«CARLA CABANAS AND THE ESCAPING MIRROR ON TRAVEL»
“But in that moment an express train arrived at the station. Its solemn bang in the rail crossing, its short whistle, decided, irritated, interrupted the speech of the Man I do not know. When the train came to a halt and nothing but the deaf snores of the machine could be heard, and all the travellers got out, the Man wanted ever so to proceed, but I anticipated myself”.
The Escaping Mirror, Giovanni Papini
It seems to me that Carla Cabanas’ photographs have some similarities to Papini’s short stories. Product of a certain tense way of apprehending reality, they capture the ephemeral of everyday life giving importance to the minimal plot. If it is true that the image can be captured in an instant, it is not less true that it gains shape after a slow pursuit, as a pause or a waiting. From there comes its intensity, as someone who paints by working on the image’s defect.
But let us go back to Papini: “Imagine that the entire world would suddenly come to a halt in a certain moment, and that all things would remain in the place where they were and all people would remain still, like statues, in the position they held in that moment, in the action they were performing… If this happened and if, despite this situation, men never stopped thinking, and could remember and access what they had done and what they were doing, and could examine all they had accomplished ever since they were born and ponder on what they still wish to accomplish before death, imagine just how much despair would burn underneath that momentarily stopped world’s tragic silence.”
Carla Cabanas’ images summon our complicity to come closer to them. Something like searching behind the dream, like strangling desire. Carla travels on the darkened and hidden side of what is visible, and, in a way, violates this intimacy as an explosion of twisted and dim light. Stolen images, bathed by a melancholic halo which comes from her desire to capture the image that best reflects reality, which is never the image of the real, but her oblique regard, the present’s moment that hovers on memory. This is why her photography reminds us more of painting or drawing, that photography per se.
I would say that Carla Cabanas’ images have no beginning and no end, a conflict on which John Berger insightfully reflects, and very well, separating photography – a document from the past – from painting – prophecy received from the past on what the viewer sees when standing before the painting at that moment. It is the visual image as a comment on an absence, as an absence of what is described. “Visual images based on appearances always tell us about disappearance (…) Tales, poetry, music, they belong to time and play with it. The static visual image in itself denies time (…) by being static, painting has the power to establish a visually graspable harmony (…) Musical composition, by widening time, is bound to have a beginning and an end. A painting only has beginning and end to the extent that it is a physical objects: in its images there is no beginning and no end”.
Carla Cabanas works the borderlines, the edges of the disciplines, and, at the same time, the edges of reality. That is why she hides her intimate and explicit drawings, but also secret, and that is also why she photographs by blurring the edges of shape. Her strategy of resistance consists in going the other way around, looking for the blur, the image decomposition, the dissolution of space.
This way, she catches memory in a dead end. As the exasperating feeling of the men Papini contains in his own time, Carla Cabanas’ images are characterized precisely because they close in on their own time. We all consider some of the moments we have experienced as decisive and successive, as a sort of something that is still to come. Life is made of dreams and ideals, of projects; in Papini’s words: “all your present is made out of thoughts on your future”. Therefore, in his escaping mirror he leaves more words that, I insist, seem to fit perfectly the images provided by Cabanas: “All that exist, what is here, seems to us dark, petty, insufficient, inferior, and we only receive solace by thinking that all this present is nothing more than a prologue, a long and fastidious prologue to the beautiful book of the future. All men, whether they know it or not, live holding on to this belief. If they were told that all of them would die within an hour, all that they do or have in fact done would not have any pleasure, taste or worth. Without the mirror of the future, present day reality would seem dull, dirty, insignificant.”
It is surely this what makes Cabanas seek refuge in painting, or, more precisely, in the photography or the drawing which work as painting, whether as a theme or as a concept. It is her way of questioning the photographic, and representation. Deep down, all can be summarized in the toil of getting to the most personal, where telling becomes impossible, as an agonizing and slimmed poetic report.
But surely there is based her interest in Hopper’s paintings, who, from his apparently serene characters and settings, manages to express a feeling of impossibility, a world of dead ends, of lonely figures, scattered around urban complexes. As in Hopper’s works, also in Carla Cabanas’ images pounds a certain loneliness, an emptiness which seems to have cornered us against our own shadow; for if these images coincide on something, it is in that colourful quietness that wrecks between the lights of a movement that is just an apparent one.
Carla Cabanas penetrated in the subjective properties of photography and builds places that are but non-places, lives that resemble fictions and all sorts of projections that shape a reality filtered by an eminently pictorial way of seeing. Carla Cabanas distils painting and flirts with the line and the blur; she flirts with the emptied shapes of all realism. Could it be that the story of Cabanas is nothing but a struggle with and against the impossibility of wanting and not wanting to board on a journey? Of revealing her secret drawings? Or simply to just let herself go, as in the story of he who goes, in mid afternoon, from a pizza place to a hotel and, when closing the door, we reach not the end of the story, and can remain forever open. Perhaps everything is but the result of an escape, like that of Papini’s mirror: “all his enthusiasm had disappeared like a string of smoke. Instead of answering, he took one of his violets from the lapel and offered it to me. Leaning, I took it, brought it up to my nose and felt drawn to its light perfume.”
Such is the journey of Carla Cabanas. It will never be Brassaï’s Paris, nor Stieglitz’s New York, or Reger-Patzsch’s Hamburg against backlight. Not even Bucovich’s Paris, although closer. And much less another Paris, as Doisneau’s. And the same can be said about the minimal landscape of Sudek’s Prague. All remains estranged and all is ever so immersing as those who look and photograph without film, or those who make music without instruments. It will be Carla Cabanas’ escaping reality, evasive.