Doisneau, Arbus, Ródchenko and Brassaï are just some of the great artists who are reinterpreted by French photographer Catherine Balet, who used the Argentine Ricardo Martínez Paz as a model for her ambitious exhibition that is presented at FoLa
By Luciano Sáliche October 23, email@example.com Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
Like the Picasso that Robert Doisneau portrayed in 1952
The word tribute is a bit clumsy when it comes to defining the set of works that hang on the walls of the FoLa. The exhibition is titled Looking for the masters in Ricardo's golden shoes and seeks to emulate the great works of the history of photography. A foreign exhibition, yes, although the protagonist, the model, the person who poses in each of the images, is Argentine. His name is Ricardo Martínez Paz , he was born in Pringles, in the south of the province of Buenos Aires, but has lived in France, specifically in Paris, for more than thirty years. The person who made each of the images that hang on the walls is Catherine Balet . They are friends and that friendship is what led them to work on each of the representations – remakes , they would say in the cinema – of the most iconic photos in the world.
“I already saw Picasso's in the soup,” says Ricardo and starts to laugh. It is the image that triggered it all. His resemblance to the Spanish cubist is remarkable. That's what everyone told him. “You're the same, you're the same.” The original photo was taken by Robert Doisneau and is from 1952. Picasso is sitting in front of an empty plate, waiting for dinner to come. A series of loaves are arranged on the tablecloth causing them to be confused with your fingers. He looks to his left, probably towards the window, the same way Ricardo does, sixty-something years later. The epiphany occurred in 2013, a summer morning in Arles, during the famous Les Rencontres photographiques photo festival.
Ricardo Martínez Paz , a 73-year-old young dandy whose resemblance to Picasso is striking, is sitting in front of some loaves. He wears a sailor striped shirt and his appearance is somewhat elusive. Catherine Balet looks at him and reminds him of Doisneau's Picasso. So she runs to her bag, takes out her camera, tells her not to move – “don't move, don't move” – points, focuses, and shoots. He shows her what he just took and they are both amazed, for several seconds, looking at the screen on the back of the camera. Then they will download it to an iPad and see in better size the first step of the long road they would travel. One of those steps, very far from the initial one, but also far from the last one, is this, today, October 2019, FoLa, presenting this sample in Argentina.
Renderings of a photo of Nadar in 1864 and one of August Sander from 1914
Catherine Balet smiles shyly. She has dark-rimmed glasses, pompous bangs, and lipstick. Ricardo Martínez Paz is an eccentric dandy with a flowered suit and delicate hands like a mannequin. His age seems like a joke: he is 79 years old. We begin our tour of the exhibition and on the left, the first image emulates the first self-portrait in history: Robert Cornelius , 1839. “Catherine took the photograph and then printed it on metal, as it was at the time. It's scratched to give that effect “, says Ricardo, and she adds:” The idea was to achieve the original texture, so I printed on metal and then painted. I work with Photoshop: the process has a lot of post-production ”.
Martínez Paz was born in General Pringles on August 9, 1940. His childhood and adolescence passed like a pendulum between the countryside and the city until he finally turned to the urban. He did theater and dramaturgy until he left for Buenos Aires in 1960 when his mother died. He immersed himself in the world of art, literature, bohemia. In 1977 he traveled to Paris where the love affair occurred. His first job was as a stage assistant on the piece Etoile du nord. Then he turned to show journalism, gossip and fashion until his eccentricity left him at the door of photo agencies. Since the nineties, that is his field.
“We met more than twenty years ago. I was the artistic director of a photo agency, at the time of photo agencies, and Catherine was a photographer so we met like that ”, he says. She, for her part, began her career from a side that would not be so much: painting. He graduated in Fine Arts from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and from the beginning of 2000 he began to move from impressionist paintings to sociological photographs. Identity and Strangers in the Light are two of his most famous series, and in Moods in a Room he blurs the border between photography and painting.
Representation of the first self-portrait: Robert Cornelius, 1839
Ricardo and Catherine are arguably a funny duo. They touch, they laugh, they fight, they touch each other again. “Do you want to speak in French and I will translate for you?” He offers. “Oui,” she says and starts to reply in her native language. Then he translates. “It was a natural thing. It's not that I chose him, that I thought he had to be, my preferred role model. Then it did become my favorite model. At first we had no idea what we wanted to do. From the selection he made, we discarded many photos because they were too complicated, but afterwards the project got bigger and bigger. Look. He is very ductile. His skin, his face … look at his hands, they are incredible. It is a very interesting model for any photographer. ”
“She brought out a lot of things from me that were not there. I never thought of dressing up as a woman and look, “he says and points to the photo where he poses as George Sand – pseudonym of the writer Amantine Dupin – taken by Nadar in 1864. Then, as he passes, he looks at another photo and says:” The naked I did the latter. I said: 'no, not that photo, not that photo,' “and both of them laugh, accomplices. “Friends were telling us to do more. We would have about twelve photos. So in the summer of 2013 we each went our own way with the idea of thinking about photos. She to England, I to Italy. We met in September in a bar in Paris where we always went, because we live in the same neighborhood, and Catherine says to me: 'are we going to Deauville?' 'Okay'. And we went out to Deauville to take pictures on the beach ”.
