A Collection of Improvised Self-Portraits

With performative undertones and a documentary tradition, Sofia Ayarzagoitia’s series Every night temo ser el dinner offers an insight into her personal experiences and intimate relationships.

© Sofía Ayarzagoitia, from the series, Every night temo ser la dinner

Every night temo ser la dinner is an intimate photographic journey that Sofía Ayarzagoitia started innocently as a diary. Through the use of text, games, friends, portraits of her rat Gustav, and trips to different countries, she reveals her recollection of memories and the way she sees the world. At first glance, the photographs seem not to be connected, but the inclusion of text throughout the story allows you to decipher what seems to be a puzzle.

Sofía’s images reveal a curiosity and wonder for something that she is unsure whether she has found or is still looking for. She may not appear in the series, but this work is undoubtedly a self-portrait of her thoughts, feelings and anxieties. Every night temo ser la dinner received a PHmuseum 2017 Grant Honorable Mention.

Your project, Every night temo ser la dinner comes across as a process of self-discovery and liberation. Why did you decide to show your experiences through a performative narrative?

My proximity to the people I photograph has evolved - on this particular occasion, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted; a sort of game where the subjects could participate, where the intimate space was necessary. There was a degree of planning involved, so I started to play with symbologies. For example, with the photo of the Tiger King - we had to go back several times to play with the blanket. This is a game of improvisation, which is very important to me because there are many situations that take me to unexpected results, where the subject decides to participate.

Since everything is improvised, the photo always ends up being very different, and personal secrets are often revealed, either of me or of him… I like the idea of being able to intensify them with the use of colours, shapes, bodies, signs and expressions. Now, I see the project as a concentrated diary of lived performative fragments. To a certain extent, it is a recollection of self-portraits. I consider myself a collector of improvised and created moments. I am more interested in telling certain experiences, feelings, sensations, messages, and situations with improvised performance because these are much freer and more intense.

© Sofía Ayarzagoitia, from the series, Every night temo ser la dinner

Why is the story told through the male body?

Since I see the male figure, I know exactly what I want to photograph. I am attracted to their aesthetic, shapes, impulses, reactions, actions and how all of these are connected. There is some kind of game, some flirting, chemistry, perhaps a dare. It is easier to connect to a man than with a woman, even though I have connected with women before, whom are very important to me. Yet, with men something occurs to me with their body shapes: for instance, when they remove their shirts… I find the male aesthetic freer than a woman's body.

Can you talk about the use of text and the relevance it plays within the story?

In certain moments the text plays the role of the narrator, accompanies the meeting, or names the chapters. In other instances, the text appears as if it were another picture, sometimes offering general information, memories, a diary or playful poems, but always very photographic. It was important to keep it in ‘pocho’, since I wanted to obtain a certain unity, break the language barriers, stop fearing it… to give it that taste…. I started to write the texts like that, playing with the two languages, sometimes simply to hide something that I didn’t want to be read.

I am from Monterrey, a city close to Texas - here we use both languages from a young age. I attended an American school, so we were always crossing the borders - we are the most Americanised city of Mexico, and very often, we use combined words and make up words too. For instance, ‘me voy a parkear’ (I am going to park) in here, we combined the English verb to park with ‘ear’ in order to make it a Spanish word, which in reality doesn’t quite exist, but it is understood. I thought by the use of 'pocho' I could contribute more to the project and make it more dynamic, with more rhythm and unity.

As for the title, Every night temo ser la dinner is a reference to a sensation that I had sometimes, when men want something else besides being friends and models for my photos. So some kind of game was created among them and myself - seduction - even if it is only symbolic.

© Sofía Ayarzagoitia, from the series, Every night temo ser la dinner

Why did you shoot the whole project with a disposable camera?

Well, actually, not all of the project was shot with a disposable camera - I also used a point and shoot camera of 35mm. I very much like the aesthetic result and film quality. The camera I used is technically simple and there are many ways to play around with it. The developing process is the most important process, even though one could say it is rather passive-aggressive. The developing is important because in a way you leave space for the imagination to think and to process information. It is not the same when you obtain the instant digital gratification of the image. Also, the fact that the camera isn’t big allows me as well to be more playful with it.

Your background in photography is quite diverse - from Mexico to Spain and then studying in South Korea. Could you explain how these experiences have influenced your work.

I moved to Spain with the incentive of learning more about photography. I went in search and was very open-minded to gain information and knowledge - I really enjoyed what I was receiving. I learned about what was happening in contemporary photography. To travel and live in other places expands you, perhaps I still don’t even assimilate all the information I have received.

What moved me the most about Madrid was the ‘boom’ of photobooks. In Seoul, for instance, the dynamic among classmates and teachers is different; it is a culture I was not aware of. My professor in Seoul, Prof. Chun, was exhibiting in MMCA with 40 or 50 colleagues. The show was about Korean photography throughout the last years. That had a huge impact on me because it made me realise other concepts and processes, very conceptual. My generation grew-up with internet access, which is a tool of great help for one’s knowledge about any topic, however, this cannot be compared to what it is like to live it yourself.

© Sofía Ayarzagoitia, from the series, Every night temo ser la dinner

Did you work on the project with the objective of publishing it as a book?

From the start I was innocently organising it in such a format, but I honestly did not imagine I would publish it: I did not know what this entailed. After a while, it did become my goal to publish it, because it also became important to learn about the whole process. I had the sensation to finish the project or one step of it, with an object that could sustain my work from that period, a part of me, with my special meanings.

With this project, you were awarded an Honorable Mention in this year's PHmuseum Grant. Other platforms have also recognised it as an outstanding project. Can you talk about where you are going now with your project and what is next for Sofía?

It's such an honour to receive an Honorable Mention from PHmuseum - it has been a platform that I have been following and learning from for a while now. Part of the project will be exhibited in Foam Talent in Beaconsfield Gallery in London from 17 May, and in Baffest Barrakaldo Foto Festival from 1 through 21 July in Herriko Plaza, Spain. In addition, I am currently working with Nuevo Amanecer and Museo Marco, in a collaboration that will be exhibited from the 4 - 7 September at the museum. Later in September, I will share my new work which I am preparing together with the Newwer Gallery for Unseen in Amsterdam. As for myself, I will continue working, taking photographs, learning, reflecting, experimenting and expanding myself.

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Sofia Ayarzagoitia is a Mexican photographer (b.1987). She began her studies in Mexico and later attended the IED School in Madrid where she obtained her Masters in Fine Art Photography. In 2016, she was nominated for Foam Talent and was the winner of the photobook muck up competition from La Fabrica and Bienal de Fotografía XVII Centro de la Imagen in her native homeland. She has exhibited in Poland, Mexico, Spain and South Korea where she received a scholarship from the University of South Korea. To learn more about Sofia's work, visit her PHmuseum profile.

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Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a photographer and curator based in Hong Kong focusing on Latin American topics.

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