05 April 2017

Her Body and the Universe

05 April 2017 - Written by Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

Umbilical is a project that seeks to explore life and its relationship to the universe in the body and the spirit.

© Mateo Barriga Salazar, from the series Umbilical

Umbilical is a personal project that sets off an intimate exploration of the photographer Mateo Barriga Salazar and his partner while expecting their child, Rumi, in the location of Cayambe, a small town in the north of Quito. Mateo, responds photographically to what celebrates life, the female body that hosts and welcomes life "bearer of a seed of light". 

In contrast, he looks to question his paternity position versus the female body. Through nature and space, Mateo is present and seeks to understand the new personal connections that occur bodily, but also intimately. Umbilical looks to democratise the female versus the male body. 

Umbilical is a personal project charged with intimacy. How did you begin working on it?

We needed to document the processes that we were living through, the emotional and physical changes, but most importantly we needed to explore and understand somehow the unknown feelings that are stirred by the imminence of a new life. It's a journey of awe, enlightenment and fear. 

In the past you have worked with a more documentary style, yet Umbilical has more of a conceptual tone. What are your thoughts on this?

I have always been interested in documentary photography but with Umbilical I had this impulse to work more in a diary process, but it felt different, there were so many things on my mind and in my heart that it had to come more from inside. I also felt I wanted to break all the 'photographic rules', perhaps liberate myself from the academic voice... find myself through the process and make it more liberating.

© Mateo Barriga Salazar, from the series Umbilical

Can you talk about your technical processes?

I work with both film and digital. Often it’s just about the feeling of the moment or what is closer at hand. Some works come into being through trial and error, and at times you are blessed with the unexpected; like the photos in this series that came back from the lab as these weirdly colored images, and you just have to smile.

Yet, I continue to work with black and white film and I still process all my b&w films. It is an important part of the process and the rhythm of developing a personal project. I find almost therapeutic to develop all the film, in what is almost a ritual.

In which locations were you working for this project?

I mainly worked on the photos in Cayambe, a small town north of Quito, that is named after the snowcapped volcano that dominates the valley. That´s where my daughter Rumi was born, in our family home. There are also some photos that I took in Manabi, on the coast, and in the Pululahua Geobotany Reserve, the inhabited crater of an active volcano. Now, just thinking about these places, I can again feel the intensity of the relationship between the forces of nature and humankind.

What kind of topics are you interested in photographing? Is Umbilical finished or still in progress? What are your future plans with the project?

Its the images themselves that speak to me and demand my interest and attention, and from there themes may appear. I tend to work more from intuition. The photographic stage of the project is over, now I am concentrating on publishing the series in a book format, I have developed about a third of the book with two curators/editors, who I very much respect, but we still have a lot to work on... Yet, I can share that I am looking to do an experimental edition, not the classic photo-book. Since this project was so liberating from anything I have done before it fits to take the book under the same voice. 

The process of the book-making is like throwing yourself a bucket of cold water because is analysing and questioning everything that you have worked on. Its intimidating in its own way, but above all liberating. I think also the fact that you begin to work with others, in this case my editors, you begin to open-up and that's very interesting as a new process to the project.

© Mateo Barriga Salazar, from the series Umbilical

Can you talk about where your motivation comes from and what photographers have inspired you?

I like to meander a lot, taking photos almost randomly until I feel that something is emerging, and then I start to slowly follow the thread where it leads me, reading, investigating, and allowing the work to take form. I´m inspired by photographers in general, but I must mention that Japanese photography really moves me. I find their photography so visceral, I guess since they are exposed to images 24/7 they must respond so intensely. In my work, I can find influences from Daisuke Yokota and Lieko Shiga or the ocean itself, which is quite a strong Japanese symbol. But to be honest, I am an enthusiast collector of photographic books and I’m very loose, always changing favorites, betraying one for another!

Having said that, my inspiration comes from various forms, literature, movies which have played a big impact and music of course, which is my medium. I am a drummer, so rhythm plays an important part in my life, therefore, I look to represent this rhythm in my narratives, for instance changing mediums and styles across the series of Umbilical is part of that musical motivation that I always carry with me.


To view more of Umbilical, visit Mateo's PHmuseum profile.


Mateo Barriga Salazar (1985) is an Ecuadorean photographer based in Quito. He studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the Andy Goldstein Creative Photography School, and has taken workshops with Maya Goded, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Julieta Escardó and others. He has participated in exhibitions in Ecuador, Colombia and Spain. Recently he has been increasingly involved in film projects, working as co-cinematographer for “El Elefante Dormido” by Daniela Moreno Wray (2014-present) and as co-director and co-cinematographer of the documentary “Aquí estoy otra vez”, a documentary about the artist Pablo Barriga.

Written by

Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

Reading time

6 minutes