Viggo Mortensen recreates with words and images his latest travels through the man and his environment.
Image Viggo Mortensen.
© Perceval Press.
The famous and Academy award-winning photographer Néstor Almendros said "I'm just interested in a landscape when there's a bridge crossing it." Perhaps Viggo Mortensen would add something else: "and only after having gone for a swim and become impregnated with its waters", since from his photographs it's implied both the need to add his own personal experience to that captured reality and the incitement to do it.
His latest work, Linger (Perceval Press, 2005), is a careful edition spattered with quotations (by Goethe, Black Elk; Rumi, James Joyce, Gydir Eliasson) which serve as an introduction to his texts (most of them in English and some in Spanish, as he had already done in one of his previous works, Recent Forgeries) and to the black & white pictures taken by their author at different moments and places of the world. All that shapes a real travel notebook; an illustrated journal that tries to perpetuate life and experience, emotion and memory intact, in order to leave no gap to the inevitable final touches that the memory makes use of. His words are emotive, and the image strengthens even more that desperate attempt to retain what he has experienced.
No image is there by chance. Taken in different places and times they appear in the same way that memories come to our minds, in a capricious way, but keeping intact the emotiveness that caused it. From Cádiz to Reykiavik, from the unknown and strange things that amazed us to the most intimate and personal things that have wounded us and moved us, all remains impressed on his black & white retina.
With an overwhelming cover (Cádiz, 4), a wall cleft by a flaking ladder through which vegetation and carelessness are climbing, Linger incites us not only to guess the open sea, but to discover it by ourselves. From there his lens turns into the look of one who isn't content with seeing, but he also has to ask questions. He gives us no respite. Every image is a question whose answer must be found by the reader. The closed but lightened elevator door (Closed), is like a provocation to go in, because all the prohibitions seem to be done to disobey them.
León, the city and the province that Viggo Mortensen has travelled all around, until becoming impregnated with its light and its shadow, also has an important space in this voracious traveller's journal.
I would point out his intuitive perception to capture, without disturbing, some key moments in both the inert and vital life of every place and its people. A privileged observer, he has visualized some fleeting instants which are already endowed with the privilege of eternity. In León 8, in a chiaroscuro setting, it can be guessed, from the silhouette that the sun projects on the eroded flagstones of the San Marcos Hostel cloister, the remaining image of its glorious past, historical stones which are already reflections of the ancient power and its decline, a decline that can be seen again in the slow walking of that woman through the lonely and almost forgotten streets of a small village in the mountains: Valdeteja.
The deep León
Perhaps one of my favourites is the picture of Azabachería Street, (León, 10), in which it's perfectly reflected that childish trace that never disappears from our memory. The unworried and happy childhood, absorbed in the spectacle that what there is behind a pane of glass offers. "You can see it, but you cannot touch it". This could be a picture from the fifties, or from any other time, and it takes us back to those personal experiences we can be reunited with at any corner of any village or city in the world. Those memories are always there, waiting for us.
León at the feast of San Juan, and the peculiar view of who goes to a bullfight in order to try to understand where is the fun in seeing the menacing shadow of death. The fun and the pain, this time León in the Holy Week, the streets full of people and hustle, where the absent look of a kid who doesn't understand stands out, who doesn't know, who is just looking.
And of course, the mountain. The tenuous presence of what still remains unaltered, of what marks the boundary, but also induces to challenge it. The death that goes deep into these spots, where only the timid trace of the sad and slow walking of its last inhabitants remains.
Or the paths that encourage us to make up our minds, like the one in the village of El Ganso with its damaged sign. And let's not forget the storks, symbol of our geography, which take over the landscape. They are staying.
The texts, sporadically distributed, end with some beautiful verses in Spanish that accompany the intriguing image where the colour seems to have gone until bordering on the black & white, perhaps simulating that goodbye of closed eyelids through which our beloved ones leave, all what we thought it was perennial and immortal in our lives. (Bye, Brigit)