The inspiration for this series came from the Parrandas de Remedios festivities in Cuba, in the town of Remedios. I visited this town for a couple of years, and was impressed by the theatricality and intensity of the festivities. One of the major attractions in the area are the cathedral-like façades, built to display light works and visual paraphernalia. The façades are supported by elaborate, massive structures that are works of art themselves.

I initially intended to document the massive structures by only photographing them from their rear angle, never the front. The problem with such a procedure is that the festivities only happen once a year, giving me a very small amount of time to work with. These limitations led me to consider the possibilities of virtually creating my own structures, based on existing drawings and designs, placing them in different contexts.

These structures leave the spectator constantly questioning what it is and what it does. The decision to ‘photograph’ them from the rear only makes them more intriguing to the eye, providing no apparent solution within the photograph, presenting a wide gap for possible readings.

The initial challenge for this project was finding a working team that could help transform these structures into photographic realism. Now, the consulting team includes an engineer, an architect and a designer, all of whom I work with closely to achieve the final photograph.

Untitled No 3 © Adrián Fernández Milanés

To make each image visually realistic, I approach the process of making each photograph with the depths of a construction project, including details about the structure and physical properties of different elements within a construction. Once I collect all of this information, I work in postproduction, using black and white tones, image texture, luminosity, contrast and lens effect, among other things, to achieve a result that gives the impression that the photographs are documenting a real scene.

This workflow breaks down the traditional understanding of documentary photography as a medium necessarily bound to reality. In this case, both the final photograph and the workflow of making it (not taking it) challenge the spectator with an ambiguous image that’s somewhere between real and unreal, and redefines reality as something conceived in my head.

The proposals of the main shapes in the photographs are based on initial sketches that I make with a group of images and references in my mind. They are impossible to separate; they are different and united at the same time. The final shape has a subtle mix of industrial complexes, combined with puzzle-like forms, weaponry, banners, and cityscapes. These structures achieve a new form, leaving the spectator constantly questioning what it is and what it does. The decision to ‘photograph’ them from the rear only makes them more intriguing to the eye, providing no apparent solution within the photograph, presenting a wide gap for possible readings.

From a conceptual point of view, I believe this work connects with my perception of the Cuban reality and the crisis this country has lived with for such long time. The current paradigm crisis, from a social and ideological point of view, drives the creation of these photographs. The accumulation of similar images reveals a reality that shows structures in disuse, abandoned within the idleness of a depleted territory. The ‘photographed’ constructions function as metaphors for the inert remains of a society sustained by the spectral foundation of memory. The residues of the epic past and the current precariousness of the current moment appear as ruins of the fiction that we still have to live with today.

—Adrián Fernández Milanés


Editor’s Note: This project was selected as a Juror’s Pick in the LensCulture Art Photography Awards 2019 by Yasufi Nakamori, Senior Curator of International Art at the Tate Modern. You can read about the other Juror’s Picks and browse through the Winners and Finalists here.