Written by Catarina Fontoura . 08 January 2013
We recently talked with Spanish photographer Alberto Salván Zulueta about two of his most recent projects, ‘Views’ and ‘Bushes’. We asked him about his thoughts on the divide between Man and Nature that is evident in his work.
Fauna & Flora: How did you get started in photography and how have your interests changed over time?
Alberto Salván Zulueta: I started with photography’s intrinsic capacity for analysing what is in front of it. In my early work the aesthetic result was the main concern. But for some years now I have been interested mainly in exploring the medium of photography itself and what society thinks and feels about it.
F&F: Your project ‘Views’ looks at a duality in Japanese culture. On one side we have Japanese urban housing and on the other is “constructed nature” which is a tradition in Japan and reflects very much its culture and philosophy. Even in the “urban pictures” there is always the presence of nature. Would you say that this is a way culture has found to replace traditional relationships with the natural environment? And can you explain a little about the process of making this project and how you settled on a strategy to use?
ASZ: I believe that, in Japan, nature is an element that is deeply rooted in the culture. They have a very different understanding of it from those of us in the West, for example. Nature, and how we relate to it, affects every aspect of their culture you can think of – religion, culture, the arts, cuisine, folklore…
When I was visiting Japan and wondering how I could put together a project around these ideas, I was torn between making work about nature – so respected, worshipped and present in society – or about the city – frenetic, labyrinthine, exhaustive yet, at the same time, in almost every corner silent and even peaceful. It seemed an odd contrast.
Besides nature’s manifestation of exuberance and “happiness”, evident in some places where it is able to develop freely and in peace, we can also find it loved and cared for in any corner, even within the city, where it grows shyly but persistently. I have studied and admired Japanese etchings and other works of art, culture and folklore, etc. In all of them, in different ways – whether obvious or discreet – nature was present and in some way was always a main element.
In Europe’s art and religion we have always had references to nature, but these have always been symbolic references linked to the usefulness of nature to Man. In the Renaissance, for example in the work of Fra Angelico or Patinir, the landscape or natural world begins to gain importance within the artworks. This development is even more marked in the subjective and sublime landscapes of Romantic painting. Nevertheless, such representations are always connected to utilitarian, anthropocentric perceptions of nature.
Looking at classic Japanese etchings, nature is always a central element. Even so, the images always play with that humanity/nature relationship. In the celebrated artworks known as ‘Views’ (showing paths, cities, landscapes…) there is always a human presence and there is always a presence of nature. Regardless of who or what the principle subject is, the pairing of human with the natural world is a constant. Nature (the original habitat) and the city (the habitat created by Man) are in every way dependent on, and necessary for, each other.
In these etchings I observed that this duality is approached robustly, to the extent of using a “formula” that imposes nature or its elements through graphic or synthetic elements. Doing so, however, doesn’t take away from the human point of view, it highlights the action – or the unique trace – of nature.
From this idea I started to think about the idea of diptychs: transforming two images into one. A good way to show the rupture between nature and the city, between the original, and essential, habitat and any other. It can illustrate the synthesis of a culture that remains equidistant between tradition and modernity. I wanted to show, in a physical way, the collision or conflict between those two aspects, between the natural and the urban. This conflict is very much present also in the local inhabitants. These contradictions and their outward signs are largely responsible for shaping the attitudes and positions of the people that outside agents, like ourselves, reduce to citizen and culture.
Perhaps I wanted to look at the changes of roles in today’s society which relate to nature and to the city, which are in any case dependent on each other.
F&F: In the project you did in 2010 ‘Bushes’ there is somehow an analysis of the morphology of different bushes. What led you to do this project?
ASZ: The project ‘Bushes’ is an aesthetic approach to details in nature that are usually overlooked because they don’t have any “anthropological value”. In this case, I use photography (or “art”) as a tool to reconsider and analyse our environment.
Through photography, the subject is raised and accorded “anthropocentric value” – both physically (as a reality) and aesthetically (as an image, a formal configuration).
F&F: What are you working on at the moment?
ASZ: I have been working on something for more than a year. I am manipulating images and trying different ways of doing it. I am hoping to avoid unifying the series in a thematic way, as I have been doing with other work until now. I am using images that I have made in different environments. I still have a lot of work ahead of me. I am very slow at developing my projects.
Alberto Salván Zulueta’s Website: www.abandonedrealities.com