11 June 2015
11 June 2015 - Written by Luján Agusti
“I am interested in exploring the feminine world not only visually, but also by looking at how cultural practices influence the way women relate to their environment, usually due to inequality” Meet PHmuseum 2015 Grant 3rd Prize winner Christian Rodriguez.
From the series A Mixe Flower by © Christian Rodriguez
Congratulations on receiving thePHmuseum 2015 Grant 3rd Prize. What are your thoughts about thisrecognition?
I am very grateful to the jury forthis recognition. However, the important thing for me is to give thestory of Gloria the greatest possible visibility. An award of thisnature helps the work to have much more visibility, as this is aforgotten issue in Latin America that needs special attention.
Tell us more about Gloria’sstory…
Gloria lives in the Istmo ofTehuantepec, on the northern side of the state of Oaxaca.Unfortunately this story is no exception, quite the contrary, in thisregion and in many areas of Mexico. By working with the NGO Nääxwiin,I could have access to this information and have direct contact withthe situation. Sharing day-by-day life with people working constantlywith these realities was a great learning experience. Nääxwiinstarts in the Mixe communities, helping women to fight for genderequality. It is important to support these women that have a directimpact on the community.
It is common for teenage mothersbetween 10 and 14 years to be victims of incest and rape. Gloria hasbeen systematically raped by her father. He has also sexually abusedtwo of her sisters, of 8 and 16 years old. Her baby is almost a yearold. She spends an average of 12 hours a day making “totopos”, ofwhich she earns USD60 per month to feed her family composed of hermother and 10 siblings.
Usually in small communities such asthis, when these kind of situations occur, people try to repair thehonor and the damage caused to the family but it is hardly everconsidered psychological support for the child.
I am talking of a particular story tospeak of a general situation. These realities are cyclic: violence,poverty and the repetition of traditional roles make it verydifficult to break these circles. It is essential to work on genderequality and especially on giving these girls the same opportunitiesthat boys have. We need to work in order to give these girls theopportunity to complete basic education and have a life project.
You chose a very special narrativeand unique aesthetics. To what do you ascribe these decisions?
Firstly, the decision to travel toMexico was motivated by one of my best friends, Veronica Gutierrezwho is Mexican and transmitted to me a great love for this countrylong before I met it.
I did not want to add more drama to astory that has it already. That is why I wanted to work from anotherperspective. I remember before traveling to Oaxaca I met Cristina deMiddel: we had coffee and after 10 minutes I thought a lot about howto do it. She motivated me just before I traveled.
I looked for inspiration in the Mexicanmuralists, paintings, and cultural traditions. In particular I foundmany visual metaphors in Frida Kahlo’s paintings: the colors andher world. Frida took many elements from the Oaxacan culture – herdresses; the Huipil; nature, flowers, and food; and the pre-Hispanictraditions that speak to us of centuries of wisdom.
I spend much of the time of my personalprojects dedicated to the research and study of the topic I’mworking on. For me, it is essential to have a knowledge of theterrain, consult texts written by sociologists, anthropologists, andlocal artists, among others. For this project I spent several weeksin Mexico studying the issue before taking any photographs. I live inthe North but I’m from the South. I constantly look to the southand all or most of my references come from there. My north is theSouth.
A Mixe Flower is part of a muchlarger project on teen pregnancy in Latin America that you have beendeveloping for some time ago. What first led you to investigate thisissue and what have you’ve encountered along the way?
All the projects I develop arelinked, in one way or another, to my personal life or family . I amthe son of a teenage mother; my mother had me when she was 17 yearsold and she was a single mom, a pattern that constantly repeats inthe issue of teenage pregnancy. One of my sisters was a mother at theage of 16; clearly this reality has always been very close to mylife, so that is why I decided to work on this topic.
This journey I started a few years agohas helped me to look inside, to know who I am and to look forstories that are close to my origins. According to the United NationsPopulation Fund (UNFPA), Latin America is the only region in theworld where the number of teenage pregnancy is still increasing. Itis not just poverty, education and information. In all cases it hasto do with the absence of a proper life project; one that offers hopeand encouragement to continue studying. A gap is generated in genderequity, where girls don’t have the same opportunities. We have towork on empowering girls from a very early age, in the achievement ofreal equality in decision-making. Once this starts happening we willalso have equity in life projects. The day when life projects forboys and girls become quite the similar is the day teen pregnancywill decrease.
Your body of work generallyfocuses on concepts related to women, their identity, andenvironments. What attracts you to these female universes?
The decision to work with genderrelated issues happened while doing the Master of EFTI in Madrid. Itwas a moment of great experimentation and learning. My tutors helpedme dig into the sea of personal experiences. As the son of a teenagesingle mother, raised by my grandmother, and the fact that I did notmeet my biological father until the age of 33, my world has alwaysbeen focused on women. I have been very lucky to be surrounded bywonderful women who have influenced me and inspired me to work onthese issues.
I am interested in exploring thefeminine world not only visually, but also by looking at how culturalpractices influence the way women relate to their environment,usually due to inequality; how some canons are still imposed nowadaysby distant or ancient cultures; and how this affects relationshipswith the opposite sex. I want to show an everyday, contemporaryvision of women and their environment.
PMH’s award is a good incentiveto keep on working with your projects. Tell us, what are your futureplans?
I’m looking for organizations oreconomic support to allow me to carry out this project in other LatinAmerican countries. I want to visit Central American countries; theones that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy.
Also, we have started working on thenew edition of SAN JOSE FOTO, an international photography festivalheld in San Jose, Uruguay. The aim of this festival is to givevisibility to contemporary Latin American photography, but also tothe rest of the world. We want to make a particular emphasis onemerging photographers who need to give visibility to their projects.I want to encourage both Uruguay’s and my continent’sphotography, and help new generations to have more opportunities todevelop their projects.
Christian Rodriguez (1980) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He joined the newspaper El Observador in 2006 and he has also worked with news agencies such as AFP, AP and Reuters. In 2009, after he won the grant “Roberto Villagraz,” he moved to Madrid, Spain to study an MA in Documentary Photography at EFTI, winning the “Premio Futuro” for best student of his generation (2009). In 2011 he was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass. He has been published in such international media as The New York Times, El Mundo, and ABC, among others and his work has been exhibited worldwide. His work has evolved towards documentary photography, focusing his gaze on the lives of women, looking closely at everyday stories of the characters. His interest is in showing the modern, everyday woman and their environment. This year Christian received the PMH 2015 Grant 3rd Prize for his photographic series A Mixe Flower, which explores the life of Gloria, a young Mexican girl who became a mother at the age of 12. Here he shares his thoughts on the the issue of teen pregnancy, a theme that has become the core component of his current photographic projects, and his plans for the future.