Painted Photos – IFDP winner Florencia Blanco creates new histories with old histories
In 2002, Florencia Blanco won the FiftyCrows IFDP for her images of the people and place that she grew up in – Salta, Argentina. The essay, Salteños, titled after the name used for residents of the area, documented the daily life in the city, which holds a peculiar diversity and strangeness. A thick tension exists between those with native heritage and those with European heritage. Blanco depicted the class difference in Salta by photographing the elaborate parties and costumes of the rich and the rural simplicity of the poor lower class. She also captured this separation by highlighting the interiors of people’s homes from barren, religious icon adorned walls to plush, colorful, oil-painting and family photography rich living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. Seven years after winning the IFDP, Blanco is having a book published on the Salteños project.
Blanco’s new work seems to extend from her Salta images of oil paintings and family photography in people’s homes. With Painted Photos, Blanco’s fascination with vintage hand painted photographs leads her to create new venues for viewing the images. The setting that she photographs the painted photo in creates a different history for the image that might have lost its roots. With others, she tries to connect the image back to their family through the environment that she places the photo in.
Blanco gives a short history of painted photographs in Argentina and explains how her new images strive to establish a connection between past and present.
Oil painted photographs were a very popular type of portraiture in Argentina during the mid 20th century. Although the companies that produced these photographs were often located in the bigger cities they were rare within the city limits. Traveling salesmen would venture to rural areas to sell these images door to door. Painted photographs offered families access to visual representation of themselves in the way that rich city dwellers commissioned oil-painted family portraits.
Painted photos were usually used for families to make homage to their most beloved family members. Being quite expensive with elaborate frames, they held prestige for the buyer who often had to pay in installments or with a group of people. Most of the portraits were made from photographs of deceased relatives who they wanted to make look distinguished. Immigrants that came to Argentina in the first half of 20th century used these painted portraits to remember their family members that they left behind. Often the clothing depicted in the portrait was completely invented and painted on in accord with different religious celebrations, weddings, or mourning periods.
I find painted photographs in people’s homes or at flea markets. I photograph them in a new settings which is some way related to the image, making a whole new scene and connection for the image that has been in a box or gathering dust on a shelf for decades. I explore the relationship of these images with new spaces in a way that links the lives of the portrayed people with the relatives that bought the photo.
Sometimes they collide. Sometimes they work together.
I am dealing with their power as images themselves, as icons that can deliver certain mood, give a precise atmosphere. And it’s a deeply mysterious one. At the same time, I’m writing the history about these photos in Argentina.