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Book of the Week: Selected by Janelle Lynch

Book Of The Week Vientre Photographs and Text by Nadia del Pozo Reviewed by Janelle Lynch Vientre (2013-2018) explores the links and contrasts between beauty and cruelty, between desire and the many facets of appetite in the context of our relationships with animals, with our families, with the earth and with memory.
Vientre. By Nadia del Pozo.
Photographs and text by Nadia del Pozo

Published by Nadia Del Pozo and Inframundo, 2018.
124 pp., 49 color photographs. In English and Spanish.

The abstract textured cloth cover image detail of Vientre, Nadia del Pozo’s recent book of photographs and writings, provides a clue about how del Pozo approached the photographs inside—with intimacy and keen sensory perception. For six years, the Spanish artist traveled to photograph in La Mixteca, a region that occupies the western half of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, as well as small parts of Guerrero and Puebla, states on Oaxaca’s northern and western borders.

She was on a quest to discover the connections and contrasts between cruelty and beauty in relation to memory, the familiar, and the land. She explored them, as Wendell Berry describes the pilgrimage of the photographic artist in his essay, “The Unforeseen Wilderness,” with no demands, “along ways he does not fully understand, in search of what he does not expect and cannot anticipate.” The result is 49 color photographs that construct a visual portrait of a place and evoke scents—blood, dirt; sounds—animals’ cries, blades severing bones; and flavors of flesh.

The vision of the ghost town in Pedro P├íramo, Mexican author Juan Rulfo’s novel, pervades as I look at these images—not apparitions of deceased Mixtecs, rather the goats from which they fed. But the photographs came secondary—years after an essay, also included in the book, about her ambivalence since she was a child about her relationship to animals and their life cycle. She writes, “The most disturbed part of me took comfort in having seen a small child cry inconsolably while those beings that had grazed these fields in prior months were turned into pink pulp.” The essay is reproduced in Spanish and English on paper reminiscent of that which wrapped the meats of my own childhood, or the meat itself.

Vientre means guts, belly or bowels, which is what del Pozo primarily shows us. And they are absolutely beautiful. A double page spread shows organic forms in various hues of red and violet against a gray textured background. A vertical image captures white geometric forms, something so wondrous, harmonious, and varied, like a honeycomb, that it must be organic in nature. Another vertical shows blood and a broom against textured soil recalling the life-and-death urgency of Ana Mendieta’s images and Frida Kahlo’s paintings.

Some photographs are quieter, like the one of a man’s soiled bare feet that have possibly just walked across the aforementioned terrain, or the one of a woman’s foot bathing in the river, the pattern of the dress she wears compliments those seen in the water. There is a lighter, even celebratory, spirit there. The day’s work is done. The family has been fed.

While innards and fluids prevail, del Pozo also shows us the landscape of the place where she and the animals roamed; the silhouette of a man in his sombrero at dusk; and that of a hand with a finger wrapped in fur. The images are made, again as Berry urges, through “the practice of observation,” free of judgment. Instead, they are imbued with a sense of reverence—for tradition, the Mixtecs, and, above all, the animals who nourish them.

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Janelle Lynch is a large-format photographer in New York City. Her new work, Another Way of Looking at Love, published by Radius Books in 2018, is shortlisted for the 2019 Prix Pictet: Hope.

Photograph by Forrest Simmons@forrest_simmons