The Second Chapter in the Lives of Two: Alessandra Sanguinetti
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Alessandra Sanguinetti’s exhibition “The Life that Came,” currently at the Yossi Milo Gallery, is a continuation of a prior body of work, “The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams.” For many years now, Ms. Sanguinetti, a Magnum photographer who divides her time between New York and Argentina, has been photographing Guillermina and Belinda, two cousins, as they grow up on their family’s farm in Maipu, a rural backwater 300 kilometers from Buenos Aires. Of the two cousins, Belinda is the pretty one, and Guille is the fat one, if a young girl can be called “fat” and not described with a euphemism.
In “The Life that Came,” 16-year-old Belinda has to deal with her pregnancy and her baby, Lucas. In Maipu, it is probably not that unusual for teenage girls to become mothers, and in “Belinda and Pablo” (2006), we see her with her husband. (Like all 18 pictures in the exhibition, it is a 30-by-30-inch Fujiflex print.) The two are at the farm, standing barefoot by an animal pen; a building with a corrugated tin roof is in the background. Belinda has her right arm around her husband and holds his left hand with hers, but in spite of her demonstrative embrace, she looks at the camera with a neutral expression. He is shirtless, his posture is somewhat slack, and since his face is turned toward Belinda, we cannot see his expression. The dual portrait is intimate, but somehow without affection.
“Three O’clock Soap Opera” (2004) shows the two cousins in the kitchen of the farmhouse watching television. Watching with them is an older woman — either one of their mothers, or possibly the grandmother who owns the farm — and an attractive young woman wearing a two-piece bathing suit. Like all Ms. Sanguinetti’s photographs, the picture was shot with natural light, and the light falls on the faces of the cousins and the older woman, who are all seated, and on the naked midriff of the woman in the bathing suit who is standing. The kitchen has an old-fashioned black coal-burning stove. All four women are paying close attention to whatever is on the television set, presumably a complicated story of Latin romance. The picture is dated three years before Belinda had her baby; she sits in the kitchen with her arms folded, absorbed in a tale that is probably more interesting than life on a farm.
There are several pictures of the two cousins together. In “Unittiled” (2004), they are sitting on a bed with a wrought-iron bedstead. Belinda is seen in profile in the foreground, her thick black hair in braids, her expression distant. The light on the pale skin of Guille’s upper arm makes it stand out from a dark background; it seems emblematic of her large size but, as in general, she has a bit of a smile and appears more lighthearted than her prettier cousin. A year later, in “Time Flies” (2005), the girls are buried in black dirt and gravel so only their faces are visible. Belinda stares up vacantly into space; Guille has her eyes shut but wears a little smile. In “The Conjurers” (2006), the two appear in a window that superimposes above them the reflection of a blue sky with white clouds.
“Heart-shaped Belly,” “The Wedding Bed,” “New Mother,” and “The Kiss” (all 2007) show Belinda grappling with her pregnancy and her baby. In the first, she sits in a doorway with her hands under her naked, extended belly. A chicken outside the doors reminds us we are in the country. In the second, she sits in her underwear on a red satin bedspread; her arms, belly, and legs are naked so we can see the little scratches and bug bites that are symptomatic of life in the country. On her head is a tinsel tiara, a souvenir of her bridal outfit. In the third, she lies in bed nursing the infant. Finally, in “The Kiss,” she bends over her little boy to buss him. As in most of her pictures, Belinda here seems emotionally restrained.
There are several pictures of Guille that show her as an appealing, self-possessed teenager. She is with three younger girls she is minding in “The Nanny” (2006). Guille sits on a bed wearing blue jeans and a pink shirt with her hair encased in a towel; she is pleased with the responsibility of taking care of the little girls, and her relaxed body is an expression of her confidence in her ability to do it well. In “The Morning” (2006), she rests on a bed in a light-filled room, a pose that again emphasizes her heavy upper arm, but what is striking about the picture is how comfortable she seems with herself. Here, as elsewhere, Ms. Sanguinetti uses light and color not for their own sake, but in the service of the larger aim of her photographs, which is to have us know the cousins and understand their constricted lives in Maipu.
One of the last pictures in “The Life that Came” is “The Real Thing” (2007), which shows the two girls together, Guille on the left, sitting on the bed with the red satin bedspread, and Belinda, wearing a dark blue gown, sitting in a chair nursing Lucas. The colors are rich, the light diffuse, the relationship complex. Belinda stares out of the picture to the right, while Guille turns her large body toward the camera with a look of concern for what the photographer is up to. Ms. Sanguinetti succeeds in engrossing us in the lives of these two country girls so that, as with a good novel, we would like to know what happens next.
Until October 18 (525 W. 25th St., between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, 212-414-0370).