“Memory is not about ‘evidence’,” Paula Luttringer once said, “but about connecting with the ‘experience’ of the past.” That is very contemporary notion – full of the subjectivity of postmodernity. It is important to remember this because the work itself can look deceptively classical. Shot in a poetic-documentary style and rendered in the fine pictorialist medium of the carbon Fresson print, these images achieve their originality through what the philosopher Roger Scruton has described as “the element of surprise with which [the artist] invests the forms and repertoire of a tradition.”
Paul Luttringer grew up in the Argentina. She was 21 when, in 1977, during the period of the military junta, she was arrested and placed in a Centro Clandestino de Detención (a secret detention centre). She became one of the ‘disappeared’. Few left the CCD alive, but five months later she was forcibly exiled, and eventually came to settle in France. Twenty years on, she created El Matadero, which, through the metaphor of the Argentine beef industry, seeks to “apply form to the trauma”. The resulting, almost perfect sequence of images is all the more astonishing because this is her first body of work as an exhibiting photographer. Not surprisingly this work has been receiving increasing recognition internationally, winning for the artist one of Argentina’s top arts grants from the Fondo Nacional De Las Artes (FNA) and more recently a Guggenheim Fellowship.
In an age of media saturation and information technology it is difficult to sustain an individual, human sense of the political. Living in one of the world’s most peaceful countries it is sometimes hard to connect with the fact that there are currently more children caught up in armed conflict than ever before in the history of humanity. I well remember the day when, in a crowded portfolio session in Houston, I first experienced the quiet intensity of Paula Luttringer’s photographs and felt the powerful emotional connection with the experience of her past.
This essay was first published in BLINK (Phaidon 2002). This substantial case-bound book is available here.
© Paula Luttringer untitled 1998 from El Matadero (The Slaughterhouse)