The Archive is a Journey to Other Times
Jaime Permuth believes that the archive is a way to travel to other times. From Seoul (Korea) where he lives, he tells about The Street Becomes. The series won the Urbanautica Institute Awards 2020 and was exhibited in the USA and Guatemala.
You grew up during the Guatemalan Civil War, did it influence The Street Becomes?
The civil war in Guatemala produced migrations to other territories including Washington DC. When I received the invitation to the Smithsonian residency, I felt I could try to understand that alternative life. And delve into the social-political reasons for the civil conflict in Guatemala, which have a lot to do with US politics.
I went to Washington DC looking for materials from the Central American community. I found some amazing photographs of the US occupation of the Caribbean and Central American regions in the early 20th century. It was surreal: the US Marine army was well supplied, with freshly pressed uniforms and fighting in rural areas.
I was interested in the contrasts and decided to elaborate an artistic exploration. The Street Becomes ended up being a meditation on how the urban street changes in times of peace and war, arbitrarily defined.
How did you work on the photographs?
Aesthetically, I had to find a visual bridge between two dissimilar sources of work: those of US Marine were large format cameras and those of the Festival, 35 millimeters. I altered the Festival photos, taking them to monochrome, I degraded them photographically to achieve an emphasis on the gestural. Many of them have an almost charcoal-like stroke on the paper, handmade in Japan.
There is a kind of absence, which I want to turn into a question. It is a kind of appropriation and transformation, of finding a new purpose for the images. Many of them are extremely cropped, I leave 70 percent of the image outside.
I am looking for a lyrical truth. I am interested in the context, but it is not determinant. There is no academic reason to contrast these photos. You can only defend it aesthetically. We misunderstood lives begin when we are born, but they begin much earlier. The archive allows you to inhabit a time and a space that were not your own.