Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Reality in the Raw: With an Eye for Detail and Emotion, Argentine Photographer Marcos Zimmermann Captures Often Overlooked Historical and Physical Landscapes of His Native Country

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Reality in the Raw: With an Eye for Detail and Emotion, Argentine Photographer Marcos Zimmermann Captures Often Overlooked Historical and Physical Landscapes of His Native Country

Article excerpt

Think Argentina and the first image that comes to mind is almost always urban. Even ifthe country's grueling economic crisis has dimmed the normally bright, blinding lights of Buenos Aires, there's no denying that Argentina is identified as much abroad as at home with the unique vibe and look of its capital city, for much of the past century the region's showcase megalopolis. But what lies beyond? Even if the Paris of South America was always a myth, the lure of the city's wide avenues, cultural sophistication, and elegant, European-inspired architecture revealed a great deal about the Argentine psyche. Already in the 1920s, amid the country's greatest era of economic splendor ever, writer and social critic Ezequiel Martinez Estrada denounced this obsession as mere window dressing for an unnerving insecurity about his country's national destiny and identity. So violent was the disgust he felt about the overwhelming influence in every aspect of life--politics, business, and art--that Buenos Aires held over the rest of the country that he spent his entire life decrying it.

For the most part, nobody was listening. Least of all the country's artists. With a few notable exceptions, almost every writer, painter, and musician of the past century, everyone from Jorge Luis Borges to Astor Piazzolla, was obsessed with capturing the urban electricity of Buenos Aires at the expense of the sights and sounds of the lesser known hinterland. The same was true for the visual arts, which have eschewed the folk-art traditions and New World imagery popularized in Latin America by Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and the Mexican school in favor of a style more attune to the city's European heritage.

For the past few decades Marcos Zimmermann has resisted that trend, restoring through the optic of his art form, photography, the exotic appeal of a country that so many of his contemporaries overlook. "It really bothers me that so many young photographers in Argentina migrate towards abstract expression," says the fifty-two-year-old Zimmermann who's exhibited alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank and counts among his collectors legendary Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and France's Biblioteque Nationale. "I can appreciate conceptual art in a place like Berlin, but I don't think it has much relevance to Argentina, when there's still so much out there we still don't know about ourselves and our country."

A porteno from the tree-lined barrio of Belgrano, whose ancestor was the emissary of the Bremen city-state in the era before German unification, Zimmermann seems an unlikely David to take on the head of the Goliath, as his role model Estrada referred to the all-consuming monster that is Buenos Aires. Even less so judging from the art he collects. Despite Zimmermann's disdain for abstract forms in his own art, the few photographs he has hanging on the walls of his cluttered Buenos Aires apartment--a close-up of blood-red video game pixels arranged to spell "The End" is particularly haunting--more closely resemble Andy Warhol kitsch than they do the expressive style of his role models Eugene Smith and Ansel Adams.

Above all else, Zimmermann considers himself a storyteller, and true to his narrative instincts, his preferred medium is the book. To date he has published five, whose subjects literally run the length of Argentina's historical and physical landscape, from the Inca empire's forgotten outpost in the Puna desert bordering Bolivia to Antarctica and the desolate, millennial landscapes of Patagonia. "I'm really just a frustrated film director," says Zimmermann, who studied cinema and photographed stills for various national and foreign-made films before moving to Italy in 1979. It was during his creative sojourn there, between jobs photographing ballerinas and actors at Rome's Teatro Dell' Opera, that Zimmermann's interest in photography as an expressive art began to germinate. …

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