Warm bodies and ruined walls *

Francesca Gargallo

Irma Villalobos contains within a wanderer in love with the old walls of the capital and a passionate student of human bodies. She walks for days, camera in hand, through the neighborhoods of a desolate evocative imagination that are embodied in the suburbs of Santa María la Rivera, Escandón, Roma, Doctores and the Historical Center.

She caresses with the keen eye of the photographic apparatus the walls once upon a time inhabited, the remains of a daily life that crumbles in the rust of balcony railings, ghosts on the verge of disappearing under the command of the restoration architect, or the impacts of a bulldozer at the service of ruthless modernization.

She superimposes to create; from the separate primordial images to the end result she travels the path from sensation to varieties, from the figure to the composition. She doesn’t narrate; she portrays a world, as close to being dream-like, as melancholy and evocation. Her subject is the sum of two universal emotions, two passions: the house and the absent body of desire, and conveys the human practice of socializing the symbols to communicate beyond the obvious.

She redefines any initial figure, turning the diaphanous palpable. In her inhabited walls, the being and their mask are revealed, the person. Mortal, majestically mortal, always animal and yet always evocative of deities.

* Fragment, published in Artes de Mexico, Number 67, 2003.


Irma Villalobos and the transparency of skin *

Iliana Godoy

The photographic work of Irma Villalobos is an uncompromising attempt to reveal the body as language, and I am not referring to body language as a means of expression, but the body as an element of a plastic composition. Beyond the expressiveness of the movement seized by the camera, bodies are worked on as if they were a blank page before writing; thus, materials of rubble and permanence fuse with the skin to write an alternative history: a graphic representation of dreams and desire.

Ever since physics accepts the simultaneity of all possible histories, fiction has reached a more respectable status; now it turns out that imagination, that mad one, finally deserves some credit from scientific minds(1). Given that the universe is now conceived as a huge hologram, of which fragments integrally contain the whole, the act of combining the most dissimilar realities no longer violates the natural order of things.

The mention of a science as rigorous as physics in this article on the visual arts is not entirely accidental. The images of Irma Villalobos seem to reconcile the stillness of the inorganic world with the fluidity of human life. One has the feeling of finding a fleeting coincidence between far away force fields, whose graphs coincide for a moment and endure thanks to the timely and accurate glance, expressed as visual testimony.

The images of this photographer, rather than being image constructions, are true meetings or unlikely ties between different levels of reality. When the skin merges with the wood, a new material is created, wood-body, humanizing the doors, while reminding the human being about the briefness of time and their ultimate rigidity.

The nude claims its legitimate empire on everyday doors, walls in disregarded buildings, paralytic blinds and semi-tarnished glass. The encounter between architecture and anatomy gives the impression of a fatality; the image appears so integrated that dissociation is impossible. The silent dialogue between skin and dust can be perceived.

Stylistically the work of Irma Villalobos produces a definite impression of classicism, the corporeal nature of Roman and Renaissance sculpture is transferred to the volumetric compositions in works such as Las Tres Gracias (The Three Graces). In photographs such as Neoclásicos (Neoclassics) the dance position of the bodies, framed by the arches at the back, reminds us of the nostalgic Piranesi’s ruins. The fissure of a wall becomes a light dissection of the body, revealing its story in successive skins.

A pathetic attitude characterizes some of her nudes; they recall the pathos in the sculpture of Miguel Angel, through works that could be described as Mannerist.

The surrealist impression, which accommodates the dream world, looms in many of her works: cut off Art Deco silhouettes going through balconies; couples are diluted beneath the arches and balustrades, levitating to dream themselves together, these are the themes in works such as, Balcón irregular (Irregular Balcony) and Algo de la historia (A bit of the story).

A detailed and powerful sensitivity fixes its ruling in works such as El volumen de Jacinta (Jacinta's volume) whose matron like mature body reaches a different beauty, of such strength, that it fades the photographs of commercial models, which seem to have monopolized the public taste and are subject to the canons of youthful beauty. In works like Torso/ garabato (Torso / scribble) we contemplate a door, which textures embody in a quiet touch, the sensuous accidents of the female body.

