A branch laden with pink flowers stands out against a clear blue sky where, as a poetic, and almost surreal apparition, hovers a sliver of the moon. Straining against the last throes of winter, the bare tips of branches shoot out from amid dense foliage: the inexorable victory of time. Albarran Cabrera’s photographs convey a sense of eternity tinged with the warm hues of nostalgia. The exhibition “Things Come Slowly” at the Esther Woerdehoff Gallery in Geneva, Switzerland, features some thirty prints from different series. Looking at Mount Fuji and the delicate contortions of the trees, one imagines oneself in Japan. But Angel Albarran and Anna Cabrera’s interests go far beyond the Land of the Rising Sun. “It’s true that many of our images were made in Japan: we used to go there every year before the pandemic. But there are also photos from France, Italy, Spain… The titles of our series show that we are drawn to Asia as a whole. The Mouth of Krishna, for example, refers to Indian mythology,” note the two self-taught photographers at their shared studio in Barcelona.
The duo “first built their reputation … thanks to the technique of pigment printing on Japanese gampi paper and gold leaf. Gelatin silver prints, historic processes such as cyanotype and platinum-palladium, fine gold toning, the infusion of mica and precious pigments: this slow work has been progressively enriched through ever renewed experimentation,” writes Elisa Bernard in her preface to the exhibition. This multiplication of techniques is the photographers’ “way of expanding [their] syntax so as to express as many things as possible using the limited technique that is photography.” And what about the gold? That’s the secret behind the unique pigmentation of their prints.
The very fine gampi paper is pressed against a surface covered with gold leaf. The resulting image isn’t glittery, but rather possesses rich tones and chromatic textures. “In Japanese museums, we find classical works, panels of painted golden silk. The colors appear to shimmer because the gold shines through the paint. At the same time, the finish is not glossy. The effect is subtle but with a lot of color and a specific chromaticity.” The artists also evoke Byzantine art and Russian icons where, for centuries, gold was very prominent, revealed in all its splendor in the light of candle flame, which created the illusion of life and movement.
Nature reigns supreme at the Geneva exhibition, and there is no sense looking for a human figure. “When we want to convey our ideas, things we have learned or read, the photo must necessarily show something. Sometimes there are people in certain series, but when we want to explain something abstract, a feeling, the best way to do it is through nature. Because it is something we all share. Of course, everyone will perceive it differently, but it remains the most universal way to express what we want say,” explain Angel Albarran and Anna Cabrera.
The idea of perceiving our surroundings plays a major role in the approach that the duo have developed since the beginning of their collaboration in 1996. “It’s our European view of an Eastern world. In Japan, they have a different view of reality, and speaking the language, learning their culture opens access to a new reality which we can explore. One often has the impression that reality is something fixed, but in fact it is the subject of our perception, and therefore something we interpret in a certain way. And this interpretation is conditioned by culture.”
Speaking of nature in the text they wrote for the exhibition, the two artists also evoke the German natural historian Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859): “Humboldt was the first to describe nature the way we think of it today, emphasizing, among other things, the importance of understanding the interconnectedness between all the organisms which form a ‘web of life.’ Only by seeing this interconnectedness can we understand the structure of nature.” The images gently encourage further reflection: all you need to do is to submit to meditative contemplation and immerse yourself in the artistry of goldsmithing that opens your eyes to the beauty of nature.
Albarran Cabrera, “Things Come Slowly”, Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, rue Marguerite-Dellenbach 3, Geneva, Switzerland. Until May 21, 2022.