Ana Álvarez-Errecalde on her artistic photography series CARE

February 1, 2024 | Blog, My Story

Ana Álvarez-Errecalde is an Argentinian artist based in Barcelona, known for her impactful photography, video and installations, primarily inspired by the themes of birth, motherhood and care (especially regarding disability). This year her work will be shown at CaixaForum in Barcelona as part of the exhibition Veneradas y Temidas.

Here Ana shares with us more about her artistic practice and discusses her deeply powerful and personal photographic series CARE, Caring is Important.  


What initially led you to become an artist?

I became an artist when I became a mother. My first son, Neuquén, was born with a severe neurological condition and with that I saw all of my certainties crash around me. I was living in New York City at the time, far away from friends and family and I was spending a lot of time caring for my son and trying to do a very exhausting early intervention programme. 

Everything was so overwhelming and I felt so lonely that I started taking photographs as a way to cope. I needed to focus on the beauty and unique presence of my son regardless of his challenges. Photography allowed me to do that and art became intuitively a very healing practice.

Can you tell us about your photographic series “CARE, Caring is important”?

“CARE, Caring is important” portrays care relationships around dependency and disability and collects testimonies from the people portrayed, as well as insights from my own experience. 

My goal was to create an opportunity for debate around gender and care, the precarious economy of the caregiving sector raise awareness on how to care for caregivers and reflect upon the effects of care in solitude. By giving visibility to different life experiences, it aims to reexamine the value that care has on a historical and social level.

 

Ana Álvarez-Errecalde Series CARE

 

“CARE, Caring is important” is also a counter-response to the cultural imaginary that portrayed disability and dependence with ridicule, caricature and derision (for example in paintings: Velázquez and Alfred Kubin; and in photography: Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark). It aims to reverse the connotation of dependency as marginality, the embodiment of evil and punishment, with images that consider and prioritise the dignity and the social and spiritual contribution of each human being.

What first inspired the project?

Once again it was my eldest son who inspired me to create this work. After twenty years of experience with disability and care due to his condition, I was very eager to question, cherish and celebrate the value and the contributions of a collective that is usually neglected and discriminated against in all aspects of society (politics, economy, culture, health, etc).

 

 

How did you approach the process of gathering the testimonials and capturing the images?

It was a very difficult process because I created this project from the end of 2019 until the beginning of 2021. I was working with a demographic that was more vulnerable during Covid-19 and due to the circumstances I had to become more flexible and more objective. 

In July 2020, Neuquén died. I was devastated and I didn´t think I was going to be able to finish the series. Months later I realised that the project was even more important because it was part of his legacy. It was extremely difficult but also very powerful. Each person portrayed gave me the strength to keep going. Each one of their stories was a motivation to finish the project, publish the book, and exhibit the artwork.

What were some of the biggest lessons and things you took away from your experience of creating this book?

The biggest lessons I learned by doing this project are humility and gratitude. Each person portrayed is an inspiration. Their uniqueness is a treasure and the ones that have died guide us to grieve, grow and live with a totally different perspective on life.

Society as a whole is missing out on the value and wisdom of this part of the population. They may not talk, walk, or “produce” in terms of societal standards but they have the potential of changing their surroundings for the best and “recharging” others with humour, resilience, creativity, and focus.

As a multidisciplinary artist, what makes the medium of photography so powerful?

Photography is one of the mediums of our times. It can be powerful because it can relate, confront and expand the viewers´ consciousness. At the same time there is such a saturation of imagery and we consume so many thousands of photographs and photograms daily at the speed of a finger on our phones, that there is a banalisation of the photographic language.

Not all photography is powerful and not every photograph inspires us or challenges our views.

 

 

What draws you to the themes of birth, motherhood and care (especially regarding disability)?

Experiencing pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, as well as accompanying my three children into their adulthood has been a very transformative experience for me.

It has been the motor to grow, create, take responsibility, change priorities, become less selfish and more involved in ecology, politics, health, nutrition, feminism, antiracism, self-education and care. I try to talk about all these themes through my art.

I created a self-portrait while giving birth “Birth of my Daughter” (2005) because I had a profound need to see this sort of maternity represented. I felt that these photographs could help others rethink the idea of the fragile, painful, out-of-control and overly medicated birth that is considered the norm.

The “on-screen” births tend to depict the woman as a spectator, the baby as a product and the doctor a hero. A birth like mine subverts the order: The mother is the hero, the baby is the motivation that gives meaning to the experience, and the doctor or the figure that represents him – a midwife, partner, etc – is a mere spectator who accompanies according to the woman’s needs. A birth like this one is subversive and at the same time it’s a metaphor in the sense that it goes beyond the occurrence to delve into deeper issues of our understanding of society, fear and life.