Within this broad range of expressive possibilities, the photographic work of Irma Villalobos always hits the mark in terms of the precise image. When asked how she achieves this, she answers with the naturalness of a true artist: perceiving, experiencing and most of all, working to obtain that artistic response where the body, beyond itself is revealed.

1 Erwin Shrödinger, one of the leading quantum physics theorists, proposed an
imaginary experiment where a cat from the mathematical point of view, has a 50 percent chance of either dying or surviving, equally the live cat and the dead cat are real, regardless of the observable outcome of the experiment.

* Published in Suplemento Cultural in Uno más Uno, October 3, 1994.


Four Paradoxes of Irma Villalobos *

Francisco Segovia

1 ª The opaque transparency. We are all surprised that a single radio wave can transmit two completely different messages, one modulating frequency and another modulating its amplitude. But accustomed as we are to the notion of that which is seen is not discussed, seldom do we notice that a beam of light can also be a vehicle for more than one message. For example, when we see a landscape through a window, the ray of light that we perceive does not innocently goes through the glass, on the contrary, it brings it to our eyes, in the same way it also conveys the landscape. This phenomenon, called transparency, is the foundation of Irma Villalobos’s photographs. However, opacity seems to be shown in her photographs: the atmosphere that lights them is made of stone.

2 ª. The palpable image. As we are compelled to do with radio waves, we could separately tune into the two messages that the light beam brings printed in these photos, but we would be wasting the simultaneity of the images transferred on to them, offering us in a glance two disparate things: the flat surface of a time-worn wall and the bulky volume in which a naked body fills the space. This union produces a strange effect: the texture of the wall, which is a kind of infinitesimally small relief, making the figures fully leap to the three-dimensional space of sculpture, or at best, gives the sculptural quality that is attributed to Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel ... Hence, more than visible, the figures of these photos are palpable.

3 ª. Embodiment of the wall. In some of these images the contrast maps the contours of the figures with a very distinct black line, like that of charcoal drawings. A shadow? Yes, but a shadow of a particular light, different from that which fills our ordinary days. Put it this way: the environment where the figures of Irma Villalobos become visible is not illuminated air, but lit stone. The wall lights within ... palpitates... is flesh.

4 ª. The foundling stone. But the flesh is sad, as Mallarmé said. The desolation that lives there is the same we see on the walls with which Irma Villalobos illuminates her bodies: they are exposed ... to time itself, that lingers around them as an environment or quality all of its own, rather than to the slow corruption of time passing. The scars they show are not accumulated traits, but signs of identity, more or less contingent,... (What is a stone, after all, but a bundle of scars?) ...

The strange petrification of the flesh shown here seems to say that the exposure, in three senses: that of prostration, orphanhood and defenselessness  - is the primeval condition of the flesh. Is strange that Irma Villalobos shows us the fragility of the flesh through what is considered to be most firm and solid, walls and stones. But it happens, that these photos, as streets and buildings, are also prone to the fragility of their exposure ... and to their enjoyment, because only from exposure enjoyment transpires. If Irma Villalobos hadn’t seen these walls in her own exposure to the streets, the walls would not have the carnal warmth shown here, but neither would the flesh know that it has a fragile and pleasurable destiny: that of showing its nudity, exposed to the weather and the elements, as the walls and stones do.

* Published in Castálida, Mexiquense Institute of Culture, Year 1, No. 3, Winter, 1995.


Where it hides *

José Antonio Rodríguez

Here things have changed. Because now a days it is evident that during the nineties, in terms of photographic representation, diverse and vast paths were created. And the most palpable among all these, which radically dropped the testimonial register that sought to account for external events, was that of the symbolic personal perceptions. A subtle departure that acquired various forms, from outwards to inwards, from the particular obsessions of each creator who gradually began to realize that the photographic event did not necessarily had to be searched, on the contrary, it could be created, assembled or transformed from their own vision. That is, the photographer of the late twentieth century moved away from the old and outmoded dictates that denied the possibility of change (or shape) a particular reality via the photograph. If after all photography is thought, why couldn’t it move through other routes of reflection? Why did other art forms were able to do it, and not this one?

