For them, photography is to live the moment, to be aware of the moment beyond thinking about the finished photograph. This will come at a later time when they immerse themselves in the darkroom to experiment, as good alchemists as they are. They master many techniques such as Platinum, Palladium, Cyanotype, Silver Gelatin, but above all, they have found their own technique that characterizes their work – the incorporation of gold leaf that reminds us of Japanese silk painting. They MAKE photographs rather than simply TAKE them.
Albarrán Cabrera, use gold leaf in photographs not for decoration or nostalgic flamboyance, but rather its unique ability for reflective illumination and contemplative significance. “Not mere extravagance” as Jun’ichirō Tanizaki wrote in his 1933 essay on Japanese aesthetics In Praise of Shadows, in which he espoused the elegant use of gold leaf for illumination in the shadowy corners of pre-electricity rural homes. The essay’s expression of gold as an almost mystical medium of luminance seems apt to Albarràn Cabrera’s use of it as a printing substrate for its ability to produce “an ephemeral glow” from underneath the thin layer of gampi paper that bears their color images. Printmaking, the creation of textural and tangible photo-objects is for them, always paramount.
In order to bridge the organic textures of their early work as black-and-white photographers using cotton papers in platinum and cyanotype printing, they implemented the fibrous Japanese gampi paper for a new direction into color work. The sub-layering of gold leaf that followed was inspired by a range of art-historical contexts from Russian Orthodox Iconography and Byzantine painting to, more clearly, Japanese Byōbu folding screens and printmaking techniques. First used in their ongoing series The Mouth of Krishna, the metallic layer is never overtly apparent, glowing subtly through the image’s highlights and giving the image an overall iridescent warmth. The artists explicitly cite Tanizaki’s writing as source material and introduced the concepts to me in one of our first meetings “In a dark room with a golden object in the corner, the moment a tiny ray of light touches this object it will glow in that darkness creating a beautiful atmosphere and a kind of mystery.”
In Albarrán Cabrera’s body of work Kairos, which seeks to photographically represent the metaphysical idea of “the eternal present”, the use and revelation of gold leaf serves a conceptual purpose grounded in Eastern philosophy and aesthetics. In prints from the series, the phantom idea of “Now” is represented by delicately removing a section of the image surface, which reveals an amorphous and imperfect strip of gold leaf, separating two subsequent exposures of a scene (past and future) taken moments apart. “The perception of this line, like the fact of ‘seeing the present’, can be more or less obvious, but the less visible it is, the further from the truth our reality is."
The artists’ most recent series, Nyx, displays the evolution of an earlier specialization in platinum-palladium printing and its warm black tones on gampi paper over gold leaf.
Their use of materials, content, and compositions arise from a literary philosophical and historical wellspring. ‘The printmaking craftsmanship and philosophies,’ says gallerist, Michael Hoppen, ‘is what initially drew me to Albarrán Cabrera’s work as it had such a profound effect on the way I viewed the world afterwards’
As Albarrán Cabrera have pointed out, “this wide range of processes and materials serve a single purpose: to give us far more parameters to play with the viewer’s imagination than a mere image.” The texture, colour, finishing, tones – even the border – of a print can provide the viewer with valuable information. The physical sense of photography as an object to touch, to feel, to perceive the smalls details and shades of color, paper textures and the way light reflects inside the paper, leads the viewer to perceive the world around us in a certain mood or feeling in which beauty matters.
The question running like a thread throughout their work is how images trigger individual memories in the viewer. Depending on their social and cultural backgrounds and on their personal experience, viewers will perceive images in completely different ways. Albarrán Cabrera are interested in subjects such as time, reality, existence, identity and empathy, but what they find the most fascinating is the relation between them. These relations are difficult to explain by means of words and that is why they rely on images.
“We are particularly interested in memories. Our aim is to play with viewers memories and to construct a representation inside their minds. We never know what the final result will be, because individuals have their own exclusive memories and have grown up in different cultures and environments. Our images are the bare bones of this mental construction. There is a gap between reality and what we understand as real. And photography (as Japanese dramatist Chikamatsu once said about art) lies on the frontier between the real and the unreal, the true and the false. Photography helps us to ‘see’ what is hidden from us.”
Albarrań Cabrera’s prints have been created using their proprietary technique, in which pigment prints are created on hand-made gampi paper and embellished with gold leaf to echo the luminosity and lustre of traditional Japanese silk painting. Each work carries a subtly unique patina, which heightens their interest and individual appeal in a world where digital printing has become so ubiquitous. And each photograph has a different process applied by the artists, sometimes months later in the dark room and far removed from the environment the photograph was taken.
“We select the process whose feature helps us to enhance the feeling, idea or message that we want to express in a particular image.”
“Memories define what we are. So, when someone “reacts” to an image they are in fact recreating some of their memories, triggering in the process, specific feelings. That is also why it is so difficult to explain something through photography. A photo is three-dimensional but flat - it’s not a sculpture-; it freezes time, but it does not unwrap in time like the cinema; you need the help of your imagination to interpret a photo. By inverting visual orientations in their images, it makes the viewer understand that their reality is shaped by the way the senses process the stimuli. We see something in its “correct” position because we look at it in that position. If you look “differently”, you will “see” different things. In Japan, there is an ancient pine forest that stretches across the sea. A peculiar custom to observe this place, Amanohashidate, is the mata-nozoki: leaning forward to see the landscape upside down through your legs. This inverts heaven and earth by turning the sandbank that winds through the water into a dragon that flies across the sky known as hiryūkan. Our role is to create mystery. As a viewer, we are not much interested in looking at an obvious reality. If you look at a photograph where everything is clearly shown, with no shadows, there is no room for your imagination to play with that image and add your memories and your inner world to it. We love when in an image there is enough room to allow the viewer to enrich it with their memories, fears and questions.
An Exhibition by Albarrán Cabrera will take place upstairs at
Connolly 4 Clifford Street
from the 16th of February until the 16th of March 2022.