Witness of the Uniqueness
+February 21, 2021
A room full of people wearing black. Could be a party, a concert or a funeral. Depending on what's at the center; a bottle of vodka, a possessed concert director, or a coffin. If it were a coffin, would anyone consider dressing in a red velvet jumper? Sure, there are more than a dozen great diva figures in every tearful congregation but black has remained standard on those mortuary gatherings. Is it the lack of imagination, the social pressure, the common agreement of not having any other color in common in all dazzling and extremely varied wardrobes? It's just a matter of tradition. A code designed by people in a time (which no one is sure) that established a certain matter of dressing according to the specific social, geographical, and idiosyncratic conditions. The origin of traditions is always blurry and full of variants, just as the reasons for their disappearance. The ambiguity of all the spectrum of what's considered traditional may be the only clear pond on that storm. Talking about tradition can mean gastronomy, social interactions, language and even blowing off little wax sticks on top of a baked something, to remind ourselves how many times we have unconsciously rounded up the sun. It's a common place but it's also a very deep, meaningful, and intimate one. To show tradition is to unpack years of arbitrary efforts of a genetic or community line of descendants. It's even part of our most common ground for all human beings. Work.
We are all laborers in this big crop field called Earth, and part of self-discovery is finding that specific vocation towards all of the time, effort, tears, and crisis would be devoted to. The vocation, which hopefully (and being optimistic), could be the one paying our bills. Not everyone has that privilege, so the ones having it must pursue that dream as if they were possessed by a demon called passion. They owe it to themselves and the ones without the chance to follow a dream, because they are fighting for a meal. For others, work is a long descending line of souls dedicated to a certain craft, those occupations that require a hawk ́s eye to detail and fine motor control. A kaleidoscopic and almost cinematic view of this traditional workshop is made by amazing photographer Daniela Olave, she gives us a glimpse into different spaces forgotten by time on Bogotá streets. Where we can witness tradition reincarnating in spaces inhabited by master creators.
Olave has developed a photographic body of work that explores how tradition is formed, how it mutates and recreates the view of what is considered traditional. In her project Instantes, she created marvelous images that expose hidden gems of Bogotá's changing identity. It's a rescue mission to those installments created by time and history, that on the rush of the contemporary world get dissipated in the obnoxious need for unnecessary speed and efficiency. Those traditional crafts that have a specific identity, are an act of resistance themselves, fighting rushes with smooth rhythmic paces. Those temples of traditional making passed over by the sharp-edged view in search of need, forgiving the pleasure of getting lost in the unknown. As Danielaherself expressed it: “The activity of drifting itself in the city, a technique I adapted in the project and a practice Dadaists used. It became a pleasure to take the time to wander the city and find those places on my own. At the same time, it became a reconciliation process with those places, for all the years I passed by and didn't notice them.” Most traditions are just like those houses in Bogotá: great treasures, lost in history, and fighting for survival. Spaces get impregnated by their owners, imbibing their secrets, desires, mistakes, and decisions. Tradition is embedded in identity itself, from how we live to where we live and all the food in between. Olave opens up the veil to snapshots of frozen time that encapsulate a reality that may or may not survive the next centuries. The contingency is the beauty of the perishment.
The duty of the photographer is not to preserve, but to witness and document life being. Spaces and traditions may go a long way or may slowly vanish, the everlasting change roulette will decide the time of birth and death. The place of each one in tradition is to contribute in present tense. To look with honesty and self-criteria at those actions or works that enter life as our traditions, because they configure us and belong to our journey. A deeper look is sometimes what's missing to find meaning in our actions and the ones made by others. Walking without a final destination is not a crime, indeed, it's a therapy towards self-discovery, but walking without really appreciating the continuous present, is a waste of existence. Daniela recovered that sense of detachment, “it was a reflection of all the time I was in the city, but absent, my body was there but my view wasn't”. She created a photographic act of reconciliation with her own city and herself, an honest journey of consciously drifting through traditions and workshops that remind us of the importance of the viewer as the witness of the uniqueness.