Thus, through photography, personal circumstances have been transformed into new artistic solutions that intrinsically relate ways of seeing and being. Therefore, Mexican photography (or a large part of it) stopped capitulating to that mythical "decisive moment" that few or no photographer was able to find, and in turn they began to construct their own, particular moments. Hence, more often determined by their experiences, each and everyone had in their hands their own moments.  And basically what was forged here was the uniqueness of spiritual perceptions; what becomes relevant then, is the act of handling, scenic arrangement, selection, redimensioning of objects or figures, essentially, the transformation of what is seen. And it is here were diversity happened, in genres, formats and even non-photographic solutions. Immersed within all this are Alejandro Aguilera, Maura Falfán and Irma Villalobos. Each has implemented old genres and photographic resources, which, strictly speaking, they have reviewed from within themselves, and these are: The landscape that in Aguilera’s work is confined to a new circumstance, a new spatial dimension; In Falfán’s work, abstraction becomes an act of sensations, both, challenging viewers and asking them to exercise their perceptions; The use of objects in Villalobos’s work, removed from their source or common use are transformed into a symbolic will, and are then molded to the way she lives her time.

The practice of these three photographers is in itself a challenge. Away from anecdotal or traditional landscapes, which for decades have been done in Mexico, Alejandro Aguilera inserts the visitor in barely recognizable confines of strokes and luminosities. Very few images of his sequence allow the viewers, to settle in a given space. Perhaps only a reddish tinge twilight dissolving into a blue-white or grayish cottony setting, suspended in parts of the image, are the only obvious signs that Aguilera has allowed himself to offer, and refer us to an aerial-space, giving the viewer clues. In many ways this is an exercise in new vision, emerging from a new context in terms of location, that is, from flying hundreds of flights to achieve a single photograph, that seeks to provide a cadence of images where they become,  as he says "a perceptual matter of knowledge and rapport between the object and the photographer". And this is just to offer a few selected moments of the vast space ranging from placid to dynamic or from the ethereal to the dramatic. One way to see the immeasurable (that which has no measure) determined by facets. And here is a paradox: that vastness viewed in fragments, but fragments that gamble more for the stimulus, for certain sensations (bleak infinity, the hopeful luminous warmth) that emerge from those shades, and barely, just barely, from the figures evoked.

Though in a different way, Falfán also practices a way to create sensations. A photographer who comes from the practice of abstraction, which at times, can be extreme.  However, in some of her work this turns into a harmonious effect, by the sensuality of her lines, or the delicacy of the figures that dissolve in the same space (in her series Configuraciones, 1998.). Nevertheless, Evidencia (1999), the work presented here, is determined by the traces of some actions. A variety of traces: deep, volumetric, long, thin, short, brief, heavy, traces with a direction that within the image may burst volatile in a vertiginous movement, or can retract back in black and small circles or else, in the end, disappear. If perception is linked to sensation, these prints, these remainders of a given act may lead to the symbolic: to loss (that line as thin as hair, those two circles united like dark drops) and reconstruction (the way that in a white wall a laceration is covered), but in a circular sense that begins with those two drops and ends with its disappearance ... although it could also be the other way around. Falfán speaks about this project as "events", "inventory ... of lived moments, -a form, then, to project circumstances, the house, its walls, a space-witness, testimony reduced to a minimum- in extremis of life.

In this existential sense, one would have to wonder what possible relationship exists between the sharp edges (hurtful at the end) of some broken light bulbs and the smoothness of some flowers, establishing a link of tension. Or between the brightness of an intact light bulb, resized in the photographic frame, along those broken objects, that at some time offered light and are now immersed in penumbra. Perhaps a clue is provided by the own Irma Villalobos, who from the practice of photographing nudes changed later on, "and it isn’t until 1997, that not having a steady partner transformed my search, and the place of humans is suddenly occupied by light bulbs and flowers." But she also writes of other circumstances: of "warmth and offering" of "lovelessness stages", when referring to this project. With this seems to begin to emerge the symbolic values of her images: of those fragile crystals, of those once luminous objects, only breakages remain, simple imbalanced objects in the dark. And it is at that moment when the act of hope arises (those flowers transmuted into "warmth and offering") within the darkness, or at its best is protected (the flowers in those enveloping spheres), or manages to unite the crystalline and the velvety in a single object (that bright spotlight expanded within the frame that, with no longer the possibility of providing light, nevertheless becomes solid) as a way to take hold. Perhaps involuntary and intricate ways of constructing signs, but no doubt, allowing the photographer to emerge.

