Le Perfect Tag did not offer me a round-trip ticket Paris-Madrid – SCANDAL. Fortunately, the Internet is the new America and millions of small Christopher Columbus 2.0 are working every day for the abolition of borders. This is the conquest of the modern world that allowed me to interview Sandra Torralba, a young Spanish photographer whose [interesting, crazy, intelligent] works featured in the MoSex of New York, last February.
You studied psychology (in Madrid and London) before reorienting yourself towards an artistic career. What did lead you to photography?
As a child I thought I would be a writer. I wrote my first story when I was around 7. I also used to shoot “pictures movies”. As a teen I thought I would be a theatre actress (a theatre writer and a photographer too!) but I was good at studying and loved sciences, so I decided I would study medicine. I remember I changed my mind many times upon this decision, wondering if I should perhaps study art or journalism related degrees, even psychology which I was quite fond about. But I thought I would start with what seemed more difficult. I abandoned medicine on the 3rd year. I could have been a great doctor, I believe, but it was demanding and challenging and it made me suffer. So I dropped it and began social work for that I swapped concerns from the biological aspects of existence to the sociological ones. Whilst doing the degree I also studied masters in sexual therapy, for the same reason: I wanted to deepen my understanding of sexuality. In 2004, my partner and I moved to UK. I did not really want to, but once I was there, I had to make the best of it, so I enrolled in a course of humanistic counseling and a master of psychotherapy integrative. Then I began working in a rehabilitation setting for severe mental illness. Among other, I worked in a crisis unit for patients with acute mental health issues. I finally got the psychology degree. During my last year in England, I began to feel heavy. The weight of my client´s stories, their horrors, my own weight began to sadden me. I had taken again photography as a hobby and increasingly that was all I could think of. So as we moved back to Spain, I decided to enroll in a photography´s masters and do work as a therapist part time. As photography took over, I felt happier and lighter! I did not drop psychology, it influences my work considerably and my life, I just allowed it to fade away. I feel no regrets. All my interests have always been there, interacting with each other. Apparently Seneca said: “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation”. Well this explains my career paths, I had the drive, the opportunity presented itself and I always follow, blindly.
What connection do you make between art and psychology?
Finally, for me, art and psychology are both about communication and human emotion, so somewhat for me, they both feed into each other. My work is embedded in my background, in who I am.
Why are you your “own model”?
My work is very personal but not autobiographical. I impersonate my characters for the sake of congruence. You see, that has a lot to do with psychotherapy. I believe (and it is compulsory in psychotherapy and counselling trainings) you have to explore your own issues before you should ever try to explore the other´s. I find more honest and daring to talk about my personal feelings, my fears and my doubts. So to own my message it is me who has to be exposed. That honesty is a good way in reaching others. We tend to project or deny our emotions, to be hypocritical, to hide and be ashamed. In my work I want to do the exact opposite. It is not a form of therapy (I am well analysed already!), it is a form of thinking and talking, of asking questions, of raising topics that matter to me, and beginning a dialogue with the observer, starting from me.
From the technical point of view, how do you work in front of and behind the camera?
Initially it was easier, my pictures were simpler and so all I needed was myself and the camera. Also I felt shy in front of the others, you need an important amount of confidence in your work and your skills to ask for help, and it was something I had to put an effort into. As productions got bigger and more complex I began to need others, in front and behind the camera. I still work a lot of my own, I guess I still find it emotionally easier, more intimate and quiet, but there are some shots that come up better with support. So what happens? Normally I have a very clear idea of what I want and what I need. I write my idea, what I want to convey, what it means, I do drawings or photocompositions to explain exactly where each item will be located, the acting, the feeling. And during the shooting session, everyone knows what to do. Every a certain number of shots, I view the work, correct what needs correction, until we achieve the image.
And how do you recruit the other models? In what way do you direct them then?
It depends. I use my own family and friends a lot. The shots mean even more with them in them. Sometimes I need people with specific characteristics so I ask around and via my blog or Facebook. Sometimes it can take a while, and I mean for some shots it took over a year!
