Time is an entity that can be as simple as it is enigmatic, as fast or slow as our perception can reach, as pleasant or unbearable as our senses believe it. Time is a sentence we are all doomed to live. Humans deal with time, try to manage it and get puzzled. Most professions try to have time as their ally in an exhausting race towards money-making. Lawyers try to minimize the time for the condemned, doctors to enlarge the time for their ailing patients, preachers try to convince us that there is more time after death and Horacio ́s disciples would
carpe diem
all over it, stating the only time we have is now.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about time: a way to manage it and a means to resist it. Photographers often parched with the overused motto of capturing moments, are constantly trying to resist the passage of time, but ironically depend on its movement to encounter the perfect momentum. Between all of the branches of the bewildering world of photography, there are actual hunters of time, those willingly navigating the mess of the chaotic streets in resistance to the suppression of the ephemeral, the undocumented moments that die without witness.
Resistance is defined as
the opposition to a current flow,
nothing more chaotic and ever-flowing than the streets. The task of portraying the unpredictable means being prepared to trap moments but also to let them go. Street photography is playing with time, defying its unstoppable beat, and trying to resist its volatility through documenting. Photographing is an active participation of storytelling; each photograph is a brick towards the random, arbitrary sequences of interactions that we call history. Photographers are historians of a particular spirit. Each life is based on events, events on decisions, and decisions on knowledge. History is the accumulation of knowledge from tangled lives; there the importance of documentation, each unique concept opens up the way to new constructions and deconstructions too.
Montserrat Mancilla
© Montserrat Mancilla
Street photographers yearn for time, longing for those unique capsules of time-spaced shots. Guatemalan photographer Montserrat Mancilla creates her work around those pills of impromptu. She started documenting spaces and soon became interested in filmmaking and documentary photography. She describes her methodology as hunting, immersing herself on the streets, and absorbing its wildness. In a way, it's an essential movement, exposing our vulnerable body as a payment for what is wanted, or needed. Our ancestors used this method to survive. They depended on their hunting to bring food to their starving selves. They had to manage the same resources we have today: space, time, and skill.
Their survival weighed on the men going out of a cave, tracking down an animal, fighting it, and carrying the body back. Street photography is pretty much it, the starving need of shooting moments turning into a scavenger hunt. Tracking down wild and esoteric jugglers, peddlers camouflaging through traffic lights and concrete sidewalks, stampedes of four-wheeled steel mammoths. Photographers still get out of their caves, with weapons on hand ready to find the victim of its captures. Fighting time and movement and bringing back bodies turned into shades and lights. They stay still, unnoticed but wide open, as Mancilla would express” discrete camera, attempting for nature on the scenes”. Those pieces of cut time feed the photographer's starvation for outdoors, just as the fleshing prey satisfied people on caves. There is no more visceral type of photography than the one done on the streets, where your gut is your only marksmanship.
These street hunters search what every human subconsciously faces every day, the fear of time, of the chaotic passing of life. It's ironic how street photographers use the perks of passing unnoticed to be able to remain present in the future, as Mancilla herself would state: “I portrait people to leave a historic document of my time through my own personal vision”. Photography at the end is one of the infinite ways humans use to remain alive and resist oblivion, to reincarnate in unknown life ́s in case death has no other aftermath than rotting.
Montserrat Mancilla
© Montserrat Mancilla
Photography is a sport too, where photographers can bat all the balls thrown at them. Some moments could fade away like most of the minutes of the clock. Some scenes would occur with no camera on hand, just some slippery eyes as their only witness. The moments meant to be captured would endure, the ones destined to secrecy would scatter. Hunting as a way to “witness moments that will not happen again in history”, as Montserrat would write, is a visceral act of embracing time. Is a confrontation of the present slowly mutating into preterit, a necessary and inevitable sequel of living. Our tribute to forever living in the present is what allows us to dream of a future. After all, the ability to move forward depends on the existence of a past.