* Introductory text for Donde se oculta (Where it hides) group exhibition, April 2000 to January 2001, with works by Irma Villalobos, Maura Falfán and Alejandro Aguilera, exhibited in the Guillermo Ceniceros Museum, Durango, and the Regional Museum, Culiacan, Sinaloa.


Turquoise Blue, nude photo *

Eduardo Planchart

Moments of body, skin, soul, pulsations of life stripped, arrested in their flow, and embodied in their essence. Eternity alongside eternity, steel against paper, life alongside life, tension betrayed between contrasts of light and shadows, flow and holding. Metamorphosis of the recondite, the occult, and the emanations from what’s beyond the skin are presented in each of these images captured in traces of light.

Villalobos explores intimacy. We are faced with bodies that contend with solitude, silences and sorrow. We are faced with our unknown sameness and repression that hides forgotten truths, revealed only through the reflection or the eye of another. It is the landscape of the body, the pore, but above all, that of life. A concept that is reinforced by the anonymity generated through the concealment of the face and the symbol of reason: the brain. Therefore, what prevails in this photographic inquiry are the areas of greater sensuality, those governed by Eros, a depersonalizing resource that facilitates an identification with the image, creating a dialogue of intimacies.

The vision of the artist is highlighted in each of the seven series presented. The handling of close-ups in each fragment reveals the pleasure to transcend the immediacy, to liberate the latent contents manifest in the tense bodies, retaining to the maximum the energy of the Being, waiting to explode in order to transform consciousness, the split, in a joyful oblivion of the self, thus making us part and consciousness of the cosmos.

The sought out contrasts of light and shadow accentuate the vitality of the bodies, transforming their corporeal nature into works of art. Villalobos is concentrated in the contour hidden behind the drapery.

Eroticism and sexuality are shown to us as a means of reunion with the cosmos, and not as a power strategy to invade our inner dimension. The contortions of bodies, raised arms as metaphors of the inner flight, the predominance of atmospheres of solitude, become echoes of these truths. We are faced by standstill times that entrap, between nets of light, traces of the Being in search of transcendence.

The creative hallmark is present in the images through the interference on the actual photograph, by tearing it, scratching, ruling lines over it, staining, painting and chemically modifying it, thus conveying both, an artistic and conceptual expressiveness and enrichment. Consequently, opposite tensions coexist: the photographic image as frozen time, a metaphor of eternity and of the illusory defeat of time, contrasted with the fleeting nature, or the temporary nature imposed by the violent tear or the casual stain, metaphors of chaos and death. These landscapes from beyond the skin reveal the beauty hidden behind appearance.

* Introductory text Azul Turquesa (Turquoise Blue) exhibition, at the National Conservatory of CENART in 1996.


Erotic photography of Irma Villalobos. Inquire into intimacy *

Laura Talavera

The encounter with Irma Villalobos´s nude photographs is an invitation or rather, an incitement to take off the blindfolds and travel through the cosmogony of bodies that contort, weave, fragment and emerge from the darkness, in an individuality stripped by the lens.

On the work of this photographer, art critic Eduardo Planchart said: "Villalobos explores intimacy. We are faced with bodies that contend with solitude, silences and sorrow. We see our unknown and repressed being, which hides forgotten truths, revealed only through the eye of another. It is the scenery of life, a concept that is reinforced by the anonymity generated by the concealment of the face and the symbol of reason: the brain. Hence, in this photographic inquiry, what dominate are the areas governed by Eros. "

In an interview with Epoca, Villalobos talks about her work: "I have taken on the exploration of nude photo as my pursuit as an author. I chose it because it has been the theme through which I convey my emotions, as well as allowing me to do artistic research and technical experimentation. "

What is your creative process like?

