Jacob Aue Sobol, un magnífico “documentalista de la intimidad”

“Todas las fotografías son memento mori y sacarlas es participar en la mortalidad, vulnerabilidad y mutabilidad del otro”. La idea de las fotos como recuerdo de la fugacidad de la vida y la condición inevitable de la muerte fue enunciada y explicada de manera bellísima la foto es una “pseudopresencia y una marca de ausencia” por la ensayista Susan Sontag (1933-2004). Coherente con su ideal hasta las últimas consecuencias, la escritora dejó que su amante durante 16 años, la fotógrafa Annie Leibovitz, retratara el avance del cáncer, el dolor, los penosos tratamientos médicos y, finalmente, el cadáver.

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Jacob Aue Sobol (Dinamarca, 1976), que es también un magnífico “documentalista de la intimidad”, hace suyas en cada imagen las ideas de Sontag. Cada foto que dispara es, como sostenía la autora, un “asesinato sublimado, un asesinato blando, digno de una época triste, atemorizada”. Cuadran además en la calidad del fotógrafo como “depredador” y es consciente de que “fotografiar personas es violarlas, pues se las ve como jamás se ven a sí mismas”. Es una obra cruda que sondea la ternura, la crueldad, la alegría, la alienación, el sexo, la candidez y, por supuesto, la fatalidad insalvable del dicho latino: “recuerda que morirás”.

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Sobol, miembro de la agencia Magnum, alcanzó notoriedad con Sabine, el reportaje que narra los tres años en los que vivió en la costa este de Groenlandia conviviendo con una chica inuit. En 2006 ganó el premio World Press Photo con un reportaje sobre una familia de agricultores indígenas de Guatemala, luego se trasladó a Tokio, donde permaneció durante año y medio, y ahora trabaja, desde Dinamarca, en el proyecto Arrivals and Departures, basado en un viaje entre Moscú y Pekín.

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La autora del ensayo incluido en el libro, Gerry Badger, resalta que Sobol sufre la “compulsión de fotografiar a personas en el límite y los márgenes, pero lo hacen con una curiosidad que no tiene nada que ver con el voyeurismo o la lascivia, sino con los sentidos “psicológico o biológico”, como si necesitaran ver “qué hay tras la siguiente curva de la carretera”. No se ocupan de lo social o las condiciones políticas. Les interesa “acechar dentro de todos nosotros”, buscar “el recuerdo de la totalidad perdida” y encontrar “las semillas de la muerte”. Por José Ángel González

A PERSONAL TREATISE ON LIFE

Photographer Jacob Aue Sobol has lived and worked in places as disparate as Canada, Greenland, Japan, Guatemala, and Thailand. No matter the context, his unique style is visceral, elliptical, sensorial, and has his grainy and gritty visual signature.
Sobol’s photographic background was shaped at Danish art school Fatamorgana and, more significantly, by his family: his grandfather and mother were practicing photographers, his father and twin brother journalists. “It was a creative environment, a lot of travel, being adventurous,” he recounts. He learned to engage with the people he photographed, over passive voyeurism. This attitude is palpable: his images are clearly taken by someone enmeshed in the circumstances. Sobol has one foundational principle. “I never photograph someone I don’t feel fascinated by.”

Why only in black and white?
“It’s easier for me to get to some core of my existence. When I work in colour… there are so many colours! I don’t feel it in my stomach. With black and white, you’re able to take the image out of time and place, and make it something else than exactly what is going on in the image.”

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His first work, Sabine, is a personal treatise on life in the tiny village of Tiniteqilaaq, on the eastern coast of Greenland. Sobol sought to integrate seamlessly with the indigenous population, living in a settlement amongst 150 people, where he fell in love with Sabine. He relinquished his camera and adapted his values to those of the community photographs were not prized there, but catching a seal was. He lived accordingly as a hunter-fisherman with his girlfriend’s family. By renouncing photography for half a year, he realised that his sense of purpose had changed when he went back to it. “I was photographing out of love and curiosity, more than for a project I wanted to do, or because I had to, or because I wanted to be a great photographer. It came from somewhere else.”Sobol is always motivated by personal connections: “If I don’t have the possibility of communicating with the person I’m photographing, then I don’t care about photography. I don’t want to stand on the other side of the street and photograph someone. It’s a very intimate situation to be looked at and to look back. And that’s what I enjoy.”

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Since 2012, Sobol has been working on Arrivals and Departures. Initially a three-week assignment with Leica, the thread of the project was a train between Moscow-Beijing, photographing people in the streets and in their homes along the way. He decided to continue the project, and will traverse the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian, and Trans-Manchurian Express.
The Leica project was his first time using a digital camera (“I slept with it, to get close with it,” he jokes). “You can’t tell if it’s a file or a negative,” he says of his new work shooting at a high ISO yields his favoured graininess so he plans to continue to use both digital and his manual Contax T3.