A symbiosis between people, places and nature. Alessandra Sanguinetti of Magnum Photos travelled to the islands of the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean to take the photographs for the Islands, Sea and Food Cluster exhibition.
During my time spent on the three islands I concentrated on aspects where people had a direct connection with the land. Be it the coral paste in Mayotte that women cover their faces with, or the use of the land as a playground, the use of vegetation for housing, for spiritual and physical sustenance. My work is just a reflection of this.
Which food that you tasted during these trips has left the biggest impression on you?
The preparation and presentation of the Lap Lap in Vanuatu. The process begins with banana leaves being torn from the trees next to the house and used as a container for the layers of mashed plantains, the catch of the day and vegetables. The banana leaves are then folded around it to form a package tied with vine.
You grew up on a farm in Argentina. How is this early contact with nature reflected in the way you photograph?
I didn’t grow up on a farm. I grew up in the city spending summers and weekends at the farm. I loved the life there, I became alive in it, but it was inevitably more as an observer than an active participant. So I would spend my time roaming the corrals, watching the sheep, cows, and pigs being herded, being taken care of, vaccinated, and eventually shipped away or slaughtered. My view of this wasn’t the practical farm girls view, but maybe a more romantic and also a questioning one. As a child I would see most things from the point of view of the animals, rather than the people, and I stayed very attune to that all through my photography project, “On the Sixth Day”.
From the farm you went to live in San Francisco: how did this change your way of eating? What locally-farmed produce to you still eat? Are there any foods that you miss, that you can’t find in the city?
San Francisco is a food oasis in the US, with so many fresh fruits and vegetables always in season, with delicious and healthy food all around. However it’s far from free, and land to grow your own food is a luxury few can afford. This came into sharp relief after visiting Vanuatu and Dominica, where because of the nature of the land, everybody has access to banana trees, coconut trees, cacao trees, avocados, mangos, pineapples, figs, breadfruit, fish and clean water.
It is only with The Adventures of Guille and Belinda that I combined the dream lives of the girls by encouraging them to act them out – thus giving the images a theatrical quality. That was specific to that work. As I photographed them this approach came naturally, for it was their world I was trying to represent. And a child’s life is best explored through play.
I approach each subject or theme I work on in the manner that I intuit will be the most organic. With animals, I would instinctively go down on my knees and photograph them at their eye level, follow them around and try to be in their rhythm.
It’s the way you tell a story that matters. Every subject, place or theme I photograph, will evoke different feelings, reactions, expectations, so as a storyteller you use the best tools to evoke what the story means to you. In the case of Guille and Beli evoking their (and my) fantasies seemed like the most natural and faithful way of presenting them.