In terms of working with a model, there is a first session with movement, using the music they like. Then I review the shots and in the second session, we work on three or four positions. My purpose is to let every body express freely, because each has its own gravitational force, way of being, of sitting and resting.

How do you reflect your emotions during lab work?

What I do in the dark room is intuitive. When I find a strong image, I work with it, scratch the acetate and superimpose images. When overlapping architectural elements, I choose the building, wall or structure that I feel, is like the skins backdrop of the photographed model. When I tear, scratch, stain and fragment, I achieve a greater expressiveness of the bodies. Maybe this way of handling them has to do with loneliness and death.

Planchart points out: "The creative stamp is present in the images through the intervention on the photograph, conveying expressiveness as well as artistic and conceptual enrichment.  And so, opposite tensions coexist: the photographic image as frozen time, a metaphor of eternity that is contrasted with the fleeting nature or the temporality imposed by the informal tear or stain, allegories of chaos, darkness and death. "

These feelings, states Villalobos, "perhaps are not present when I am working with the model, but are manifested in the final result and have to do with what happens to me existentially."

This instant of the self was captured in the exhibition Villalobos recently presented at the Festival Fotoseptiembre, entitled Azul Turquesa (Turquoise Blue).

Why choose this title?

Although color is a common place, it says a lot to me, and is present at important moments of my life. Blue = blue = blues. The blues is a state of mind with which I conclude a stage in my work. It's the deepest stage I have come to in terms of the nude and, I believe that it could be seen in this exhibition. Now I want to move away from this subject matter, as I am interested to review all my different stages as a photographer: theater, portraits and trades. For example, I really enjoyed my work with the artisans of Taxco or with the women basket weavers, because as a photographer I challenge myself to enter other worlds.

How have you managed to imprint your own artistic language in your photos?

An exhibition was prepared in 1991, in which   Coral Revueltas, José Antonio Platas, Felipe Cortés and José Luis Corral plastically manipulated photos. After that I became concerned to not remain with only the orthodox nude, and wanted the challenge of creating a new interpretation, in order to integrate other elements to the images of bodies, and thus give them new meanings. I have achieved an artistic language through research, combined with an education on how to observe. Furthermore, what accompanies this is a process of doubt.

In the last period of Villalobos’s photographic work, the composition of images from symmetries is what is highlighted. On this proposal, the photographer states:

Basically, I plan the composition through the model in motion, and then I assemble by joining images of geometric shapes. This balancing act emerged from my research into the history of the nude in art. I found that in virtually every culture, the artistic representations of the human figure utilize a symmetric approach. Right now, this premise in my photographs is part of an aesthetic search, which aims to demystify the nude, mostly male nude. We are in the twentieth century and this bothers people.

How did you carry out your research into the history of the nude?

I made a total of 400 slides that included the various art forms of different peoples, periods and artists. This research emerged as a personal concern, and subsequently, many people showed their interest and I sought to turn this material into a course.

In addition to composition, what other aspects and elements has this research brought to your photographic work?

I have not yet synthesized all this information, because I believe that the history of art has been misread. For example, we might ask, why is Pablo Picasso better known than Henry Matisse?  Why we are guided more by the aesthetics of the Greeks? Why do we dismiss African culture that gives priority to the head and stomach, a canon that has nothing to do with classical proportion? What is clear is that the cosmogony of every people is manifested in the way they transform the body into a work of art.

* Published in Época magazine, November 25, 1996, pp. 72-73.


El cuerpo como interrogante *

Interview with Jesus Quintero

What was the reason that led you to explore the human body with the camera?

I began to photograph nudes because my friend Araceli Romero, asked me to do a photographic study of herself and two other dancers from the National Fine Arts Institute. From that session, the body as an existential and artistic question became a subject matter to be developed.

You incorporate architectural textures born by the passage of time to the bodies you photograph. A hasty and obvious interpretation could be that there is an analogy between the human and the building being in continuous deterioration, but what is attractive in your work is a powerful erotic charge that the bodies reach when showing themselves so naked, and one could say that in a way, even their bricks can be seen…. how did this idea come about?

