After a long time away, Ignacio Iturrioz returned to Montevideo, Uruguay and his old home in the hotel Palacio Salvo. That first night back he followed his impulse straight through the foyer, up the marble staircases, and navigated the darkened hallways until reaching the highest point of the tower atop the iconic building. There, he opened the door to a viewing deck hundreds of feet above the city, only to find a fateful image of a raven lying dead on the ground in front of him. That moment marked the beginning of his award winning work, Purgatorio, a nocturnal exploration into his past and the seven years he lived in the Palacio Salvo.
Built in 1928 in the heart of the city, Palacio Salvo was designed by Mario Palanti, an Italian architect whose work was largely inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. The enigmatic building, with its obtrusive, gothic looking exterior, attracted the young Iturrioz. He enquired about taking a room—his first alone since leaving his childhood home. Once he moved in, he soon discovered he was among kindred souls that shared his fondness for solitude, his fascination with the mysterious building, and his love of the night.
By day, he attended university, worked as a newspaperman and developed personal, long-term photographic projects. At night he returned to the Palacio and found that, while the world outside quieted down in the evenings, Palacio Salvo came to life. Inside was an old cinema, a radio station, a maze of floors and hallways where inhabitants as varied and provocative as the building’s facade came and went. The activities of the night in the Palacio and the solitude afforded by its architecture left a profound impression on him.
Seven years went by, and Iturrioz never photographed his home. In the end he married, moved to Germany, and started a family. But the experience of living alone in the Palacio during those formative years remained unresolved. After seeing Lars von Trier’s film Europa, a moody odyssey centered around a man traveling by train through the night, a visual reference formed for Iturrioz. He began taking trips back to the Palacio Salvo, this time to photograph it.
Driven by his subconscious and memories, Iturrioz sought to reconstruct a feeling, “an atmosphere,” as he calls it. What was important was not factual documentation of life in the building. Rather, it was to see it as he remembered it: as a dream, a fiction. He worked instinctively, finding characters and scenes that illuminated his feelings of solitude, and of anguish and fear, emotional cornerstones experienced and wrestled with while living in the building.
Working with a 40mm lens and solely at night, he created dark and fragmented images — photographs of birds, dogs, limbs, faces, blurred hallways and courtyards illuminated for a moment by a flash only to return again to the night. The building itself dissolved as Iturrioz worked in the shadows, unmoored inside his labyrinthian palace. The photographer may have left the Palacio, but his affair with the night has not ended. Now living in Germany, the photographer walks into the woods to photograph at night.