The Perpetual and Profound Atmospheres 
of Martirene Alcántara

Sinuous, solid and suggestive are the forms that are presented before the eyes of the spectator of the photographic work of Martirene Alcántara, her images are some kind of union of the opposite, a graphic wrapping that links the complementary, that pretends to be irreconcilable and antagonistic. Thus she does it with her themes, with her forms and in her style, it’s visible in her representations of architectural forms that show the tangible and solid structures that govern the forms of urban life through doors, niches, solid walls, cut off of metallic pieces that offer the necessary inflexibility, the structure for the others to slide and transmute in smoothness, in insinuation, suggestion of everyday life. She does it through color, that is her favorite one -more than black and white- and of the highlighted textures to the touch and the eye, that works in almost monochromatic ways, with certain color accents or shades that underlines the proposed theme with subtlety.

This preference that Martirene has for the sensitive color -in the most extensive meaning of the word-, comes from her encounter, since she was a girl, with easels, paintings, prepared canvases to hold oils, watercolor papers, paintbrushes and palettes of smooth landscape colors. Then she found herself playing between big paintings and contrasting light and shadows, with a great color of fruits and everyday characters. Thus, probably she fed her visual perception, intensifying her senses, and when her photographic aptitudes became evident, she put a side her vocation toward architectural scaffolds, career that impassioned her, and from which she hasn’t move away completely, since she prints a great force of graphic structures in her images. As an example, there is the image of her beach chairs that emerge from a misty atmosphere somewhere in Italy, they denote infinite solitude before the force of the sea and the soft blue sky and finally, a touch of red in the chairs only accentuates a sensation of non-existence of the other: love or vague passion.

With smooth and slow graphic style, she travels through the entire world in search of her ideal image. She travels enormous distances, with her cameras over her shoulder, by train, by car, by foot; she plans, observes, returns after days, waits for hours, always in search of the moment, of the season of the year, of the necessary hour to grasp the adequate light. She recalls the graphic patience of Dolores Alvarez Bravo, in wait that shadows and characters conjugate, going up and down some Escherian stairs, it’s all a visual game of light. She is capable of traveling to the old civilization, to arrive in Greece in search of the places that stepped and visited her most admired photographer, the American Howard Bond. She is capable of stepping on the accelerator for more than 18 thousand European kilometers, seeking what nobody imagines, neither expects. Martirene researches, investigates and with that, she follows her impulses and heart feelings, and from that analytic synthesis she obtains an individual slant of creation and recreation, she has also visited the Far East in search of rich visual spices.

She has traveled through California, United States and the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro documenting graphically each one of the Missions. She will go now to encounter a distant cemetery in the African continent, only to continue working with the images of ghostly presences and concrete absences. Thus, Martirene presses her shutter in a microsecond, and convey all her force and energy of life to images that she later prints on paper, until her refined taste for smooth shades and high contrasts indicate her. These are now the themes that occupy her attention the most: the cemeteries, the ghosts and the darkness, I would say that her favorite themes -no matter which one is the visual excuse- are the atmospheres and the light.

The images emerge from the cemeteries where the importance rests more in the sculptural representation; the angels and guardians of these tombs are photographic objects that seem to talk and to tell long histories of each watched character. Sadness, pain, deep meditation, an attitude of notable responsibility before the task entrusted, are some of the photographic transmutations. It is in these themes where becomes evident the need of a soft light, the use of the mist and the half-light, the preference of autumn’s semi-warm tones or cold shades of blue, that become a pleasing funerary atmosphere. Of the cemeteries, we present one of her favorite images where she captures the face and expressive gesture of La Doliente (The Mourner), sculptural way to approach Death. Timidez (Shyness) and El Angel Exterminador (The Angel Exterminator) connects us with her taste for the object trouvée (the found object), these objects are the ones that tell their own story, the abandonment and solitude; an apparently fortuitous fact, not coincidentally, are the arms of a couple that recover from their ruins and find each other above their tragic destiny in Hasta que la Muerte nos Separe (Until Death Us Do Part). Sense of humor, visual play and taste for the encounter with the image is what represents this miniseries of a deeper and more extensive work that the author prepares, Martirene‘s representations deepens in meditation and emotion of what is here, evoking what already left.

Seeing her images we corroborate the search of the photographer waiting for the time, weather, hour, and most favorable moment for her shots, she is a hunter of images and to capture her prey she has all the patience and the necessary talent. She doesn’t like portraits of the characters, she prefers to refer to people through their shadows and reflections, her image of her series of Ghosts is well known, there appears Fatma, fantasma de aire (Fatma, ghost of air, soft, sliding in the middle of the architectural structures of a palace of fairytale, and without seeing her face -since is not necessary- we know her, we sense her under her shador and the elegant suit of her native Pakistan. Movimiento Actual presents Fantasma de Agua (Ghost of Water) and Calatrava sobre el río (Calatrava over the River), with appearance of impressionist brushstrokes, she captured the characters in aquatic representations, showing the phantasmagoric presence of the living: fleeting and ungraspable. Those she portrays in the anonymity without showing a face, a look, or a gesture before the almost inaudible but well visible presence of the camera -since though at the beginning she worked with 35 mm equipment, now she has taken a preference for medium format, and with her 6×4.5 and 6x7cm cameras- with the equipment she uses to photograph the living and the dead in the same plan of virtual existence, the portrait for which the objects and the beings represent before her temperate eyes, in their autonomous, mutable and brief shadow, which decides the author to capture them in her plates before the inevitable flight.

In her last fin-de-siècle trip to Spain and Portugal, she came upon sinuous, firm lines of the buildings, where she achieves that the coldness of the metal itself transmutes with the warmth of the light in its coppery, golden and sienna tones, and the walls, the corners, show their daring, sensual and full of life face; the cold metal stopped being cold with the setting, composition and smooth lines she captured.

It is doubtless that the photographer’s long stays abroad have given her a different visual and cultural background, where magic melts with reality, like in Singapore, Pakistan and Indonesia. Where boldness becomes part of the photographic game, since the adrenaline effects before a correct light exposure brakes to lead to reason and mathematical logic of the zone system. Where the high demand that she has in her own work makes her shoot 96 rolls in 4 months and rescue only a few images, is fruit of her professionalism and dedication. This is a photographer in search of a place to publish her marvelous material of more than 2000 images, captured in 21 missions built by Fray Junípero Serra; the selection of images, the translation and the text written by the author her self are ready, and in that state they expect the dream of the just, so a kind publishing hand can carry out the final edition and an adequate publication to the effort invested.

Thus this 15 years-old young girl that bought her first camera with her own savings, sees now the fruit of her effort, evident to many, accepted now by her to dedicate professionally and definitively to photography. Martirene Alcántara appears thus among her thousands of photographs, baroque in her position and intelligence, deep in her searches and encounters of rare, uncommon, inhospitable places of fleeting charms. She maintains her eyes awake to the forms that configure her atmospheric themes of neo-impressionist position, with simple forms, without searching, her colors are temperate, the clean lines appear like elements that awake a neoclassical appearance, in continuity with her simple and complex style to create her images, the life and the photographs that so much proclaim in this union of the opposite. It is with no doubt that she will continue in the hunt for her photographs, in the African cemetery, the lawn or the water, in some place that will attract her sight in the half-light of the day, projects that continue her passion to apprehend and give life to the death, to the hidden, to the imperceptible sight.

Rebeca Monroy Nasr
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