Thursday, September 25, 2008

luisa rubines - de oca a oca

Speaking of talented photographers, I was pleasantly surprised last week to discover a Luisa Rubines website up and running.

I met Luisa on my 2003 Camino. In All the Good Pilgrims, I described her as "a tornado with ringlets, an angular, intense young Galician woman, always halfway to somewhere." At that time, she was taking pictures for an exhibition on the theme of the esoteric Camino; more specifically, on el
juego de la oca, "the Goose Game," the popular European children's board game (ancestor of our Snakes and Ladders) with roots in the Renaissance, which many see as an allegory for the pilgrimage to Santiago. Fittingly, we first met up in Logrono, where each of us was conducting our own inquiry into the life-size Goose Game that is laid down in stone in the plaza of the church of Santiago. We kept bumping into each other (it might be more accurate to say, "Luisa kept whizzing by me") all the way to Castrojeriz, where I hung up my walking shoes for that year.

When I reached Santiago in October 2004, Luisa's exhibition - De oca a oca polo Camino de Santiago - was on at the Museum of Pilgrimages. The 63 photos, displayed back-lit in the darkened gallery, presented the Camino as a magical and mystical journey of personal transformation. In the penultimate photo, just before the pilgrim/goose is reborn as a swan, the pilgrim/photographer leaves behind the bonfire of her old self and wades naked into the ocean at Finisterre to be born again. Leavening the seriousness of the theme were the king-size dice and the spiralling labyrinth of el juego de la oca on the gallery floor, which extended a playful invitation to the viewer to join the game.

The exhibition was a joy. I looked forward to following the trajectory of Luisa's career, even if from across an ocean. Yet when I started writing my book and went looking for her on the Web, I found that her old site was out of service. All the matches turned up by my Google searches turned into dead ends. (Ah, our wanderings in the labyrinth of the Internet!) From time to time, over the past three years, I have sent out Google search parties, but never with any results.

And then last week, I decided to give her one more Google and opa! There she was! With only 8 Camino photos, her website is not as generously illustrated as one would hope. But there is a capture of Luisa's complete juego de la oca gameboard, as well as samples of her other work - colourful images of Cuba, dire photos of the homeless children of Mexico's slums, and a black-and-white gallery entitled Galicia profunda - "deepest, darkest Galicia"...

I'll send this to Luisa. With luck she'll get back to me with some explanation of where she's been hiding - and what's coming up next.

Friday, September 19, 2008

small is beautiful: the camino as seen through a pinhole

Here's a project for a brave photographer: shooting pilgrims' feet.
That's what Canadian visual artist Melinda Mollineaux did when she reached the end of the Camino this May. The results were on display recently at Ottawa's La Petite Mort gallery.

Mollineaux says:

"I photographed the soles of pilgrims' feet in the Plaza de Obradoiro as we arrived in Santiago, the final destination of the pilgrimage. These photos were very special to take; they were like prayers as I knelt in front of each person, with a kind of joy, waiting as the light reflected off their feet into my camera. I spent those few seconds in awe of the fullness of a life's journey in each person - beautiful, tired and radiant - in front of me. If only we would daily approach everyone we meet like that."

What makes Mollineaux's images of the Camino unlike any you have seen before is that they are pinhole images shot with used and discarded cameras
(Pinhole cameras? takes me back to junior high physics class!) The colour images are painterly, the black-and-whites spectral, seeming to recall a lost time. I've taken the liberty of reproducing a couple of them here. There are lots more on Melinda's blog, Beauty is really good. Just look under the entry for September 8th and click on the "Small is Beautiful" slide show. There are some lovely "conventional" pictures of the Camino as well.