Artist Highlight: Roberto Fernández
Tell us a little about your background as an artist
I began photography in my thirties, building a darkroom at home and learning the craft by myself through books and magazines. Darkroom techniques were learnt via trial and error. My previous studies in Chemistry and my work for twenty-seven years in the chemical industry helped me a lot to formulate my own photographic mixings and to experiment in different processes.
Where are you based now and how would you describe what you do?
I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and in 2010 I moved to Solymar, a seaside 20 km from Montevideo. Here I have my home, as well as a bigger and safer darkroom. I like to cultivate ideas and investigate the best way to express them. Some of them turn into photographs, others into artist books, or poetry, drawing, painting, writing.
My way of thinking and doing things is a little chaotic. I deal with many projects at the same time, each one with its appropriate technique. Some projects have to do with the reality of the world: environment, social, and the human condition. Others are purely fictional or metaphorical. But I always like to challenge the viewer or the reader.
Describe the technical process you use to create your work
I work through different processes. I like to experiment on alternative techniques and sometimes I find myself walking in unexpected ways. I have a lot of chemicals in my studio, and I investigate new possibilities of making images. Mostly, I work with medium format film, 35mm, pinhole and 4x5”, printing on Silver gelatine paper. But I also love working on camera-less processes, cyanotype, lumen, salt paper prints, a personal modified mordancage variation, chemigrams, and some other processes.
Why would you describe yourself as an environmental artist? What is the relationship between your work and nature?
To be an artist can be an accident, or an option, or a discovery. To be environmentalist is a matter of consciousness, of feeling what life is, and to realize that we don’t have an environment, we are the environment.
Art is a powerful tool to reach people. Some people are reached by speaking to their intellect, and some to their heart. In both cases, art could be the way in which creators and beholders, makers and spectators meet to visualize and construct a better world.
If I could open eyes and minds through my work, then yes, I could be described as an environmental artist. About my relationship with nature… I much prefer to say that I don’t have a relationship with it: I AM nature expressing itself. We all are nature, one and the same. And we are that part of nature that can decide to survive or not.
Would you say that your art is purpose-driven? If so, what do you aim to accomplish through your creative expression?
I think that every kind of art has a purpose. The question is how conscious we are of that purpose: intention and attention are the keys. And if you are sincere, they vary with your mood. My work is a reflection of my state of mind, my hopes, my joy and my worries. Sometimes I just want to create something interesting, and then that creative impulse obeys to aesthetic purposes. But there are times when I’m more focused in communicating urgency about nature, that is, about us. You may think that some of my work are abstract images, but if you look at them with a wider point of view, you would understand that they are self-portraits.
What do you hope your art communicates to those who come into contact with it?
I would like to think that art is a way to communicate different things, depending on the circumstances. Art should be something as natural as conversations are. There are moments in which you talk confidently, others jokily, and others, seriously. It depends on what and how you feel, as well as the context. Art plays several functions: it teaches, it feeds, it challenges, it makes us to question, and sometimes it gives answers. No matter what kind of art I do, I would like people to ask: why did he do this? What did he want to share? Why are his images sometimes melancholic, sometimes humorous, or introspective, or controversial? My message is simple: I don’t like the artist’ “aura”: I’m just a man of these times that tries to express himself working in the arts.
Which environmental issues and causes are you most passionate about?
I think it’s impossible to choose one issue: water, earth, air, they are linked by a delicate balance and interconnectedness. To pollute one them will have consequences in the rest. But there is something that truly worries me: it’s when someone, following economic interests, damages negligently or knowing that it could be avoided. The use of some pesticides, for example; or CO2 emissions, aquifers contamination, or deforestation, just to name a few…
I understand that human beings want to be more productive, but technology also shows the risks associated with some processes and products, and their negative impact. We have to be conscious of the two faces of the coin.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’d like to share with us?
Now I’m working in five different environmental projects. It takes time to study each topic, to get information and data, to design my images and to print them in my darkroom. Some of these series are camera-less: I don’t always need a camera at the moment to say something through images. It is not necessary to go to Antarctica to know that ice is melting at a faster rate, I don’t have to be in the Arctic Sea to understand that it’s warmer than decades ago, it’s not required to be present with a camera to show that sea level is rising, or to go to drilling places to see the negative effects of fracking (hydraulic fracture) in air, earth and water.
As an ordinary man, an inhabitant of the world, a minute portion of nature, my voice is my work. And my call starts in my darkroom and my studio.
I am now exhibiting in two countries in Europe: In Spain (series “Gurfa – Cartographies of water”) and in Portugal (series “Mountains of uncertainty”, “Melting Point” and “Prophetic landscapes”), invited at the 30 anniversary of the Braga’s Festival “Encontros da Imagem”. The exhibition in Spain will take place from October 2017 till mid 2018, in different Spanish cities, ending in Madrid.
Some artist’ books are waiting to be finished in my studio. I’m printing vintage negatives from my archives, writing a kind of diary/blog, giving some lectures, and investigating new photographic formulas and darkroom techniques. I’m a kind of a hermit, and with all this work waiting to be done it’s difficult to go out in search of an audience. So when somebody knocks at my door like you are doing it now through this interview, I open it wide. Please be welcome to my world. Thank you!