area where the life of the writer, painter, etc. transpires.
Juan Rulfo does not escape this assertion and even more so, he has been
considered an example and school (creating products that were not always accurate).
Rulfo's background feeds both of his areas of work: literature (he has won many
prizes and is well acknowledged) and photography (not truly discovered by the majority).
Rulfo's work unquestionably contains constant uprisings and creates an image of
the land, as confirmed by the titles of some of his tales: El llano en llamas
(The burning plain), the title of one of his books, La Cuesta de las Comadres
(The Comadres' hill), Nos han dado la tierra (They've given us the land),
Luvina (the name of a hill) and Paso del Norte (The Northern flow).
Even though the rest of his tales and his ghostly novel, Pedro Páramo, do not
have similar titles, they speak of a rural Mexico, which apparently stopped
being rural from the 50s onwards.
I say apparently because across Mexico there is a peasant population that does
not disappear and which shows itself to the world on a daily basis through
primitive agricultural work and the multicoloured explosions of these peoples
at religious festivals in each of the villages.
Above all, Rulfo draws inspiration for his images from the dry landscapes that
lack greenness and which we can still appreciate in the south of Jalisco.
The region of Sayula (where the majority of people wrongly believe Juan is from),
together with a handful of villages (Amula, San Juan de Alima, Zapotitlán,
Tuxcacuesco, a region known as "El Bajo"), correctly illustrate this landscape,
a landscape worse than the desert, given that the few plants that grow there
are dry and brittle and appear to be a constant symbol of death.
Dust swirls, whereas in other regions there is a breeze; dust that gets into
your lungs, leaving a clear mark deep inside your soul.
Rulfo grew up in this environment, but he didn't just breathe the air;
what did he produce when he felt himself to be the owner of an image that he
would make his own?
For Mexicans, the earth is truly a mother, but not only the origin of our
identity, rather an unalterable destiny.
Many times I have heard my family say "here I was born and here I'll die".
Origin and goal, the earth's circularity stops being a geographical certainty
and becomes a guiding symbol.
How distant we are from the Europeans and Argentineans, who have decided to
conquer the world by leaving their home lands far behind.
The symbol of the earth as the world's origin, the Mexican vision, the way we
are dealing with it here, comes from the pre-Hispanic villages.
Look at the pyramids and we pay attention to their native meaning.
It is not the western idea of "reaching the heavens" with their
greatest example being the Tower of Babel.
No, far from this idea the Aztec and Mayan pyramid is a way of lifting up
the earth as high as possible, as if we were showing the heavenly beings
just how the earth is.
Rulfo is an excellent photographer, who obeys his instincts and forgets
his contemporaries' influences.
The complete opposite of an Álvarez Bravo, now totally urban and universal.
Withdrawn (as Juan José Arreola described him to us), he seemed to constantly
run from the company of others.
Solitude appears to be a constant Rulfo theme (and this verges on the obvious,
as the majority of his photos are of landscapes and humans can therefore be
easily omitted. It is not completely true however, as a band's music stands
and musical instruments show an interest in the absence of the human figure).
Given this background, we could easily think that Rulfo does not do human
photography, but this couldn't be further from the truth.
He is a very human photographer in pursuit of plastic images.
In order to understand this, you need to look long and hard.
We start with the aforementioned.
The writer from Jalisco spent his childhood amongst the shrubs on the barren
hillsides and the whirls of dust; he saw first hand the desperation of two
civil wars (the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero (Catholic) Rebellion).
From a young age he understood the lack of governmental presence, which he
projected, landscape and society into existential despair (the two pillars
that shape us as humans, nature and culture, had collapsed).
Sensuality is a constant theme in the textures and images achieved by Rulfo.
For the natives, the landscape (another heritage received), has a spiritual
slant, everything has a life and a soul.
For this reason, everything deserves respect and it is not uncommon to find
a native apologising for the harm he will do to the environment in order to
Rulfo catches this spirituality with his lens and through his photos he
achieves the symbolism of an existence that never dies.
Rulfo's great skill as a photographer is to have transformed an external
image into an internal symbol, the deep grief of the Mexican peasants
we wouldn't be wrong to call it universal, considering how deeply he explored
the human element).
Landscapes portraying dead nature, feelings of disillusioned perception.
Cloudless skies, hopeless futures.
A careful observer of his equals and their despair, at least he offers us
the consolation of beauty through his photos.
2005, Zapotlán, El Grande, México