The work of Flor Garduño is linked to a tradition of Mexican photographers that has Manuel Alvárez Bravo as one of its most important exponents and is characterized by having converted the photographic camera into an instrument with which to create poetry.
Both Alvárez Bravo and Flor Garduño are poet-photographers. Through the photographic apparatus they capture—beyond the worn-out prose of the quotidian—powerfully suggestive atmospheres, people, and objects transformed, enhanced, by the aura of the poetic metaphor.
Garduño’s images seem to have been stolen, not from the street or the countryside or the studio but from a deeply intimate dimension. Her photographs convey something that hovers over the flame of a more intense world.
“After the book Witnesses of Time was published, with photographs that were taken throughout several trips, I got pregnant with my second child. This changed my way of doing photography.” Flor Garduño’s voice resounds with its typical sustained enthusiasm. It is an emotion that exceeds all words. Her voice, like her eyes, is permanently impregnated by the marvelous. “I decided to return to the beginning, the still life and the nude, in a small adobe shed next to my house in Tepoztlán, Morelos, in Mexico, stealing some time from my activities as a mother. This book was conceived in interiors and all with natural light.”
The photographs were created in the tool shed at the side of the house, in the kitchen, in the garden. A book, this book, grew over the course of a ten-year interior journey, and was enriched by the experience of maternity. A book is like a flower. And this volume is effectively a flower of pages. With a candid look at the most intimate geographies, each photograph here could also be seen as a rose or an orchid.
Garduño takes photographs of nudes, it’s true, but she displays these nudes as if they were strange flowers; she finds in the domestic space facets that intrude with the brazenness and extraordinary ease and theatrical fragility of flowers. A flower is an aesthetic device that wants to say something, a subversive cry of beauty. Every flower with its beauty has a desire to speak.
“My daughter, Azul, was frequently a spectator to this work and she participated in it,” says Garduño. “Sometimes she would bring me objects she had discovered. One day she found a very beautiful bone; it looked like a sculpture by Henry Moore, so I took its photograph, together with the letter A. I believe children’s cooperation is essential.”
Garduño looks at the world with the eyes of a treasure’s caretaker, which is the same as that of a pregnant woman. Every figure glows as if it were tightly holding a promise, beaming with an overwhelming fullness. Each fruit, each body is like a star: it radiates a beauty that emerges from an overflowing richness. Every form seems to express an innate force; it dawns with the power of its strength. Garduño shares with us a woman’s complicity with the vital force of objects and bodies. Everything here lives from within the miracle of fecundity.
“The models are friends of mine: these photographs involve moments of complicity that only a friend could accept. If there is no fondness between the model and the photographer, this kind of work cannot be done.” Remarkably, Garduño says that out of every ten models, seven have gotten pregnant. “Among my friends, word started getting around—it was a joke—that if someone wanted to get pregnant, she had to pose for one of Flor Garduño’s photographs. One of these women had been unable to get pregnant for years, so someone suggested, ‘Why don’t you pose for Flor and let her take a photograph of you?’ She came to me and said, ‘I’ve never posed, but take my picture, to see if it works.’ It was her last resort. She returned two months later, and told me she was a month and a half pregnant. It seems that the women who decide to pose for a picture go through a very profound acceptance of their womanhood and their image. They dare to pose and feel beautiful and be themselves. Something within becomes unbound.
“Another one of the models got pregnant, even though she was using birth control. An Argentine friend was deeply touched when she saw the photographs of pregnant women: ‘These women move me very deeply,’ she said. A short time later she also got pregnant.”
There is joy in being a woman in the eyes with which Flor Garduño celebrates the world. It is as if with each photo she speaks of the delight of being herself, of being so run through by life. Her pictures are the evidence. One could say that her figures feel the powerful and tender life that impels them, that is urged within them toward the profile of the white lily or the surprising curve.
Garduño seems to consider the nude mainly as a primal substance, a sentient form of clay, an incandescent matter that inquires into the world from within a total sensitivity.
A flower finds its place in the world with a delicacy similar to that of a nude. Nothing is wiser, more vulnerable, or bolder than these blooms, which lightly brush the texture of the wall as fingers, sometimes blunt, sometimes pointed, or than these female bodies beneath a gigantic leaf or under the fleshy leaf of an agave or next to a tiger. They are almost modelings of light or spirit, a primordial substance that explores objects and space with a total delicacy. They were rivers of light or fire before being shapes. The beauty of their contour is a consequence; the surface of a vital force is their substance.
I cannot help thinking, on the other hand, that every flower is in fact like a complete body and daringly pure. The first bodies in the world were the flowers. The German Romanticists considered flowers to be the animal part of plants.
