Milagreros: Contemporary Baroque Devotion
Inspired by the great Masters of Baroque painting, Mauricio Toro Goya composes a series of unsettling staged images that explore the relationship between religion, mass culture, and politics in Latin America.
Do you believe in miracles? I don’t, but I am always trying to imagine how they would be. Not the actual act of faith but the representation of them - how would we see them if they happened in front of our eyes? Those miracles would be different depending on where you are born - different Gods and different events - but still miracles.
When I first saw the cover of Milagreros, a photobook by Chilean artist, Mauricio Toro Goya, I was preparing myself to believe whatever I was going to see. In this work, Mauricio plunges his head into the Latin American religious world with an irreverent diving suit costume. His political approach is sustained with an incredible understanding of baroque art and its symbolic devotional images.
The book is composed of eleven hand-painted ambrotypes put together in a concertina structure, protected with a hard cover made with synthetic leather and red velvet cloth with an Eye of Providence emblem and the title embossed with silver foil. The images included in this work were produced in Chile and Mexico.
A book with eleven images? How brave? Yes and that’s because each of Mauricio’s images are a world on their own. These very detailed devotional scenes are part of a baroque’s delirium where chaos and disorder are important elements in the events staged. Mauricio uses ex-voto, a votive offering to a saint or to a divinity, as a primary source of inspiration. It is given in fulfilment of a vow or in gratitude or devotion.
Every picture comes with a little fold out text where we read the name of the God, the title of the image, and a quote from different penitents claiming miracles, probably collected by Mauricio’s field research. It’s unavoidable to look at the images and not hear the echoes from Rubens, Caravaggio or Bach’s Brandenburg concerts. Of course, my imagination is filled with Catholic representations but Mauricio’s ambrotypes are unique and different. Milagreros is contextualised in Latin America using religious and political elements, and they are merged with contemporary symbols, opening up multiple narratives.
We see historical characters mixed with popular culture. The tension is perfectly enhanced by all the fragments in the image, which symbolically relate to each other, building up the meaning helping us to understand the scene. This is not a book to flip through the pages, instead you just need to stop and look at them individually to carefully appreciate the complexity of it. It’s exhausting and confusing but at the same time it is powerful and direct. Mauricio uses one of the first photography processes to create a contemporary dialogue. He sometimes recurs to parody in order to question the socio-political models implemented in different areas in Latin America.
It seems the book is sold-out but if you have the opportunity to find a copy, it won’t disappoint you. It is something different, something made with fresh eyes and a very creative mind.
Milagreros by Mauricio Toro Goya
Published by 1621 Editions, Chile, in 2015 // Craft book, accordion bound
First Edition // 200 copies
Currently Sold Out
Mauricio Toro Goya is a Chilean photographer currently based in Coquimbo. His series’ reflect upon society in innovative ways, using old technical resources as the basis of their aesthetic proposal. Follow him on PHmuseum, Twitter, and Instagram.
Alejandro Acin is director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as designer and editor at ICVL Studio.