Team Loupe is a series of interviews with the photographers behind Loupe Magazine.
Interview by Harry Flook –
Álvaro Martínez García studied journalism in Spain, before a move to photography and England. His masters project is shaping up to be an offbeat response to his family archive, uncovering the story of Álvaro’s grandfather, a man with Spain’s most common surname, before he is lost to anonymity. García García is a heartfelt plea for us all to look closer to home and history. As Álvaro nears the end of his masters study, we discuss the development of his photographic practice, his view on changing family archives, and his plans for the near future.
Harry Flook: How has your background in journalism informed your transition to photography?
Álvaro Martínez García: At uni I had a module about photojournalism, it was brief but got me excited about the discipline, particularly the role of war photographers. In 2013, my sister told me about a photojournalism workshop taking place that summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which dealt with the traces that the Civil War had left in that wonderful country. In Spanish, history and story are the same word, and that fact resonated with me during the course. It taught me the potential to tell stories from history. I realised how little we know, and I felt capable of fighting this unawareness with a camera in my hands.
Since that summer, I’ve given up on and then come back to photography several times, but it was the workshop that inducted me to the medium.
HF: The subject of family is well worn territory, and often results in projects without appeal beyond the author. You were clearly aware of this danger in your masters project García García, and have managed to approach widely relatable themes, whilst still making a very personal body of work. Can you share some of the important ideas behind the work?
AMG: As you said, projects about family can be quite unappealing, and I experienced some of these issues in the production of my work.
I started my masters with little experience in photography, and felt the pressure of needing to come up with a project to complete the course around. I always found my grandfather Fermín a magnetic character, and so I thought: ‘Let’s make him the main figure. If the public doesn’t enjoy it, at least my mother and I will’.
My first idea was to share his story through the old images of him, pretty straight forward. However, the initial results did not appeal even to me. So, I began responding to my feelings about my own family, with him being the vehicle for these values and emotions. It is as much a summary of how I feel about my family as it is about my approach to photography and archive.
In this way, he remained the works centre, but I didn’t limit myself to documenting the traces of him that are still present. Instead, I have integrated my relationship with my family, particularly my mother, as well as the different ways I have interacted with the practice of photography.
The work combines 35mm, 120mm, 5×4, film, digital, screenshots, archival and photoshopped images, which is the natural consequence of my doubts and fears as a photographer, I guess. The only elements that are invariable are my grandfather and my family.
HF: It’s interesting you say that your approach to the medium is a result of your doubts as a photographer. Some of the processes you’ve used are technically advanced, and to me they seem fitting, in the way they expand the projects themes beyond your grandfather’s story. The iPhone screenshots from your parents wedding point to how the family archive has changed, and removing your grandfather from images seems to re-interpret and disrupt the narrative of personal photo albums. Do you plan to take more pictures before the final production of the work, or will your focus be on other novel ways of interacting with archive material?
AMG: We are reshaping family archives. There are not so many images of me as a kid, because my parents gradually stopped taking pictures, whereas nowadays every single moment is documented and shared, because of the convenience of phone cameras permanently next to us. The current approach makes today’s archive vastly more numerous, but I am wary of the engagement with it, and of its preservation. I can’t imagine my grandson flicking through images of my youth in front of a screen with the same curiosity I looked at the boxes of images from my ancestors.
A lot of these “alternative” photographic responses you mention are accidental outcomes, second attempts I fiddled with after realising that a conventional “then/now” juxtaposition didn’t appeal to me. I was stubbornly looking for quality in my work, when really a project of this context needs to prioritise the truthfulness of the authorship over stylistic concerns.
I still see this project evolving, since it’s a subject that is inherent to my personal life. However, at the moment the intention is to work with the materials I have produced already, figuring out different potential outputs for them.
HF: On that note, how do you see the project ending up? As a book, or can we expect something else?
I am always curious of how it would look in book form, but I’m also interested in exploring different avenues. I would like it to be tangible and interactive, so the work doesn’t feel chronological, I want the archive and the new work to merge into the same thing. Other than that, I hope for part of the project to be developed as an installation, and I have also recently shared an online selection of images on my website.
HF: You’ve talked about growing up with stories of your grandfather, stories that led to you idolising him. I’m interested in that idea of choosing our heroes more wisely, celebrating people closer to home rather than devoting our attention to celebrity scandals. Can you share a story about your grandfather here?
AMG: I have admired his capacity to enjoy, to turn the banal moments into something thrilling. He could be a cheeky man, but he also had very strong values, the two following stories illustrate this quirky personality.
He was the father of 3 girls – including my mother – and he would take them and his nieces to the horse races. According to my mum, he would lead the way towards the entrance of the box office, trailed by the group of kids. Then, he would open his blazer to the ticketer, pretending he had a badge from the army, when he was actually an employee of the steel industry. He had the confidence and appearance of a man in an official position, so he would get everybody to the races for free!
I also knew he had briefly been a member of the City Council of Gijón (a town in my region, Asturias), but I didn’t have much more knowledge about it. I visited the Municipal Archive to read the reviews of the City Council Sessions from the time. In one of those sessions, he intervened and recriminated that the Mayor and some other counselors had used the official vehicles for personal use in several occasions. After a few weeks, the board decided to lay Fermín off from his job, under the pretence of having used the official car to attend a football game. My mother wasn’t aware of this story, but from what I know of my grandfather, he did not like football.
Coming across interesting stories where a relative was involved is a priceless feeling. There will always be praise for public figures, I too am guilty of that, but I think there should be more interest in family history. We all have unique stories behind us, stories that can only be unleashed through our own curiosity. These kind of actions enhance, at least in my case, connections to our past.
HF: To end on a daunting question, you’ll be graduating soon, what are your plans for the years that follow?
In the short term, I would like to submit my work to different competitions, and prepare an installation setup for a show that some of my MA fellows are planning.
I need to navigate the photography industry, find out sustainable ways of combining personal work with a more stable job. I’m considering going back to a newsroom, and gaining some more journalistic experience, as I feel comfortable with writing.
Alvaro will be sharing more of his work over on our Instagram, where we feature new work every week.