Jose Manuel Magano has felt his life pass through the camera shutter. This 60-year-old from Madrid has grown up and persisted in analog or “chemical” photography, as he prefers to call it. His calitipia technique dates back to the beginnings of photography, in the 19th century, so his cameras are suitable for both portraiture and museum display. Since the first retinal detachment that he suffered at the age of 29, he has progressively lost his vision, “but not his gaze.” In 2012, he lost his right eye; in 2019, the left. His world faded to black, but the inherent drive to paint with light has remained ignited, although now in a darker, mistier style, noticeable in Much to see, the exhibition of around twenty photographs that is on display until March 23 at the Madrid Tiphlological Museum (Calle de La Coruña, 18).
Ask. How do you take your photographs?
Answer. I work from memory. I always go out to the countryside with my wife and we go to places we already know. When we arrive, I ask him what light there is, where it comes in, if there are clouds or if it is backlighting. My wife tells me what she is seeing and what I do is stand with my camera and shoot. Then when I get here [al laboratorio] I develop the negative alone, I don’t need anyone because they work in the dark and in that, better than me, I don’t think there is anyone else. Besides, I’ve been around for so many years that I don’t need to see it.
Q. Photographic memory?
R. A person blind from birth has no visual memory, he couldn’t do what I do, but I have seen, I know the light, the clouds, the trees, I don’t have to get an idea. So what I do is I shoot by memory.
Q. At what point do you press the shutter?
R. [Risas]. It’s hard to explain, people are going to freak out, but I usually shoot when I have a good feeling. In the exhibition there is a photograph in which you can see a point of sun and a bird flying in the sea. That was done in Cádiz, where my daughter and I were waiting for the sunset. I heard the birds and I told him: “When you think a bird enters the frame, let me know.” Then she would tell me, “now,” and I would shoot.
Q. Why the title much to see?
R. When I lost vision in my left eye in 2019, I thought “it’s over, I won’t do photography again.” But I have the need to teach, to write with images. My wife told me: “If you have the need, why don’t you do it?” Then I started shooting and I began to consider that I had a new vision and that I still have a lot to see. It’s something I tell myself.
Q. Can you lose your gaze?
R. No. You can lose your sight, but not your gaze. We don’t have the look in our eyes, I have realized that now. We have our gaze inside. You look with your soul, with your experiences. I am looking now with that baggage that I have from before, which allows me to look differently and not have lost my gaze.
Q. Are your images dark and hazy?
R. Maybe yes. I think that at least these, from this process in which I hardly see, are much darker, because it is really the feeling I have of the world, that everything is very dark, very cloudy. It is as if you were looking through a curtain, but with a very poorly lit landscape. But there is always some light in the sky, in the street, because that is what I more or less usually see and what I recreate in my images. A little unconsciously or consciously I want people to realize in my photographs how I see, so that they can put themselves in my situation.
Q. Is there an implicit message?
R. When I decide to continue after my left eye has just broken down, that’s when I consider doing a new series. But that path is already difficult, it costs me more work. That’s when I start taking those photographs that you call dark, in which I realize that not everything is as black as they paint it. There is always a small crack of light, I still cling to it.
Q. What motivates you to maintain such an ancient method of photography?
R. I need to touch, work with my hands, I don’t know if it’s a question for those of us who have never seen well. Photography is not just the moment of clicking, it is the entire process until you take it to a support [impreso]. When I take a photograph, I am already thinking about what support I am going to put it on, what type of paper I am going to use, the size, the colors and the feeling I want to convey. The old processes allow me that, because I manipulate everything, they allow me to darken or lighten the lights and shadows, they allow me what I like: create images. I don’t like to portray reality, I like to create my own reality.
Q. How do you feel about not being able to appreciate the final result?
R. Imagination is a powerful tool and luckily I am very imaginative.
Q. Do you celebrate the elimination of the word “disabled” from the Constitution?
R. I think they have fallen short. It should not be called a disability because we continue to be differentiated by the fact that you are more capable than me, and that is a lie. We have different capabilities. Imagine people who have no legs and run, they surely run faster than you. Are they disabled? I don’t think so, they have a capacity greater than what is considered normal. We will have to continue evolving, this is a long journey.
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