RODRIGO MOYA: THE INSURRECTIONAL IMAGE
Rodrigo Moya is Mexican and was born in 1934. After 75 years of an intense lifetime in which he’s tried his hand at several trades and has nourished on countless experiences, the art and the trade that have taken roots in him are photography and photographer.
In late June 2009, his Cuba of Mine photographic exhibition opened at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. The month-long exposition came to pass in one of the most privileged enclaves of the Caribbean’s fine arts.
Under the auspices of a group of Mexican, Spanish and Cuban sponsors, including the Aztec nation’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the Casa America Cataluña –the venue where the exposition had been on display before– and Cuba’s Ministry of Culture, this initiative did justice, on the one hand, to the artist’s 40-year-old relationship with the greatest Caribbean island. On the other hand, it provided a firsthand glimpse at a significant portion of the vast and varied work of this veteran and passionate creator who runs by the name of Moya, a man who defined Cuba of Mine as “an immense finding, a huge discovery in a sheer documental work, but also an ideological and sentimental action, admitting that sentimentalism and ideology –rejected by the most experienced photographers for being image selective factors– are, in my case, components that pick the individuals and the circumstances the camera seeks to capture.”
It’s been 45 years since Rodrigo Moya traveled to Cuba for the first time, accompanied by author Froylan Manjarrez and caricaturist Rius, with the intention to write a three-handed book about the situation on the island nation and its revolution. For four weeks he took journalistic pictures that were supposed to be part of that book that, due to a number of reasons, was never whipped into shape. However, as the artist is quoted as saying: “the emotions of that summer hit me right between the eyes day after day, somehow they slipped through the cracks of the neuronal circuits of my eyesight and into the film of my camera.”
Those intense weeks of his stay on the island nation left a stamp on him not only culturally, but also ideologically and sentimentally, evolving into an all-out commitment to the Cuban revolution and to the people carrying it out. In her forewords for the catalog, Margarita Ruiz –one of that event’s top promoters– sums up the outcomes of this visual tour:
His camera created a striking iconography akin to his mindset and approach of the finest romantic realism that, 45 years later, comes back to this Cuba of his in the 50th anniversary of the Revolution.
In his photos […] we see neat and spontaneous compositions, the stamping of attitudes and gestures that put the image halfway between the accuracy of the document and the apprehension of the poetry contained in the reality he looks at.
The images we had the chance to take a stare at in this exposition are nothing but one of the many facets of a work that has been accurately anthologized in the book Rodrigo Moya: Insurrectional Photo. Carlos Montemayor, a renowned writer famous for his lucidity and humanitarian vocation, is the author of the forewords he fairly titled “Breaking the Silence Sieges,” an assortment that summarizes the main character’s manifest vocation in relying on visibility to put words in the mouths of those who have been silenced and forgotten every step of the way.
According to Montemayor, Rodrigo, an engineering student with poor grades, an explorer of jungles and mountains, a scuba diver, an editor, a storyteller and a photographer –sports and trades of “high risks”, especially for a bad student– “is a novel character.” Between 1955 and 1968, he worked as a photo reporter for such major publications as the Sucesos, Siempre and Impacto magazines, among others.
Either in the Chihuahua Sierra, the jungles of Venezuela and Guatemala, or the streets of Mexico City and Havana, the will of the restless discoverer with an artistic flair has always ruled his intention to capture whatever strikes his attention and piques his creator’s consciousness, no matter how forgotten or remote that objective might be. As Montemayor puts it:
This search for the denied or twisted reality could only be the result of a passion for human life, a passion for human struggle and the hope implied […] in this vocation that drove Rodrigo Moya’s personal and professional life for so many years. That makes you understand the human nature much better.
During nearly 15 years, Rodrigo worked compulsively as a photo reporter and only more recently he retook his vocation for photography, very occasionally and among friends, but above all in the painstaking effort of recovering the thousands and thousands of references stored in his graphic memory. The past four decades have gone by in some sort of voluntary retirement, a reason why Rodrigo grew to define himself as “a rotund failure in photographic behavior.” Today, he’s working in the labeling and reorganization of that photographic and documental archive while writing new literary texts.