My brother Sergio taught me to value the different types of architecture, to feel that buildings are a reflection of humans and their way of perceiving themselves spatially. To join the nudes with the buildings is a way to amalgamate two obsessions, making the fragility of both transparent, and showing the uniqueness that each subject possesses.

You're a sensuality huntress ... Do you find it easier to locate it in nudity, or can you notice it in the slightest features of a person who is even fully dressed?

Initially, the majority of people I photographed were theatre artists, musicians and friends, then I dabbled with professional models and have also photographed people I was interested in and who, when I showed them my work with nudes, agreed to pose.

How do you rate yourself when you're behind the camera? Solemn or playful? Is it easy to take to the photographic paper the humor from the sessions, or at the moment of developing do you discover something you had not seen in the session?

The pleasure of doing photography, the search for beauty, the playfulness and the music are the essence of my work. It has also happened that in reviewing the contact sheets, I find images that at the moment I shot them I didn’t see.

Is photography for you a type of life logbook?

My photographs are an account of my way of perceiving, a reflection of my evolution, my spiral movements, and my ideology.

Is eroticism in humans as necessary as breathing or does it have a shorter life span?

Well, to breathe is to be alive, and the erotic is complex and depends on several parameters: traditions, ways of perceiving, religious taboos and on the way each one of us lives our sexuality.

What is your work process like: do you look for the buildings first and then the bodies? Do you have a vast archive of facades and spaces that you then "dress" with the bodies?

I've have never gone out to look for a building in order to adapt it to a specific body. On the streets, I have a habit of observing and if I carry a camera, I photograph what appeals to me. I have an extensive architectural archive. And it is when I work at my desk, in the dark room and nowadays in the computer reviewing the images, where I fit together the nudes.

* The presentation of the 2007 Erotic Logbook was based on this text.


Complicities *

Alberto Espinosa

What is a poetic writing of the world based on? Probably on transporting through the matter of dark symbols, images and voices where opaquely, an atmosphere and a sense about things is revealed; on making a place for the world of signification without dissolving it in the space of meanings. Thus, always in art, more than a reading one must read a piece of writing: not the capturing of the mystery itself, but the notation of such capture.

Glance at the invisible, the indeterminate, the unnamed, which simultaneously protects us from the violence of the dogma – by not trying to possess or dominate it - and reveals to us the deep source from which everything emerges. Poetic writing is the path to a reading: A navigable adventure interested in the search of a kingdom where things can be admired, but never appropriated.

Irma Villalobos, in command of her camera, visits the wild and mountainous territory of the "essential" constellations.  The eye of the moment then becomes theodolite alchemy to measure the mysterious distances of intimacy. Imaginary place, yet concrete, where the poetic experience of the world decants in a flow of relationships carved in the gaze workshop, that removes and associates, transmutes and condenses, evaporates and arrests the fragility of the moment stops in the transparency of the air, bathed in dew.

The region, to which her images steer us, is perhaps guided by the aim of rescuing beauty in which the conscious and subjective freedom harmonizes with the ethical substratum. What I mean to say is that this is a classical perspective that takes the human figure as the radial axis to represent both, the symbol of freedom and that of the ideal. The gesture and action, on whose surface we breathe the ancient heritage of symbolism and myth, becomes then the trunk, arms and leaves of the cordial tree that transports feelings to the public domain. Far from mere entertainment, Irma’s photographic reflections rehearse configurations of the eternal: the female nude that recovers from the layers of memory the Three Graces, or the portrait in which the face expresses the psychology what is human in its confrontation with the inescapable, that we likewise call fate or divinity.

On this occasion, a group of artistic researchers rehearse, together with Irma, their way out of the cave. Rather than works in tandem, these are experiments that through contemplation create an interpretation, reading in metaphorical writing another metaphor, and in the image, another direction in the meaning.

* Introductory Text from the Complicidades group exhibition, exhibited at the Centro de Enseñanza de Lenguas Extranjeras, (Foreign Languages Teaching Center), UNAM, Mexico City, and the Juan Rulfo Cultural Center Gallery, Mexico City, both in 1991.