Both flowers and the female nude appear in these photographs as privileged organs of perception. Nothing is more delicate than a flower’s face to the world; it is the female organ par excellence, an exacerbated sense of touch, which becomes an eye, an ear, an open amplified fingerprint, a papilla of beauty and space. The hand and the flower also play a constant game of interchange.
The body undresses and the flower dresses up or perches, alighting suddenly on the firm plant stem, as if it had come flying from somewhere else. The nude and the flower are instantaneous epiphanies, feasts of an excessive truth, of softness and freedom, so often hand in hand. Both the flower on the stem and the lightning of skin that is the nude break into reality with the strangeness of an angel. They show us something completely new: unforeseen colors, sensations, shapes.
colors between stone and grey-brown,
as fragile as one’s own dream,
Prometheus of a strange mauve or indigo
in the fingers of green.
Fundamental leap of the unexpected,
of that which invents itself.
A buried internal richness speaks profusely in the rose, a hieratic composure in the calla lilies. And breasts, though they might not be perfect, suddenly have the softness of a magnolia. If objects and things speak, flowers sing: they are, within the plant kingdom, a musical verb of the spirit.
Flowers are a fragrant synthesis, delicately articulated intensities. Every flower embodies excess, luxury, desire, fancy, poetry. Nothing like the flower on a plant bears witness to divine power.
“This collection,” Flor continues, “is the product of a collaboration among many friends. Sometimes these women chose their own poses for their photographs. It was a circular process: many of these friends wanted to make their own sculptures of themselves, create their own images.”
The most traditional approach of the masculine to the feminine is through flowers, as if to express the ineffable that the feminine arouses in eyes, skin, innards, life. It seems that only with flowers, internal or external flowers, can one name the feminine. And only with the totality of one’s being can one behold a nude. There is no way to remain invulnerable in the presence of a nude. A nude strips us, somehow makes us blossom, and awakens our ghosts. A nude disturbs and jolts us, transforms us into flowers of emotion.
A flower speaks to a woman’s eye of an essence: the ideal of natural truth united to beauty. For a woman every rose or gardenia is a trapped mirror; the purity of an internal being unfolds in the corolla and the petals. It is the naked and vulnerable body, trustingly beautiful, the one that wishes to exist as freely as flowers. Nothing like a flower speaks to us of confidence in the contact with one’s own internal being. We begin to feel ourselves, and we allow the force of life to show us its own shape.
There is an enormous emotional strength in Flor Garduño’s work, a capability of baring herself to the core, of fully being herself, with a total acceptance, of being able to feel and perceive with the freedom of a thousand wings. What lightly brushes her glance has an overwhelming strength, almost erotic. Hers is a photographic pupil that is like an extension of the skin: it has its same certainty.
And she is not unfamiliar with the internal space of dreams, as in the self-portrait with an uncombed doll, almost ill treated, that needs to fully free its beauty, that wishes to be, without restraint, a flower. All these nudes, I believe, could be receptacles for the female soul, learning exercises in order to freely and happily become a flower. Through them, we discover that there are many ways of having wings.
Oscar Wilde said that it is only the spiritual that constructs its own form. And these nudes are mysterious because they are so personal. They rediscover the sacred through freedom. It was the divine that embodied the Attic appearance of the nude in the fifth century b.c. In the assertive harmony of virile proportions, the nude expressed its faith in Apollo’s heavenly and musical order. But Garduño’s nudes are like swords of fire, intrusions of Prometheus, more than symbols of Apollo.
“No, I am not interested in perfect bodies,” says Flor in conversation. “In all these photographs I only tried to portray someone’s naked body, not an ideal model. Usually when I’ve worked with professional models, nothing happened: the photographs did not turn out well. Photography always shows aspects of things or of other people that you don’t know of, that are revealed through the photographic process.”
The fact that these bodies are not perfect does not prevent them from being very beautiful; maybe they are even more beautiful because they are not perfect, because they are so personal. And they are more naked than models’ perfect nudes, since it is someone’s body speaking, expressing itself, and moving us with the magic of true intimacy.
These women speak of themselves. What they offer us is not a beautiful object but a dialogue. We are enveloped by the freshness of joy, of a conversation full of confidence and laughs.
In English, the term naked, as Kenneth Clark has pointed out, alludes to feelings of defenselessness and helplessness, while the term nude transmits the idea of a happy and balanced body, balanced in the perfection of its proportions. It is the word nude that is normally used to speak of artistic nakedness and to defend its prestige.
Garduño’s subjects are at the same time naked and truly nude; they tell us that they are vulnerable, but not thereby less powerful. They are not, behind the shield of eternal and final perfection, shapes locked into themselves. They move toward the poetic creation of their own being.
Through music and through stars
shapes were oriented.
Ears and flowers dance within.
From colors we learned
that we had not seen
colors we heard in a song
Translated by Monica Mansour and Susan Briante