Following a long period, a few images of his vast work –undusted negative films that have lived out anonymity- have showed up in the pages of Mexican newspaper La Jornada’s latest issues, associated to a historic recap or a chronicle of his own. The demise of Cuban heroine Vilma Espin, a Che anniversary, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s birthday or the memory of incombustible actress Meche Carreño have been reasons for today’s readers to get to know and recognize the photographer from half a century ago.
According to one of his work’s followers, Alfonso Morales Carrillo, Rodrigo is meeting again with those old images that have been thoroughly stored and is taking them at the onset of the third millennium from his current residence in Cuernavaca. In this endeavor, he’s being assisted by a bevy of enthusiastic friends and colleagues, including his wife Susan Flaherty. They have all become both curators and leading promoters of this “prodigious photographer’s comeback.”
Hunter of Printed Light Among his anthological photos –specially recruited for the occasion by critic Raquel Tibol- there’s an unforgettable shot that gives testimony of the apparent conciliation between two boldface names of Latin American painting, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros –the former so close now to passing away. Both outstanding Mexican muralists cannot escape the scrutinizing lens that, driven by the deceptive peacefulness of the reencounter, give away the longstanding and thorny rivalry that still, under so dramatic and terminating circumstances, were driving a wedge between the two of them.
A pedigreed photojournalist, Moya offers us a huge gallery of social, political and cultural images, related to Mexico’s daily life back in the 1950s and 60s, shining the lights of an apparent splendor, but also revealing the shadows of a profoundly unfair society.
When I was in my teens, I laid my hands on several issues of the Sucesos para todos magazine, in which –I was eager for information about Venezuela, my homeland– I hooked on a report on the guerrilla warfare published in several parts. The inset pictures are still fresh in my mind. Several decades later and fifteens years into my friendship with Rodrigo, I found out he had taken the Sierra de Falcon shots that had touched me so deeply during my adolescence.
His 19-picture series of Ernesto Che Guevara, dating back from 1964 at the Board Hall of Cuba’s Central Bank, is a high point in his restless quest for newsmakers. The spontaneity, the self-assurance and the humanity he conveys are no doubt artistic milestones of this emblematic sequence.
In the last stages of his photographic stint, he wove a linkage with the performing arts, fashion and the citizenship and its traditions, a move that led him to a more experimental kind of photography, to a deeper study in which his coming of age and the perfection of his trade bring us a more finished look at the spirit of the times.
Morales Carrillo writes about this:
[…] photographing as construed by Rodrigo Moya does not only mean to capture, but also to provide ambiences, to guarantee the encounter with unknown or barely seen realities, regardless of their being just around the corner or at the doorway of a factory. Therefore, I believe the democratic vocation of his photography does not lie in his explicitly insurgent images nor in those marked by social denunciation […] Insurrection –undoubtedly a defining drive behind Rodrigo Moya’s character and career– can qualify only a portion of his photography that also depicted embraces, celebrations and the happy glittering of forms.
This lovely designed and printed book give credit to this astounding repertoire of images –or has been left of it through time and tribulations– that furthermore constitutes a testimony of the times, a reflection of the author’s human and artistic sensitivity. In the same breath, this book is a narration and a memoir of a life committed to its time and that’s now coming back to the readers of today as a genuine work of art.
Here we go unearthing, through photographic essays and compilations of faces and characters from Mexico’s different ways of life, Moya’s perspective in the face of the reality he lived when he was young and his relationship with the journalism of those days.
Photography’s ability to perpetuate and reinterpret the developments of reality is seen in the work of the photojournalist Moya once was, by the hand of a photography that stands tall as a testimony and an artwork at the same time. And this is achieved by either reflecting a social occurrence, a happening in which the human beings and the historic development manage to capture the dynamics of an unrepeatable moment, by shooting the face of an individual at the mercy of the artist’s will or by taking snapshots of a landscape that waits for the lens of the camera.
Rodrigo Moya, from his early formation, has stared with the vocation of an explorer at both nature and the human being, the urban fabrics and himself. That’s why he’s been a diver and a writer, a traveler and a editor, a photographer and a leftist, a hunter of images and news, the mastermind for over twenty years of a marine biology magazine (“I went to the sea. The sea saved me,” he once said), just trying to unravel, from his professional ethics, everything that can serve to improve the human race because, as far as he’s concerned, Karl Marx’s favorite remarks remain as valuable as ever: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
Rodrigo Moya: Insurrectional Photo, Ediciones El Milagro, Mexico, 2004.