Ricardo is “La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune” by Brassaï from 1932
If this photographic project were a documentary film, many of the narrative twists occurred on a train. In January 2014, for example, when Catherine was on her way to England, she passed the director of the Arles Festival in one of the carriages. The project was well advanced but was crossing a plateau. He approaches, talks and shows her the photos. He is amazed. “How many can you have in July?” I wanted to do a screening for the festival. “Even though we didn't make it, it gave us extra energy to get to work,” says Catherine.
“Does it bother you if I send a photo to a contest in London?” Catherine asked Ricardo one day. The idea was to start publicizing the project that was still under construction. They already had a clear direction, the question was climb fully motivated. They chose a portrait of Diane Arbus from 1966 where Ricardo is the young trans woman with curlers on her head and a cigarette in hand who looks at the camera. Without a doubt, one of the most successful of this series. They were finally selected and they traveled to London to exhibit the final sixty photos.
Now, at FoLa, Ricardo says: “When we presented it in London they asked me if I was that person, because ages give. And that it was the same gesture, the same pain in the photo ”. And Catherine confesses: “The portraits of Diane Arbus touch me, they move me, they are very humanistic. When we finished making it, we both finished very melancholic ”.
Representations of “Mother” (1924) by Aleksandr Rodchenko and the famous photo by Annie Leibovitz where Yoko Ono and John Lennon pose
The return to Paris from that exhibition in London was by train, the vehicle of luck. It was November 2014. “We went up and Martin Parr was with a photographer friend. We show you on the iPad the photo we took based on yours. He loved it. He said, 'Can I keep looking?' He loved it, and invited us to a book and photo festival that he does in Bristol with all his English friends and all the cream there. That also gave us courage to continue taking photos ”, says Ricardo.
They finally went to the British city of Bristol in May where they were proposed a game. The images were projected onto a giant screen and people had to guess who the original photographer of the photo was. “It was incredible because people began to laugh, it made them funny. There are photos that are distressing and others that make you want to laugh. It was very beautiful what happened there. Catherine found an editor there too, so she was already building the world, “says Ricardo.
How to take the idea of the tribute seriously? Is it a tribute or is it, in fact, a recreation, a resignification, one more link in the chain of meaning? “I am a very personal artist,” Catherine replied, “and at one point I wondered: am I copying them? I also wondered if it was important to pay tribute to the teachers, and yes, of course it was; it is important to step on the brakes for a moment and think about who are the ones who built the history of photography, the one that we use and admire so much today ”.
Reversal of Willy Ronis's “Little Parisian” from 1952
When he was a boy, Ricardo said that he did not want to be a person, but a black and white photograph. Now, in front of the works that hang in FoLa, it is a fact: his pass to immortality has already been decreed. “That photo for me is like the boy that I am even at my age. I always have a child inside me,” he says as we pass the reversion of Willy Ronis 's 1952 The Little Parisian . “As I'm very esthetic “I love this photo. Anders is also a wonderful photographer,” he comments on the one that emulates August Sander's Young Farmers from 1914.
Catherine is very fond of Saul Leiter , an American photographer who is also a painter, like her. So this tribute. “I really like this one because of the color treatment. We had many magical moments in the project, and this is one of them, with all those people who were there, they are like characters from the fifties “, he says, and Ricardo adds:” Catherine was outside and she wrote to me on the phone how to pose. I had to order a coffee, and I'm wrong and I ask for a cut, so we asked the couple next door to change it for me for the photo ”.
“Each one has his memory. There is a photo in which she always tells me: 'no'. For me it is one way and for her another ”, Ricardo says then the stories diverge. There are collectors who have the originals of the reverted artists who bought these photos. For example, the one with Picasso's, also has Balet's. “One day we went to see Anders's great-grandson at Paris Photo with the book so that he could see Catherine's photo. Then he takes us to where he had his collection of paintings and the original work was, so we took a photo with the book and the original, ”he recalls.
The photo of Brassaï —where Ricardo is a lady full of jewels and darkness from the thirties— was taken in a bar —the original no longer exists— “which had the same decoration. They told us to go at nine in the morning because people were coming in for lunch. So we went at that time with our make-up artist, a wonderful Japanese woman that I got, she prepared everything for me at home, we went and in half an hour we took the photo, ”says Ricardo. In addition to the almost sixty images, there is a display case with the golden pair of shoes that the model usually wears. Trademark.
Version of a photo of Saul Leiter
Two friends having fun. That is Catherine Balet and Ricardo Martínez Paz when they get together. They touch, they laugh, they fight, they touch each other again. “We don't ask anyone for permission. We took all the photos thinking that the whole world was going to come on us. And they all took it well, ”she says with more surprise than pride. “This is a story of love and encounters”, he sums up, because these works of art are no longer just that, at least for them; now they are loaded with experience, anecdotes, and sensitivity. And they hardly even belong to them.
Now, as they stand in the middle of one of the two rooms where the show is mounted, they feel strange. They may already be thinking of taking new photos. Perhaps they are ready to go up to the next step. Your own eccentricity demands it. They greet with great kindness – their smiles are like that of Willy Ronis' Parisian child – and they jump inside one of the photographs. Perhaps, there, ideas flow better.
* “Looking for the masters in Ricardo's golden” by Catherine Balet shoes can be visited until March 1, 2020 at FoLa (Fototeca Latinoamericana), Godoy Cruz 2620, City of Buenos Aires.