Coming of Age in Alessandra Sanguinetti’s Photographs

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Cecilia, Buenos Aires, 1995

Alessandra Sanguinetti’s photographs, recently on display in the London print room of the esteemed photography agency Magnum, seek to capture the elusive process commonly referred to as ‘coming of age’. The first six photographs in the exhibition are from a series called ‘Sweet Expectations’ in which Sanguinetti photographed young children in diverse locations including Brooklyn, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. The representation of the Americas is related to Sanguinetti’s own upbringing – born in New York though mainly brought up in Argentina. The children standing in front of Sanguinetti’s camera thus trace the photographer’s cross-cultural background split in-between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Child, Mexico, 1993

Although Sanguinetti’s subjects are young children, the small black and white photographs equally tell a story about a photographer in search of her own childhood. Perhaps as a result of this quasi self-representation, in ‘Sweet Expectations’ the children are depicted like adults. Photographed from an empathetically low vantage point, Sanguinetti’s young subjects turn into icons. In ‘Child, Mexico, 1993′ for instance, a boy is wearing a suit, his clothing and the classical architecture in the background to the photograph stand in contrast to his young age. The boy’s gaze beyond the frame of the photograph alludes to his aspirations, his desires, or as the title of the series suggests, his expectations for the future. Despite the hopefulness of the image, the boy’s hands, partially clenched into fists, perhaps suggests that his life journey is fraught with difficulties. Nearly two decades after the image was taken, one cannot help but wonder what happened to this boy (and all the other children) Sanguinetti has photographed.

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Argentine, Buenos Aires, 2005

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Argentine, Buenos Aires, 2009

Sanguinetti’s characteristically low and empathic vantage point is also discernable in a more recent body of work in which she photographed a small farming community in Argentina. The project focuses on two girls, Guille and Belinda, who Sanguinetti intermittently photographed since 1998, as they grow into young women. The original title of the series ‘On the Sixth Day’ is a reference to the Book of Genesis which proclaims that on the sixth day of creation “God commands the land to bring forth living creatures”. In this series, Sanguinetti’s photographs seek to capture the relationship between man and the animal world. Although Sanguinetti emphasizes a harmonious relationship with humans and fauna, the photographs also depict an environment that is deeply affected by a harsh climate, remoteness and poverty. Sanguinetti finds beauty in this sphere though it is the bleakness of a socially and economically impoverished environment that prevails.

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Argentine, Buenos Aires, 2007

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Argentine, Buenos Aires, 2010

Even though the majority of the exhibition focuses on Guille’s and Belinda’s surroundings in the remote farmlands of Argentina, paradoxically, the photographs reveal very little about Guille and Belinda themselves. As a result of this conceptual and narrative ambiguity, not only does the community photographed by Sanguinetti appear isolated, the various subjects within this community also appear isolated from each other. The photographs tell a story about a lonely and harsh world punctuated by the presence of the photographer. Representations of major landmarks in Guille’s and Belinda’s lives (such as a birthday signified by a cake) become lost in the grand, sometimes beautiful yet also equally surreal representation of their surroundings.

Alessandra Sanguinetti: The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams is available as a book. Other recommendations can be found in our online bookshop.

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