The work of the German scientist Max Schmidt (1874-1950), a romantic, selfless and quixotic character who spent his life photographing the tribes of the tropical forest of Brazil and Paraguay, is rescued at the hands of Viggo Mortensen, through his publishing house, Perceval Press, in a book by the Argentine anthropologists Federico Bossert and Diego Villar.
Viggo presents 'Hijos de la Selva' at CCEBA in …
Image David Fernandez.
Hijos de la selva [Sons of the Forest], the book presented to a full room at the Central Cultural de España in Buenos Aires (CCEBA), captivated an audience as disparate as one coming from the field of anthropology and fans that are hoping to take a little photo with the Argentine born in Boedo [sic], based in the United States since age 11 and famous for his role as Aragorn in the box office success, The Lord of the Rings.
With perfect market timing, Mortensen promised that at the completion of the event, the three were going to sign purchased books and that all of the proceeds would be dedicated to the Museo Etnográfico Andrés Barbero in Paraguay - from which came the documents that gave life to this book. And a long line formed and flashes illuminated the immense stained glass ceiling of the room over and over again.
"We decided to make a book that brings together art, but doesn't lose its academic value. That appealed to me," remarked the actor who has travelled on numerous occasions to Paraguay, along with the authors. Some photos from the book show the three of them drinking mate, immersed in numerous documents, in the only place that conserves the glass plates used by Schmidt that illustrate the work.
"What struck me immediately about this project were the images" asserted the actor in his role as editor. "There are extraordinary portraits in this book," he said and equated their "aesthetic beauty" with the works of the Italian ethnologist Guido Boggiani or the American photographer Edward Curtis. "True works of art."
The originals on glass plates on which Schmidt "meticulously captured the soul, the culture" of these peoples, were taken to the United States by Mortensen himself to submit them to a restoration process before returning them to the museum, which, by the way, has the poorest of budgets, he explained.
Mortensen himself related a pretty hilarious anecdote about the move to California: "I was very nervous," he said while dragging his "r's" in a perfect Porteño accent. "I took the hand luggage packed with these glass plates. I wrapped them in San Lorenzo t-shirts, partly from superstition and also for protection. I was afraid something would happen to them. I felt like [I did} the first time I put my son on a plane."
The high quality printing of the photos allowed details of those images never before seen to be revealed: "It was a lovely thing when we returned to Paraguay with the printed photos. In the museum, they were like children on Three Kings Day [the Epiphany]," recalled the actor who compared the whole story with a film worthy of the filmmaker, Werner Herzog.
The book seeks to rescue from oblivion the forgotten figure of Schmidt, a pioneer in solitary expeditions, a bent, ungainly character, somewhere between naive and romantic, who sets off into the forest in 1900 with nothing more than a violin and who, in his documents, narrates his catastrophes with great humor: mosquitoes, the heat, the mules that run off, malaria, his capsized canoe and the Indians who steal his hat and his pants.
"We want people to know the Max Schmidt that we know. A person of a profoundly humanist perspective. In his portraits, you don't see races; you see cultures, individuals, emotions, souls and almost all of them are smiling at the camera, " described the anthropologist Federico Bossert.
The publishing house, Perceval Press, landed in Argentina in 2009, demonstrating a facet of Mortensen far removed from Hollywood flashes, with an edition of an Argentine poetry book by authors from the 90's and prose by the actor/San Lorenzo fan himself in another book published in 2010.
He is working now on an edition of a volume that arises from an original idea: They've handed disposable cameras to the inhabitants of the native Salta villages so that they can portray what they would like [portrayed], a kind of "self-made anthropology," in the words of the actor who lives in Los Angeles. [sic]
In an exchange with Télam [tr. note: Argentine national news agency], Mortensen explained that his publishing catalog doesn't answer to any plan. "It's the same in film. I'm not looking for a genre or a director, just stories that end up being interesting to me and Schmidt's story seemed very interesting to me.
Each photo is a story."
What are the upcoming titles? "We have a book of images in process that has a particular interest. It's from a collector that has everything about San Lorenzo from the first day: picture cards, t-shirts, membership cards. He lives in a house full, from floor to ceiling, with boxes of San Lorenzo objects, a crazy man. The Cuervo people are going to buy it but I don't know who else [will]," he said, finishing up.