Photographic Duos is a feature from Loupe, exploring collaboration in photography through a series of interviews with creatives working in pairs. We discuss varying approaches to collaboration, considering issues of co-authorship alongside the benefits of collective creativity.
Interview by Álvaro Martínez García –
I recently interviewed Pascual Martínez and Vincent Sáez, a Spanish photographic duo who go by the name of Niñorojo Project, which translates as ‘Redkid Project’. As Niñorojo, Pascual and Vincent merge their identities, in a venture that has so far resulted in their first book The Tree of Life is Eternally Green, a vivid journey through the people and nature of Romania, published this year by Overlapse. I interviewed Pascual and Vincent to discuss the project, their strong connection to Romania, and their bold approach to collaboration and authorship.
Álvaro Martínez García: Let’s begin with the obvious but necessary question: Why did you start working as a duo?
Pascual and Vincent: Perhaps the obviousness of the question is not such a problem, it’s one we’re often asked. We met in 2013 and though at different points in our professional careers, we discovered some common concerns and referents that made us think about working together: uniting our skills and knowledge.
The photographer’s profession is often very lonely, and the individual merit of the author seems to prevail over that of a workgroup or an artistic duo. We could give some examples of reputable photographers – though we’ll omit names – who have a technical team at their disposal, and authorship is attributed only by pressing the camera’s shutter button. That’s not the case for us. We assume the authorship together, as well as the merit, the successes, the doubts and the errors. For us it’s not about individual recognition.
AMG: I think that’s an important point, it’s in a way a more on honest approach.
P+V: Excatly. Our work is shared by both of us, and we never say who has been the author of each photo in our projects, since there is much more work beyond just pressing the shutter: conceptualisation, documentation, investigation, processing, editing etc. And they are all tasks that we share to obtain an outcome that is unique. ‘Did you take this picture or did I?’ We often ask ourselves when we se the processed images. We have reached that point where our vision is almost 100% interconnected.
Starting to work together was like creating a new character. We decided to move away from what we had photographed before and start from scratch with new work strategies and objectives, experimenting, learning and growing, like a child that is taking its first steps in the world.
AMG: Why did you choose Niñorojo Project as your artistic name?
P+V: We took ‘Rojo’, red in English, because it’s Pascuals mother’s surname, a name we both would have liked by birth, and we joined it with ‘Niño’ – child in English – creating a new name that would highlight this joint project that we had just begun.
Now that the child has grown a little bit, there are those who call us the ‘Pet Shop Boys’ of Spanish photography, but we have been told that the name is already taken.
AMG: The creative process can be tedious. I personally struggle to transform some ideas into words, let alone into images. How do you coordinate this creative process with two minds operating?
P+V: With organisation and dialogue. We are very clear about which parts of the process best suit each of us, and we allow ourselves freedom, but agree to evaluate all the decisions together. We talk a lot between ourselves, especially during the phases of early research before tackling each project , and we try to be flexible when there are discordant ideas, discussing the various options and their resolution.
We don’t find the creative process tedious, but rather the opposite, it’s really rewarding. We try to put all our effort, emotion and means into the process, from conceptualisation to its final materialisation, exhibition or editorial, knowing that it is not an easy job but that we have chosen it because we are passionate about it.
AMG: What’s most fulfilling about being a duo, rather than working as individuals?
P+V: Working as a duo does not necessarily double the results, instead teamwork helps fight our individual doubts and insecurities, and that is very satisfying. But there are also drawbacks of collective work, such as the limitations of access to certain calls, prizes, contests or scholarships, that only value works by individual authors. And unfortunately, we need these to finance our work since we are not Gilbert & George!
AMG: Prior to this venture, you both worked as photographers on your own, and you are also developing some individual work. Is there something from your individual persona as artists that you have to leave aside when you work as Niñorojo?
P+V: Some projects have a greater personal involvement because of a connection to just one of us, sometimes their isn’t a shared concern and so it doesn’t make sense to work on it together.
For example, the project about N-340 – the most important road in Spain- which was initiated by Pascual. It is a work that started from the premise of being born at the midpoint of that road, an emotional implication that only Pascual had. Of course, we also discuss the processes of these works and support each other but we understand that the unique personal involvement leads to exclusive authorship.
AMG: I appreciate your focus on elements that are gone (Serinyá), or that seem to be about to disappear. How important do you think is the role of the photographer in order to document subjects in danger of extinction?
P+V: We can say outright that everything we’re photographing is in danger of extinction, because everything around us impermanent. We value photography for its role as a record or document of the past in the present, and we view the photographer as a writer of the story, obviously, through the filter of his own gaze. We say that we like to tell stories with images.
AMG: You seem to have a special connection with Romania, where you are going to next September. Where does this relation come from?
P+V: We have returned to Romania to continue and finish the projects we started. The Tree of Life is Eternally Green gave us the opportunity to discover stories of Romanian culture that moved us. Our five trips to Romania have all crossed Transylvania, which is in the centre of the country, bordered by the Carpathian mountain range. Its spectacular landscape is full of myths and legends, but above all of living history. There we discovered an environment that had been shaped a culture foreign to it, the Saxons.
The Saxons went to these lands in the 12th century on behalf of a Hungarian king, and for 850 years they coexisted peacefully with Romanians, Hungarians and gypsies. The decline began after the Second World War , caused by Russian pressures towards the then communist government to punish these Saxons for their support of the German government during the war. They lost their rights and privileges, many were sent to labor camps, and saw their homes and land taken away. When the regime of Ceaucescu was abolished in 1989, many people decided to leave because they felt alienated in their own country. They left behind them a rich historical and cultural heritage, where the fortified evangelist churches were the heart of the community. Today in every small village there are 1 or 2 of those Saxons, who have decided to return from their voluntary or clandestine exile, are trying to keep alive the roots of their culture. Our next work called The Last Saxons tells this story from the past to the present, with the prospect of leaving a mark for the future.
AMG: What is the importance of change in your practice? How much do you think it is important to consolidate a style/methodology and how much to implement new approaches?
Heraclitus said that “the static condition is synonymous with death.” We try to apply this in our work to create a constant evolution of results. Our way of working changed from Serinyá to The tree of life is eternally green, and will change again in The Last Saxons. If we said that The tree of life was the sensory experience, The Last Saxons will be the spiritual experience, and the images will necessarily change. We do not talk about being purists of technique or photographic equipment, we speak of photography as expression. To give an example, our stage in Romania closes with a third project that carries the provisional title Hoia Baciu, where we explore the myths, legends, superstitions, and paranormal phenomena from the popular culture of the country. This work with supernatural character, will close the trilogy focused on Romania and its natural environment, and will use resources that move the work from documentary record through our cameras to focus on post-photographic components that will collect intangible elements, sensations, emotions, and will highlight the value of photography to create false fictions of a false interpretation of reality.
AMG: We look forward to seeing the result of your latest trips. Best of luck and thank you for your thoughtful responses.
The Tree of Life is Eternally Green book is available to buy here