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Art Photobook Reviews

Malparaiso by JM Ramirez Suassi

“Like a circle in a spiral

Like a wheel within a wheel”*

The promise of a new book from JM Ramirez Suassi is - for me - something akin to waiting for a new album from a favourite singer or movie from a long admired director. The whispers of new work begin and anticipation builds. Then finally that moment arrives when you are actually holding the book in your hands, a slight nervous sensation inside. 

Am I going to like it? 

Will it be as good as...?

The answer is a resounding yes.

With Malparaiso Ramirez-Suassi appears to close a circle. 

What started in 2018 with the luminous One Eyed Ulysses, continued with the towering Fordlandia 9, effortlessly concludes (or at least seamlessly connects) with where it all began.

"Malparaíso is an imaginary place, an Eden already lost..."

JM Ramirez Suassi

Almost like Don Quixote with a passport, Ramirez Suassi traverses the globe in a seemingly perpetual quest to see the best in people and decipher the human condition. 

However, like an infinitely  knotted cord, no sooner is one facet disentangled than another stands in his way.

Throw on an unending number of cords and tumble them together.

Such is the reality of such a pursuit and the seemingly infinite complexity of the human psyche. 

Like most people, I imagine he lives for the validation and perhaps even chivalry of the smooth runs, enjoying the peace of clarity and uniformity, before inevitably encountering the next constricted ball of confusion. 

He doesn't stand in judgement or even attempt to set things on their straight and narrow.

He is just there to observe, record and wonder.

Viewed from buses and trains, Ramirez Suassi’s cracked eden is framed by windows, curtains drawn back. The traveler relaxes and the show rolls past. An endless panorama and infinite narratives and paradoxes.

All the world is a stage.

Familiar tropes are present, wrecked cars, stairs with no apparent destination, tracks and paths broken or non negotiable. 

Portraits - sensitively rendered - of characters encountered along the way. 

His crumpled cast of characters. 

Knots in a cord.

But the tone is different, colours often appear more muted, in fact monochrome plays a much more prominent role in Malparaiso.

In previous work the enormity of the landscape was always apparent, but there was an intimacy, especially in Fordlandia 9. 

We always felt as if we were present, practically walking with him through the derelict dreams of a disillusioned megalomaniac. 

An abstract study of a real place. 

Here much of the landscape is captured in long-shot, its grandeur is overwhelming - vast even - but here it carries the more neutral tone of a traveler passing through and of course we are by his side once more, on this occasion viewing his fractured labyrinth but from afar.

A dog lays on a sun baked earth, in the distance way below on a shore a city is visible, the sea and sky receding into the distance. The black body of the animal atop a fade of pastel landscape. Brown to grey to blue.

A hillside stacked with houses on one page sits across from a pile of broken furniture and trash on the other.

A shopping cart, its contents covered -perhaps supplies for a journey - appears abandoned, solitary and isolated on a beach, the tide lapping at an ever encroaching shore, an open sea stretching out to the horizon, two huge ships visible in the distance.

Too late for the party.

Comments and observations that can be reasoned and rationalised.

And then.

The flaming skeleton of a wardrobe stands alone in brush. Exit denied. No escape to Narnia from here.

A lizard playing a toy piano in the corner of a dolls house.

Glass eyes being pressed into a watermelon.

Pure Ramirez-Suassi counterpoints that confound, delight and bemuse in equal measure.

A picture of a handgun fashioned in silhouette from wire.

During a conversation, JM recalled an incident in which he was robbed at gunpoint whilst travelling for this project. Even during the traumatic experience he told me that the overriding thought going through his mind was “Take the camera, but leave the film”.

Those are the pictures that will haunt him. 

The answer may have been on one of them.

Give nothing away.

“Never ending or beginning

On an ever-spinning reel”*

A note for JM

Six years ago you invited me to join you on the first part of your odyssey and through the pages of your books and the beauty of your photographs I have been able to accompany you every step of the way since. 

It is most likely your restless soul will mean the journey is never likely to end but I have seen glimpses of where you live and been fortunate enough to meet the person you share that home with.

Your documented quest, your trilogy of books began at home in Spain and has taken you across oceans to distant countries and places that both exist in real space and yet appear as ephemeral as Malparaiso itself.

There may yet be more travel and more continents but every day that you wake up in your island idyll, you are already in your Eden and your answer is by your side.

Travel as much as you may, but homes and hearts as the saying goes.

As the images unwind

Like the circles that you find

In the windmills of your mind*

Here’s to tilting at windmills.

Best wishes,

An aspirational Sancho.

*Windmills of Your Mind by Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Malparaiso is published by Setanta Books.


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