Spanish photographer Chema Madoz has been photographing ordinary objects for more than 20 years. His refined black and white photographs show common objects that have been craftily manipulated by Madoz himself, placed out of their original context and joined together to create a new reality before photographing them. It’s visual poetry.
This world of visual paradoxes is, indeed, a celebration of photography. Madoz creates his peculiar objects only to photograph them; he doesn’t exhibit or use them afterwards, they exist exclusively for the camera. These (re)contextualised objects charge Madoz’s photographs with symbols, metaphors and double meanings. Madoz constructs from these objects a new fictionalised reality and documents its ephemeral existence.
Madoz photographs a genre that is as ancient as art itself. Still-life has been a focus for artists since cave paintings and has also been a recurrent theme in photography: William Henry Fox Talbot, Emmanuel Sougez, Joel-Peter Witkin, Wolfgang Tillmans or Jeff Wall, among an endless list, have photographed still-life. But Madoz’s photographs (re)present the genre with a distinctive rhetoric. As Cristian Caujolle points out: “Madoz’s work is articulated by deceptive objects which, behind their regular appearance, hide a strangeness which creates a new appreciation of them.” According to Caujolle, that new appreciation is what stops Madoz’s photographs from being traditional still-life.
In fact, what is important in Madoz’s work is not we see but what we don’t see. Not what is shown but the way in which Madoz’s photographs introduce and use different elements. Madoz’s photographs need our participation to be complete. They force us to think twice about what we see, and there, in our intellect, they are finally finished and fulfilled. That demand for our participation, it could be said, impedes them from being still. Rather than depict still-life, Madoz produces “still-alive” images.
The very first thing we do when we see a photograph is to look for the narrative, the story, and the argument. Paradoxically, what constitutes the true essence of any photograph is what is hidden or is not shown, what is left for our interpretation and imagination. We look through Madoz’s photographs but suddenly we realise some oddity within them, and we look at them more thoughtfully. Once we have examined Madoz’s photographs we don’t have to look at them again, we just have to think of them; they are installed and anchored in our minds with their complex simplicity. Madoz’s photographs are not made only to be seen; they are also made to be thought about, meditated on, and therefore to be, in all senses, contemplated. And that is precisely why Madoz’s images are so extraordinary: his visual paradoxes need our deduction, our meditation; they are created to be performed and concluded in our minds.
And this is where Madoz’s photographs in truth work, not on the paper, but within our intellectual engagement. They are instruments for thinking and reflecting. The tension between what the eye sees and what the brain reads makes us, as viewers, an essential element of Madoz’s work.
As viewers, we look for resemblance in Madoz’s photographs, we see what is there, and how it is, but we also contrast it with what we know. If Madoz’s photographs work as a deception is not because they cheat on us, but because we let ourselves be taken in. And we do that because we misread them at first glance; but we soon realise it and stop misreading them, to read more carefully what is really there in the photograph, as it is, and not how we think it should be or how we thought it was. Indeed, Madoz’s photographs are stunning because that first misreading, distraction and confusion, provoked by Madoz’s dexterity, constitutes their very essence.
Madoz’s photographs are titled Untitled, which is itself a paradox. In fact, by titling his photographs Untitled, what Madoz does is to paradoxically, (un)title his photographs. Madoz plays with the (visual) poetry of language and the complex simplicity of his (re) contextualised (re) presentations which, via resemblance and distraction, are performed in our intellect, leading us into a state of not only dual contemplation but of interaction; giving us, in any case, something we did not have before.
TEXT BY PEDRO J. VICENTE MULLOR
© picture VEGAP-Chema Madoz, Untitled 2005