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Chema Madoz. The photographer of the invisible

June 2013 | You'll be happy to meet... | Barcelona - Madrid

“The beauty of my pictures stems from their simplicity”. Exclusive interview with the great photographer from Madrid.

B.S. I need a title but I’m not quite sure what your are... Do you consider yourself a photographer?
c.m. I’ve always defined myself as a photographer because that’s the easiest, most immediate and evident thing to do. Searching for some other term to define what I do has always been too complicated for me. All my visual culture comes from photography; all my images are photographic images. The advantage with photography is that it can be
used in a thousand different ways, so there are a great many photographic works which have nothing to do with mine, but that’s no reason why mine shouldn’t come within the scope of photography.

B.S. Why did you choose photography as a form of expression?
c.m. It was pure chance. A camera fell into my hands. Before that I had never given any thought to doing anything connected with photography, or with art or images. It was a discovery I made all of a sudden when I took my first pictures with that camera and realized the possibilities that photography offered for playing around, inventing stories, telling tales, manipulating things and so on.

B.S. What are the stories behind your photographs?
c.m. I don’t try to turn things I’ve read into pictures. Of course there are obviously some poems, books and writers that have influenced me, but this is true to the same extent as any other activity like music or movies. I come across directors or artists with whom I feel a greater affinity, for example, or who reach me more deeply, and they open doors to other authors and artists. In the field of literature, in particular, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that there is some relation between my pictures and the vivid prose images or greguerías of Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Those writings show a similar visual imprint and a certain sense of humour... My photography may also bear some relation to haiku, although
they are more open as images and have a more poetic air.

B.S. What is the aim of your photos?
c.m. The fact is that I don’t give any thought to the reaction they’ll cause in the viewer. I look for images that move me and touch me, that make me feel that I’m doing something different which I wasn’t aware of. I want to be able to stand in front of my pictures and feel that I can communicate with them. If a picture says something to me, I feel confident that there may be other people who will experience the same thing.

B.S. Does your mood have any influence on them?
c.m. I don’t try to leave a record of my moods. I guess something influences me and that’s what ends up being reflected in my pictures, but my aim is actually simpler and more modest: I just want to stand before an image that moves me
and provides a support for thought.

B.S. What is your creative process like? Is there a certain inspiration?
c.m. Some very different processes unfold. At times I may have an inspiration, or more precisely, I may “bump into” an object, a situation or a specific arrangement of elements that leads me to a picture. In that case it’s a kind of discovery. On other occasions the subject may be commissioned, like when pictures are needed to illustrate a text on the family. What I do then is look for an element that implicitly reflects the concept, in this example like a loaf of bread (which is something that is shared and eaten in the family setting). Then I look closely at the element or elements and from there I
develop a picture that makes a certain sense or that offers possibilities of understanding the concept from a different angle. Lastly, there is another type of pictures that express sensations or emotions I may have felt at some specific
time. All told, widely differing processes take place, depending on the circumstances. I’d say that the fact of not knowing very clearly what the whole thing involves is what drives me on, because if I understood it completely I think it would lose some of its appeal or mystery: photography would become a sort of formula for me or a series of steps to obtain a result.

B.S. This lack of method prevents boredom but it also obliges you to stay alert, I suppose?
c.m. Exactly. I don’t leave home with a camera but from the moment I get up till the moment I go to bed, I’m under a sort of tension, looking carefully at every surface, every corner, with the idea of finding something I may be able to work with or develop.

B.S. Why do you eschew the human figure?
c.m. In the beginning it seemed that the most immediate thing to do was to photograph landscapes or human beings, so I did just that and began to focus on people. Later I realized that I had the complete picture in my head… a very specific posture, a very precise angle. In fact, the whole thing came down to a process of eliminating the accessory, and people just disappeared as a result.
So then I focused on objects, although I had very little idea of what it was I could tell through them, and I started to investigate. I wasn’t especially interested in still lifes or bodegones. So even though I do use some aspect of them at times, it’s only as nods, as little devices that are fully accepted by both the viewers and myself.

B.S. You make the still life come alive. You carry it to the other side of the mirror.
c.m. I suppose it’s something like that. My photos aren’t all-new perspectives or gazes but I know I elicit a reaction, a smile. Very ordinary objects are pictured and viewers recognize them and discover the different possibility that is proposed. They discover something new in the everyday and that calls forth a smile of affinity, of understanding what the game is all about.

B.S. Why do you use black and white?
c.m. Black and white is the smallest “palette”. With the type of pictures I take, establishing links between one element and another, everything is reduced to contrast, volume and texture. That simplifies things greatly in the sense that it sets widely differing objects on the same plane, unifying them and placing them in the same territory. What’s more, black and white establishes a certain distance with respect to reality. Black and white is also more timeless: when you look at a colour photograph, you situate it quickly in a certain decade according to the type of colour, but when you see one in black and white, it can only be situated somewhere between the beginnings of photography and the present. It’s more ambiguous.

B.S. You also play around a lot with light and shadows...
c.m. Of course. It’s something especially important for me: my pictures are very artificial in that everything appearing in them is manipulated, but the light is always natural in order to compensate for it, so that there’s something there that isn’t artifice. I study the lighting carefully to get exactly the right light and contrast for the photo.

B.S. You don’t use digital techniques?
c.m. I keep working with analog photography. I’m interested in digital but I don’t know how to use it very well. I think they’re two different universes. I’m interested in working with the object and in finding the point where reality fails on its own ground, within reality itself. The circumstance of working with an object manually, of setting it up, preparing it and seeing that it works right has an added appeal. If all these manipulations were digital, I’d be working in a completely
different territory.

B.S. What do you do afterwards with the objects you photograph?
c.m. I leave them around the studio but they hardly ever stay the way they were in the photographs because they’re usually combined in them. They’re such ordinary things that I don’t give them any particular care or put them in a display case like finished works, but I do take care of the few that have been specially prepared. My objects have only been
displayed twice and on one of those occasions it was to illustrate the process of producing the pictures: the relation  between elements that are distant or in different universes and the creation of new relationships.

B.S. Is the beauty of your photographs intentional or accidental?
c.m. The beauty of my pictures stems from their simplicity and austerity. Simpleness is what makes them beautiful. I don’t make any attempt to embellish the photographs artificially.
They are pictures that give a certain sensation of nakedness: there are very few elements and this nudity, this beauty, conveys itself to the photograph, but it’s not something I pursue.

B.S. What places in Madrid do you like best?
c.m. I usually go to very ordinary places, the best-known museums or certain galleries. I like Calle del Pez, in the Malasaña quarter... these are meeting points, get-together places where you can eat or enjoy a drink at a terrace
or at a friend’s house. And I like the restaurant Clarita a lot, too.

B.S. What place do you find inspiring?
c.m. I like the Rastro because I’ve always been attracted to flea markets, where you can find all sorts of knick-knacks and things. It’s a place I visit fairly often, looking for something specific or just to take a walk, stretch my legs and see what’s to be seen. Of course, when I look for something in particular, I never find it. —