Circling the Square, photo essay by Arturo Soto
Modern cities are incommensurable places, and the challenges of representing them only increases with their size. Exhausting the myriad possibilities of a city like London is surely impossible, nothing short of “squaring the circle”. Consequently, it made more sense to circumscribe my documentation to the particularities of my everyday experience, with the pictures as a condensed representation of my yearlong stay. This psychogeographic approach focused on my daily route from home to school, with most of the pictures tracing the twelve-minute trajectory between Cartwright Gardens and Gordon Square. The route eventually expanded when I moved to Marylebone and then further out to Battersea.
The series originates from a need to deemphasize the importance of events, turning that attention instead to the sites where experiences take place. Paul Virilio has stated that cities have no voids, since everything in them is suggestive of meaning. This does not mean, of course, that everything is equally interesting in visual terms. Even if photography is a useful tool to understand how urban spaces shape our everyday experience, the artistic gesture consists of arranging that surplus of signs into visually compelling ways, unhinging them from the present, and transfiguring them through the technical means of the camera into images worthy of attention.
As one of history’s primary stages, the streets tend to give an impression of authority and permanence, when in fact, public spaces and the objects they contain do not remain unaffected for very long. Time here is every bit as important as in so-called decisive moments: the weather, technology, legislations and the endless drive for renewal affect the constitution of the built environment, not to mention human traffic, which leaves its mark on even the most reluctant of surfaces.
Q&A with Arturo Soto
For me, photography is a tool to explore and process my surroundings, not only on a physical level, but on a psychic one as well. Making images of the urban landscape helps me clarify how the environment influences some of my thoughts, moods and desires.
Photography and writing…
Combining words and images does not assure a more truthful representation of reality. One tends to think of inscription as informational, but it can also be used to manipulate and deceive. Perhaps less dramatically, it can also drain images of its power by making the visual feel redundant, so one needs to be careful that writing amplifies the information contained by the frame.
Who left the biggest impression on you?
The list of photographers I admire is never-ending. Over the last few years, the work of Paul Graham, Peter Fraser and Moyra Davey has marked me very deeply. They all share an interest in transforming the ordinary into something worth examining. How and why they do it is fairly different though.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am committed to practicing a kind of observational photography that takes personal experience as a point of departure to comment on the human condition.
Arturo Soto (website), b. 1981, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Arturo holds an MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts, an MA in Art History from University College London and undergraduate degrees in Film and Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He has exhibited internationally, and has been the recipient of two FONCA grants and a Jumex scholarship. His work is represented by Tal Cual gallery. He currently resides in Mexico City.