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Lola Alvarez is a photographic artist and free spirit. Born in Switzerland of Spanish origin, she studied in England, lived in the United States, Canada and other continents to become a “nomad of the world.” Now she calls Mallorca home. “When I first visited Mallorca I had the intuition it would be an important place for me. Twenty years later, my youngest daughter was born here.”
Her photographic studio is also located on the island. Here she works with antique cameras in old analogue techniques recovered from the origins of photography such as the ferrotype or tintype, using an underexposed negative on a black lacquered metal plate.
She describes this black magic as “a reencounter of contemporary expression combined with historical art. Living in a world saturated with visual and superficial stimuli, I love this form of photography as it a handmade creation requiring technique and chemistry applied with care and attention. I feel that time stands still, and photography recovers its identity of becoming a palpable object, as the image slowly appears. The process behind this technique is identical to how it was in 1855. A meticulous and systematic process like clockwork, where every single step must be carried out precisely. I always feel like I’m going back in time when I consider I am following a formula that was invented 167 years ago.” She says shedding a little light on the working mechanics behind these grandfather ‘clocks for seeing’1.
“When the negative image appears through the reflected light and black background, it is mysterious and captures the essence of the moment. An image can be a secret about a secret. The more you come to discover, the more you realise the less you know. To me it feels like a reflection of eternity.”
Nothing makes us so aware of the passing of time as plants and children. Both of which have been captured as subjects under her lens. Her series Quantum Flora is a celebration of plants and flowers from Mallorca; each specimen picked out and recorded in its own haiku-like portrait to form a Zen botany herbarium of Mediterranean vegetation.
How many Flowers fall in Wood…
or perish from the Hill…
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful
“Through Art we can feel and experience a connection with nature, which I believe can engender empathy and understanding that we are all part of the same cycle and we need to protect it.”
Other subjects include her daughters, their portraits doubly tinted with memory, both personal and collective, as a private keepsake captured with a technique we commonly recognise as coming from the past. If analogue photography is a direct imprint of light and shadow, your children are in a way your direct genetic imprint - a double impression.
“When I close my eyes I find stillness and serenity envisioning my daughters’ faces. They are perfect elements that inhabit me, an image of the calm I long for. It gives me gratitude and happiness hat I can contemplate them behind my lens. Elaborating this slow and complex process, eventually captures a magical and eternal essence that is not only engraved in me but also in an everlasting image.”
The camera also reflects our image back like a “mirror with memory” as the Daguerreotype was originally also known. Mirrors have long been used for reflecting the truth through revelation and wisdom but also divining the future with magic. According to legend, Pythagoras possessed a magic mirror pointing at the moon that allowed him to see what was about to happen. The Greeks entered into death backwards, with their past before them, and, as the ectoplasm of what-has-been, so is a photograph a prophecy in reverse.
The word “mirror” comes from the Latin mirare “to look at”, a variant of mirari “to wonder at, admire”, and gives way to miraculum meaning “miracle”. In other languages its Latin root is speculo or speculum giving way to “speculate”, which originally meant observing the sky and the relative movements of stars with the aid of a mirror. Sidus (star) has equally derived into “consideration”, etymologically meaning to look at the stars as a whole. Both human thought processes are rooted in the study of gazing at the stars reflected in mirrors3.
In an analogue photograph (argentique in French), our loved ones are immortalised by the mediation of a chemical reaction involving silver, a precious metal formed by the extreme heat exploding from the death of an astral body, fragments of which were flung to earth from the edges of outer space4. The image becomes a cosmic fossil capsulated in stardust for all eternity. It’s no wonder then, that when photographs were invented, people were worried they could steal your soul. We might speculate this is the miracle behind the breath-taking beauty that subtly strikes us as we consider Lola’s delicate work.
For the future, Lola would love to take time to travel to Galicia, to “discover abandoned towns and villages lost in time and immortalise them with Ambrotypes. (The Greek word ambrotos, means immortal).”
Like the failing frail twilight and the rising frail dawn
certain light caves in, certain light soars and embraces
Something like the silvery alligator in your throat
Something like the silvery mosquito on your face
Something like the abrupt opening of the
windows of the sea after waking
up from a lifetime of sleep
You’ll see the mornings of the world all at once
Lola Álvarez: @lolaalvarezart
Photos: Claire o'Keefe
Interview: Victoria Macarte.
1 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1980)
2 Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977)
3 Joan Foncuberta, El beso de Judas, Fotografía y verdad (Barcelona: Gusstavo Gili, 1997)