Your pictures deal with loneliness a lot. Do you think it is a “modern sickness”?
The modern sickness would be for me denaturalization, dehumanizing, how we seem to fight and hide our animality, our humanity to become machines. Loneliness, like sadness or happiness are to me, natural emotional states, the only problem is we aren´t taught and prepared to deal naturally with them. Like ambivalence or uncertainty, we seem to struggle so much with them, as if we ever had the certainty of anything. In this sense, you have a lot of amazing French writers that did a great job in shaping my thinking, such as David Le Breton, Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Camus, etc.
Your first photographic series is entitled “The Ideal Man” and depicts a woman in company of the ideal man who is invisible, the last, “Estranged Sex“, stages especially couples who do not seem to see each other. How do you perceive men, women and gender relations?
“The ideal man” was a gender parody. The ideal man was ideal except he did not exist, and she seems all happy about it, except, there is no it. “Estranged Sex” is more complex. Each picture has its own story behind, but they do explore the weirdness that we have created around our own bodies, our sexuality, our relationships, to the point we have become estranged of them. I believe men and women are equally trapped in this, not in the same ways or through the same ruses but equally trapped and alienated from themselves.
What about your perception of sex?
Sex and sexuality are very broad concepts we are talking about a bit anyhow. We put so much into it that at times it stops being what it is to become something else and it scares us. But in essence, it can be very simple. And lets not forget, sex is about fun and pleasure too.
Do you watch porn? What are your favorite tags?
Yes, I do watch porn sometimes. My favorite tags have changed over time, same as my fantasies.
What do you like and dislike about pornography today?
I like that we are more open about pornography today, that it has become more “normal” and that there are emerging types of porn to accommodate all the likings. Yet this is also what often puzzles me the most. Feeling like every day you can find something new and a lot is very weird. What disturbs me the most is deeply violent porn. Frequently I discover some new trend that I could have never imagined, and some of them, I find deeply disturbing and strange. And so I think about them, until I manage to understand them. I do not mean I will like them, but at least I will understand where it’s coming from. For example, bukkake and gokkun seem to me now very common but once I was deeply shocked by it. Originally, bukkake was a humiliating practice, but you can easily imagine why it might turn someone on and not necessarily within the humiliation premises but for other reasons. Now understanding something does not mean you accept it passively: we can all bring some critical thinking into porn. Other things I have not managed to understand such as enemas or something they do now where they make vaginas swallow with a suction pump before having sex and things like this… And there are things I just dislike, such as violent sex where they slap and spit and treat the other person like shit or deep throating someone until they vomit.
Is it the starting point of your series “Estranged Sex”? If not, where did you get the idea?
The starting point of “Estranged sex” was to do an image that would contain sexual and pornographic elements but that would not trigger arousal, to present a paradox that will lead the observer to ask questions. And it had to be fun.
You use video and text supports, too. Why?
Different media offer different communication possibilities.
How do people react to this project?
It depends on the people and on the images. Some images trigger laughter and some others disturbance. But people seem to think about them and frequently they come to me with a negotiating approach, willing to discuss and talk, never just closing the door on me.
What could shock you?
Many things, anything that I do not know about can shock me.
I discovered your work in the MoSex of New York. What is the history of this exhibition?
They contacted me and commissioned the exhibition. I was thrilled to collaborate with them and for the opportunity they gave me. When the exhibition was over, I gave them all the exhibit images as a gift for their permanent collection.
Your works are travelling. How do you feel about that?
Envious! I wish I travelled with them. Just joking. I am thrilled that my work is seen overseas. It´s magnificent.
Do you manage to live of your art?
No. My husband has a solid job and we rely on his earnings. I work as a professional photographer, and I work more and more every day but income fluctuates so it is a good contribution to our household but it is not enough to live. It also allows me to afford exhibitions which are always a great expense!
What are your current projects?
My first baby boy was born at the beginning of this year and combined with work, it does not leave me much spare time for personal projects but I am slowly working in “The Hope´s Crevice” that features both him and my grandmother.
Interview conducted by Lula – Rereading by GrosMikko