Vanessa Winship at MAPRE
"I lived and worked in the region of the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus for more than a decade. My work focuses on the junction between chronicle and fiction, exploring ideas around concepts of borders, land, memory, desire, identity and history. I am interested in the telling of history, and in notions around periphery and edge. For me photography is a process of literacy, a journey of understanding."
The Vanessa Winship exhibition adopts the form of a chronological journey through each of the series that make up her oeuvre, featuring a selection of 188 photographs.
Between 1999 and 2003 Vanessa Winship traveled through the regions of Albania, Serbia, Kosovo and Athens, coinciding with the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia and resulting in her series Imagined States and Desires. A Balkan Journey. This project was a fundamental step in defining her photographic vision and in her decision to break with contemporary reportage and the traditional concept of the photojournalist. The images that make up this series mostly center on the tragedy of the exodus of Kosovar Albanian refugees from Serbia to neighboring countries. They are a collection of snapshots that reflect the volatile nature of borders, ethnic groups and creeds while asserting that identity is not bestowed by territory but is ingrained in individuals, wherever they go. The fragmentary nature of the series, its condensation into micro- stories, lays the foundations for her future practice.
In 2002 Vanessa Winship moved to the Black Sea region and over the next eight years traveled through Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. Her work in this area gave rise to one of her most renowned series, Black Sea: Between Chronicle and Fiction. In this series, she presents her vision of the area and the residents of the regions around the shores of the Black Sea, which she presents as a natural border—challenging all notions of geopolitical or historically established limits— of the vital space of each nation, and even of the distinction between public and private space. Winship's work therefore focuses on the aspects that endure beyond the action of politics: collective rituals, modes of transportation, recreational spaces, and the movement of human beings up and down the coastlines.
?In Black Sea, portraits of Turkish wrestlers and Ukrainian wedding guests allow Winship to elaborate on her reflections and explore the concepts of sexual differentiation governing societies: on one hand, Turkish wrestling, a direct descendant of Greco-Roman wrestling and an icon of masculinity in the country; on the other, participation in a wedding ceremony as a means of self-presentation in society for young Ukrainian women.
In both of these series, the images are accompanied by brief notes written by the artist, either expressing a single thought or a short description, which create a deliberately incomplete narrative. For Winship, these notes are meant to remind us of the power of text to evoke an image.
Sweet Nothings: Schoolgirls of Eastern Anatolia (2007), produced during her travels through Eastern Europe, is a key project in Vanessa Winship's evolution as a photographer. It is an almost serial collection of portraits of schoolgirls from the rural area of Eastern Anatolia, a region bordering with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran where the plurality of ethnic groups is silenced by the proliferation of uniforms, of both schoolchildren and military personnel. On a certain level, the school uniforms recall the tools used by states to classify the population, to "mark" their territory and neutralize the plurality of areas, as in Eastern Anatolia where the ethnic and geographic borders are not as clearly defined as they are on maps. This fact—the presence of uniforms—represents a framework for action, a boundary for the project, and allows Winship to further develop her interest in faces, gestures, and the sense of belonging to a group or community.
Georgia, another region on the shores of the Black Sea, is the setting for the series produced by between 2008 and 2010, in which she mostly focuses on portraits. Georgia. Seeds Carried by the Wind is a detailed study of the faces the photographer came across. These are portraits of youths and children, mostly individuals who, when grouped together, appear almost without variation as same-sex pairs. The collection suggests an energetic, survivor country. These images are combined with a series of colored photographs (the only ones in Winship's entire output) that accompany tombstones in a cemetery. The two collections establish an interesting dialogue between different generations of Georgians and, simultaneously, between the artist herself and the original anonymous photographer. Meanwhile, the landscapes and stones that complete the series evoke a premature death. By combining landscape and ?portrait as places where the traces of identity, history and present are imprinted, this series is a key project in Winship's work as it prompts a debate about her practice and the issues posed by the two genres.
In 2011 Vanessa Winship received the prestigious Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB) photography award. The project for she won the prize led to the series she Dances on Jackson. United States (2011-2012), produced in the United States, a country which she represents as of great uncertainty, where the weight of the recent past is manifested through public works and constructions which are either underused or have fallen into disuse, and where the faces of anonymous individuals and groups reveal their disillusionment with the promises of the American dream. This series also constitutes Winship's definitive approach to landscape photography, a genre which has gained increasing prominence in her output. Short texts written by the author replace the gradual disappearance of the portrait, operating as narratives of the missing photographs. In she Dances on Jackson. United States the geographic leap to the other side of the Atlantic defines the characters that people Winship's earlier photography.
Before embarking on her trip to the United States, Winship worked in her home town on the estuary of the Humber river (2010), for which this series is titled. In this project, we again witness the growing preeminence of landscape in her work. This process culminates masterfully in her most recent series, produced in Almeri?a, which represents the reaffirmation of her work as a landscapist and the total absence of the human figure. In January 2014, for the purposes of this exhibition, the artist moved to Almeri?a, a place marked by rootlessness and its border nature and geological diversity, to carry out her latest project. Winship has focused on photographing the geological formations along the coastline of Cabo de Gata and the devastation of the area following the proliferation of intensive agriculture based on greenhouse production. The land of gold, Spaghetti westerns and marble now appears as a land of plastic and, like all other places Winship has photographed, seems to be located in a place suspended in space and time. All of the images in this section of the show reflect the rapid transformation of the region following the introduction of greenhouses, a radical systemic change and altered coexistence brought about by the arrival of communities of immigrants and their access to consumer society customs. Almeri?a, as Winship's photographs clearly show, continues to be a fragmented landscape in which urban and
?rural collide and where the "non-place" that is the greenhouse acts as a metaphor for the area's instability and vulnerability.