Nicole Bull: You mentioned your history as a set designer. In what ways do feel that this background impacts your work?
Paula Lombardi: The impact is the direct relationship with objects. I used to wander around every neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina, looking for objects, furniture, car parts, fabrics, plastics, tapes, machines, antiques, anything. Discovering all those things in their own environment and later on transformed into something else or the same but re-contextualized in a different space from where I originally saw them always amazed me.
While I was scouting I was taking pictures of all this things, and taking those pictures became the base of my actual practice.
I scout. I scout life, objects, relationships and spaces compromised to what they hold, artificially or naturally. In that superposition of things I see meaning, in that three-dimensional quality that gives them a new and unique language.
NB: Have you noticed any shifts in your work since moving to NY from Argentina? How would you say that place factors into the work you make?
PL: I do, I think is mostly regarding the way I put things together, as my own experience.
Moving here meant to achieve, organize and put together a lot of things that didn’t have any form, that didn’t belong to me, that were different from what I was used to. I was uncomfortable in an exciting way.
With my work something similar happened, I started to be much more aware of the use of my camera, of how I started collecting things that would at some point turn into a project or part of some. At first it felt all over the place, but slowly it became a habit and I started to be more conscious about how my projects are built. Making my way here was at the same time making my way into a new way of creating, at the beginning it felt very loose but after almost 3 years, slowly everything is kind of making sense, or I should say, I have more a feeling of belonging and knowing also why my work belongs to me.
NB: You bring together images, objects, and texts, as well as your own photographs. Could you talk a little bit about this process? How do you accumulate these things and then decide to present them?
PL: I found out that my projects are always built up in layers. There is always a book, some of my own writings and thoughts, notes on my sessions with my psychoanalyst, drawings, some object or paper that I collected randomly and of course many feelings and thoughts. I propose a dialogue between images and objects, it’s a conversation that seems natural to me, as if what they are saying was some kind of a truth, necessary instead of arbitrary. In a way for me all these different things belong to each other.
Photography and objects combined together seem to me like a hidden dictionary that along with the use of words, which is also an important part of my practice, brings meaning to the experience of existing that runs over and over into all of us.
NB: Reading seems to play an important role in your practice. What do you like to read? What are some of your other influences (photographic and otherwise)?
PL: Words are for me another universe that I have access too, being able to get out of the visuals zone and immersing myself in a text launching me to wander and imagine. Reading is how I would choose to see which is the opposite of how I made my pictures which is seeing all over the place, full of curiosity but really interested in finding and being surprised with what is left behind as it it, the portraits of us, humanity and nature.
Reading is an open space, driven in one sense but visually unlimited. I get relief through reading. I am interested in psychology and philosophy. I read poetry and very much enjoy short novels from contemporary Argentine writers. The writings of Clarice Lispector had been a very big influence on my work, reading the Passion of G.H. even became a body of work.
The photographers/artists that always stay with me are Sophie Calle, Annette Messager, Wolfgang Tillmans, Susan Meiselas, Nan Goldin, JH Engström, Adriana Lestido, Barbara Bloom and many more, that’s a hard question.
NB: You have started working on this new project dealing with anesthesia. What is your relationship to the subject matter? And could you talk a bit about how this is different from your other work?
PL: It all started with the idea of taking a portrait of my mother in the public hospital where she has been working for 30 years. Then it moved to a straight documentary approach, shooting in the public hospital in general and during surgery, focusing mainly in the roll of the anesthesiologist. After seeing the material I made so far, I felt it wasn’t going anywhere, until I started digging more into the treatment of pain. And then I started putting pieces together and it became my family history. A story of the treatment of pain, and then my story begins:
A man breaks an enema in his bathroom because he can’t manage to use it. On that same night he goes to the pharmacy in his neighborhood to buy a new one. A young girl, wearing a robe, attends it, she talks to him through a small window of the pharmacy that her grandfather founded. Then her father continued until he died and it passed into the hands of his sister who is also a pharmacist. The young woman is studying medicine and is specializing in anesthesiology. The next day he goes back to the pharmacy to ask her out on a date, 6 years later I was born.
This project is different from others because of its shifts. It is still building itself up. I have been working with a varied range of material. I started with my 35mm pictures of the hospital, then moved into interviewing my mother about anesthesia, archival material of my mother of her career and personal photographs (when she graduated, early in the pharmacy, after revalidating her degree, documents, etc.), also pictures of objects that belonged to the pharmacy and medical equipment, like the doctor suitcase that had belonged to her since she graduated. After developing some images of the hospital, the last time I was in Argentina, I soak the negatives into 4 different kinds of anesthesia and then scanned them again. Images that are treated against pain.