'Each instant is part of a miracle inherited by everyone, whose perpetuity is up to us to guarantee.' Speaking of the wonders of human fate, these words closed, in 2020, in the Museo de Arte e Historia Guanajuato, an introduction to the exhibition of Ale de la Puente that directed the gaze to the universe and the stars that illuminate our nights. Traveling photographer Javier Hinojosa (Mexico, 1956) directs his lens at nature in national parks and supposedly protected areas, capturing the fragile beauty of a diversity of remarkable landscapes.
The photos on display were done between 1989 and 2022 in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay). Water, this element essential for life, feeds one of the main guiding threads of the selection. Hinojosa has a fondness for capturing what is visible at dawn when the sun is rising, another indispensable ingredient of all forms of life on Earth. This custom and the long exposure times give birth to seas of clouds tracing reliefs, drawn-out shadows in a waking natural world full of hope and expectation at the start of a new day on the planet.
Although Hinojosa's images are not accompanied by ecological statements, the circumstances of the environmental moment that we are experiencing lead us to read and interpret this work in the context of global warming, the consequences of which are increasingly noticeable. From this optic, the quasi-monopoly of black and white is a double-edged sword: the artistic, on the one hand, and on the other, a past and futuristic interval, generating a sort of suspended time. Let's take a detour on an emblematic characteristic of Hinojosa's photography to try to understand this impression of temporal suspension. Photography is, by definition, a stopping of the image, but beyond that tautology, in this case, what reinforces that timeless sensation is the utter and complete lack of the human presence in these images. Animals, yes, humans, no. Is it some sort of premonition of a possible future free of humanity—like when we speak of a smoke-free environment? A radical ecological dream of a planet returning to a state before our fall on Earth, a disappearance that would eliminate the unbearable devastating Anthropocene that we know so well. And then what?
There is indeed no doubt something of the mythical lost paradise or the posthuman world in Hinojosa's photography. Except for the series Trayectos (Journeys), which records traces that diverse types of humanoid steps left—suspension bridges, train tracks, winding paths produced by wanderers, and parallel lines carved directly in the soil by motorised vehicles—there are no human or two-legged traces on the horizon, and this fuels a sense of alienation in the face of these vast deserted spaces.
Another aspect of Hinojosa's work that I would like to draw attention to is his passion for salvaging chemical printing modes from the past and for his experimentation with new methods. The first time that a photographic image was printed in permanent form occurred in 1826 or 1827 when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce shot a view from a window on his property in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, south of Dijon in France. It had an eight-hour exposure time. He used bitumen of Judea, or Syrian asphalt, to fix this image. Hinojosa does not go back to bitumen of Judea, but he activates various developing techniques discovered in the nineteenth century. These include the cyanotype coined in 1842 by British scientist and astronomer John Herschel and wet collodion invented by Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave Le Gray in 1851. Hinojosa's work can also be read as a tribute to these pioneers of photography. There are reminiscences of _Niagara Falls_photographed in 1857 by Desiré Charnay in the shot of Cascada de Iguazú (Iguazu Falls) by Hinojosa in 2012, or of the plant collections of Charles-Hippolyte Aubry of 1864 in the image of agave stalks in Quiotes and other feathery compositions that Hinojosa set on glass or acrylic with wet collodion.
Videos edited specifically for the exhibition accompany this generous selection of photographs representative of the fruitful career of the traveling photographer. One sound piece, composed by Emilio Hinojosa Carrión and performed by musician Alexander Bruck, refines our gaze, taking it to intangible, enriching spaces.
Press release courtesy Terreno Baldío Arte.