Juan Travnik – Photography as a tool of visual language

No. 139 – October 2006 

He has directed the photo gallery of the San Martín Theater for 9 years. With a slow and silent career, this year he received recognition in several areas. He won the Guggenheim scholarship with the series of portraits of veterans from the Malvinas war, the Argentine Association of Art Critics awarded him the prize for his career and he is the guest artist at the fair Buenos Aires Photo. He is now preparing a show at the BAC (British Arts Center) and during the set up, he gave us this exclusive interview. 

Arte al Día: Today there is a great enthusiasm for photography and you have been in this for a long time. How do you feel about this moment?

Juan Travnik: Yes, there is greater recognition than there was a few years ago.  I believe that photography as a medium is being used in many ways by visual artists who come from the field of photography itself and also from the field of visual arts. The idea is to use photography as a way of expression.

AAD: How do you view interdiciplinarity? I mean visual artists using photography. 

JT: I think it’s very good. The fact that I have always worked as a photographer who uses photography in a direct manner and that I have only recently made incursions into the appropriation of images and some work on this may lead to confusing my opinion on the subject, but I have always had an open vision and I really believe that any visual artist can use any tool as long as they can express themselves. And what counts is generally the result they obtain. Whether the work shocks the viewer or not, this is what really concerns me.

AAD: Do you mind if the photo is digital or if it’s a direct shot, if it’s retouched and manipulated? 

JT: I don’t think you can talk about better or worse. It does seem to me that there are certain areas of the use of photography, such as the area of documentation of testimony, where there are particularly some limitations in terms of the manipulation of the image. But at the level of the use of photography as a form of expression I think that all resources are valid. 

AAD: It’s only a tool. 

JT: Of course, I think that’s what it is. The arrival of the digital incorporates a new tool.  Photoshop is a new tool too. It depends on who uses it to achieve an interesting result, but not on the type of genesis of the work. 

AAD: You were a pioneer in curating a photography room, I am referring to your work as curator of the photo gallery at the San Martín Theatre for the last 9 years. 

How do you make the selection?

JT: The curatorial experience interested me as an alternative to my work, since about the middle of the 1980s when Sara Facio offered me the possibility of continuing her work in the photo gallery. Regarding selection, I have a way of working that allows everyone to leave their material in the photo gallery and after 15 days at the latest we return it to them, so that I can have access to anyone who wants to show their work. On the other hand, obviously, with some artists I visit their workshops, I see their work. The criteria from the curatorial point of view is undoubtedly different from the attitude with which one handles one’s personal work where, suddenly, one has a certain aesthetic stance.  As a curator, and specially of a public institution, I understand that it is much more positive to show different expressions and diverse trends that exist at the same time in our country, and that the photo gallery becomes a kind of showcase in terms of the possibilities of using photography as a medium. 

AAD: This is your year, your name started to be heard in several places and you are also the guest artist of Buenos Aires Photo alongside Coppola who is going to be the honored artist. 

JT: Yes, it’s a very particular year because it began with the Guggenheim Scholarship I won, with the project for the portraits of the Malvinas War Veterans, followed by a recognition that filled me with satisfaction on the part of the Art Critics Association. 

AAD: The Premio a la Trayectoria (Career Achievement Award) for a photographer.

JT: Yes, and also the exhibition at the BAC. All of a sudden everything comes together, and the work of a long time crystallizes, I’m thinking about what to do next year. I’m more concerned about the work than the career. When there is recognition for the work, you can obtain much wider reach, and that is good. But one’s career is long. 

AAD: In the eighties, photography in the world began to be exhibited in the same halls as painting.

JT: I think that this, like any transformation, like any progress, has very positive aspects such as linking projects in an interdisciplinary way. This undoubtedly enriches, above all in the local scene where in the 70’s for example it was very rare to see an exchange between photographers and visual artists. Now this is more frequent. Photography is immersed in the rest of the visual arts. 

In spite of that I still believe in a certain value of the specificity of the medium. I think that interdisciplinary exchange is interesting as long as it is backed by an authentic proposals and also by the training that one has of the tool that one is working with.

AAD: Do you think the public is more open to seeing photography? 

J.T: The general public has always had a vision that is really very close to photography. At this moment what is happening is a revaluation in certain aspects, especially in the art market. I think that the biggest change is there, probably not in the approach of the massive public or the lay public, which really has been accompanying the photographic exhibitions for years with a great concurrence.