At the moment, your work is being shown as part of “Veneradas y Temidas“, at Caixaforum Madrid, can you share more about the exhibition?

This exhibition features artworks and sacred objects from several continents, from the ancient world until today. It shows how the Sacred Feminine (which involves love as well as sacred fury) has played an important role in our understanding of the world. 

It consists of 154 pieces curated by Belinda Crerar from the British Museum, in dialogue with a selection of 11 renowned contemporary artworks from around the world curated by Rosa Martínez, who invites us to reflect on female power and sacredness and spirituality today. 

My videoart  “Resurface” (2019) is part of the exhibition. It is a tribute to the sacred feminine that was dismissed, confined and forgotten.

Veneradas y Temidas” at Caixaforum Madrid closed on 14th January 2024, and will be opening at Caixaforum Barcelona in February 2024.

 

 

You have been invited to talk about your work at different events and in schools. What are some of the important themes you touch on?  

I am invited to talk about my artwork – specially about “CARE, cuidar importa” and about the representation of breastfeeding in the arts. It is very important for me to be able to expose these issues to children and youth. It is crucial not to censor their gaze regarding disability or womens bodies. What we don´t talk about, we don´t get to fully understand and that becomes taboo and a source of fear.

We can talk about inclusion and respect all we want but if we are not able to look, question, make mistakes, have uncomfortable conversations and be of service, we are just being politically correct but there is not true change.

How did your photographic book, “Cesarean, beyond the wound” in collaboration with the association “Birth is Ours”, come about?

“Cesarean, Beyond the Wound” is a photographic series and a book published in 2009. We were talking about obstetric violence and not that many people were ok with that term at that time. The OBGYN community in Spain was not happy but it allowed many mothers to start sharing their experiences of being vulnerated during their pregnancies and births. I think it was a very powerful project. 

Many women who had had traumatic cesareans were able to question what had happened to them. Many of them told me that everyone would tell them that as long as the baby was fine, they should not complain: after all it is important to have a “healthy baby”. But the truth is, that if the mother undergoes a traumatic experience, and has been infantilised, ridiculed, or ignored, that has an impact on her physical and mental state and the relationship that she can establish with her baby. 

I think we were able to create more awareness around these issues within mothers as well as within the medical/midwifery community.

You also offer commercial photography sessions (from birth photography to portrait photography). What can someone expect when booking a photoshoot with you?

My commercial photographic practice is based on actively listening to each client’s needs. When someone books a photoshoot with me they can expect to have a long conversation before I pull my camera out. 

I want to know why they want a photo session and the purpose of the photographs. I want to make sure I can honour their ­needs and if possible I want to make sure we can do the session in the place that best communicates what needs to be portrayed.

If I’m doing birth photography I become silent and try make myself as invisible as possible, whereas if I’m doing a family portrait or a professional portrait I might become a bit of a clown. It all depends what each situation calls for. But one thing is sure, I want to know the person that I am photographing. I always fall in love with personal stories and that is what inspires my work.

What would you say to women who might feel nervous in front of the camera or uncomfortable at the thought of a photoshoot during what can be a vulnerable time of pregnancy or after giving birth?

What would you say to women who might feel nervous in front of the camera or uncomfortable at the thought of a photoshoot during what can be a vulnerable time of pregnancy or after giving birth?

 There are many women who don´t like to see themselves in photographs and are always waiting to lose some weight, to dye their hair or to be “in better shape”. This shows how demanding and how unfair we can be with ourselves.

Sometimes we are unable to see ourselves through a kind and appreciative gaze or we don´t think we deserve the time for an artist or a professional photographer to look at us. 

If a woman is uncomfortable at the thought of a photoshoot portraying one of the most transcendental moments of her life, I would ask her about her fears. Doing a photoshoot does not imply that she has to share those photographs with anyone, but there is no second chance to capture a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Photography can be private or public. It can celebrate who we are or become a reference for who we want to become. It can help us understand who we are and who we were. It can help us heal, accept, reframe, give value and treasure certain events. It can be an exercise in assertion and humility, a way of being at peace with the present.

 

 

What lies ahead for your artistic practice in 2024?

I’m looking forward to the upcoming opening of Veneradas y Temidas at Caixaforum Barcelona. I would like to finish a photographic project I started some time ago about the after effects of Covid-19, and I would like to get more involved with video and filmmaking.

I would also love to do more commissioned photoshoots because that is the way I get to know people, their stories and get inspired by these interactions.

 


To book a personal photoshoot, or contact Ana about her photographic series CARE, Caring is Important, email info@alvarezerrecalde.com

Read more stories and interviews with our community on the MumAbroad blog

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