Mexico Notebook: Q&A with Maria José Sesma

© Maria José Sesma

Hannah FrieserJaime Permuth and I have begun a collaboration to explore contemporary photography in Mexico. We're looking at trends and how they relate to traditions; events, institutions and venues; as well as pursuing conversations with curators, academics, gallerists and photographers on what's happening currently. This collaborative project will feature a variety of types of posts including interviews, book reviews, published letters, portfolios of images and more.

Hannah Frieser is a curator, photographer and book artist and former Executive Director of Light Work. Jaime Permuth is a Guatemalan photographer living and working in New York City and a Faculty Member at the School of Visual Arts.

We have been collaborating with the photographer Alejandro Cartagena as part of this project. Cartagena has overseen and executed a series of short interviews with photographers from Mexico that will be published over the coming weeks.

Today we continue this series with an interview of Maria José Sesma by Cartagena. A statement by Sesma on her work follows the interview.

Other posts in this series include:
Interview with César Rodríguez
Q&A with Nora Gómez
Q&A with Melba Arellano
Q&A with Jorge Taboada

Alejandro Cartagena lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico. His projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban and environmental issues in the Latin-American region.

His work has been exhibited internationally in festivals like CONTACT in Toronto, The FIF in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, GuatePhoto festival in Guatemala City, FOTOFEST in Houston and UNSEEN by FOAM in Amsterdam among others. Alejandro's work has been published internationally in magazines and newspapers such as NewsweekLe MondeThe GuardianThe IndependentThe New York Times Lens BlogPDNThe New Yorker, and Wallpaper among others. His book Suburbia Mexicana was published by Photolucida and Daylight books in 2011.

He has received the Photolucida Critical Mass Book Award, the SNCA-CONACULTA grant for Mexican artists, the Premio IILA-Fotografia 2012 award in Rome, the Street Photography Award in London and a POYi reportage award of excellence, the Lente Latino award in Chile, the award Salon de la Fotografia from the Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Mexico among other awards. He has been named a FOAM magazine Talent and one of PDN Magazine's 30 emerging photographers. He has also been a finalist for the Aperture Portfolio award, the Photoespaña Descubrimientos award, the FOAM Paul Huff award and has been nominated for the CENTER Santa Fe photography prize.

His work is in many private and public collections. He is currently represented by Circuit Gallery in Toronto, Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles and Galería Patricia Conde in Mexico City.

© Maria José Sesma

Alejandro Cartagena: Where do you live and what you do?

Maria José Sesma
: Mexico City, freelance photography and video.

Alejandro Cartagena: ¿Dónde vives y a qué te dedicas?

Maria José Sesma: Ciudad de México, fotografía y video freelance.

AC: How did you get started in photography?

MJS: In workshops with Cannon Bernáldez and in Contemporary Photography seminar in the Centro de la Imagen.

AC: ¿Cómo te iniciaste en la fotografía?

MJS: En talleres con Cannon Bernáldez y en el Seminario de Fotografía Contemporánea del Centro de la Imagen.

© Maria José Sesma

AC: When and what made you start considering producing photographic work to explore your personal concerns?

MJS: I 've always liked how the visual arts can present different issues, by showing environments, spaces, tensions, textures, etc.

I like how you can convey an emotional state without saying words.

AC¿Cuándo y que te hizo empezar a considerar producir trabajo fotográfico que explorara tus inquietudes personales?

MJS: Siempre me ha gustado como las artes visuales presentan diferentes temas, ya que transmiten ambientes, espacios, tensiones, texturas, etc.

Me gusta cómo se puede transmitir un estado emocional sin decir palabras.

© Maria José Sesma

© Maria José Sesma

© Maria José Sesma

AC: Tell us about some of your projects and the themes you approach through the images we are presenting.

MJS: I like to explore subjects that are taken for granted in everyday life and that have a world hidden behind them.

I like to examine situations that seem simple and approach them in order to show the uncomfortable side hidden behind appearances, what is out of place behind the order.

ACPlatícanos un poco de tus proyectos y los temas que abordas en las imágenes que estamos presentando.

MJS: Me gusta tratar temas que se dan por hecho en la cotidianidad y que contienen un mundo oculto detrás. Me gusta desmenuzar situaciones que parecen simples y acercarme para que se vea lo incómodo que se esconde tras la apariencia, lo que está desacomodado detrás del orden.

© Maria José Sesma

© Maria José Sesma

AC: How do you think about the history of Mexican photography in your work?

MJS: Narrating local microhistories which in turn are universal. For some time now the barrier between the Mexican and the global has been erased, as it also has in other countries around the world. The everyday is a theme present in all cultures, and we see more and more the similarity of various issues between ideological positions previously considered incompatible.

AC¿De qué manera consideras la historia de la fotografía Mexicana en tu obra?

MJS: Narrar microhistorias locales que a la vez son universales. Desde hace ya tiempo se ha roto la barrera entre lo mexicano y lo global, así como ocurre en otros países alrededor del mundo, la cotidianidad es un tema presente en todas las culturas, y cada vez más se aprecia la similitud de varios temas entre posturas ideológicas que antes se consideraban incompatibles.

© Maria José Sesma

AC: Do you believe that there is any relationship in subject matter, form or any other aspect between photography in Mexico and the rest of Latin America?

MJS: Of course, as I mentioned in the previous answer. There are always localisms that characterize certain issues or positions, but I think this is an age where communication has broken barriers and we can see more similarities than before.

AC¿Encuentras alguna relación de temas, forma o cualquier otro aspecto entre la fotografía en México y la del resto de America Latina?

MJS: Claro, como lo describí en el punto anterior, claro que siempre hay localismos presentes que distinguen ciertos temas o posturas, pero creo que ya en esta época donde la comunicación ha roto barreras podemos apreciar más similitudes que antes.

© Maria José Sesma

© Maria José Sesma

AC: What are the issues being addressed both in contemporary photography in Mexico and outside of Mexico that interest you?

MJS: In general there is a focus from the global to the local; aesthetics have already broken down barriers and the stigmas of the " Mexican " so that the message behind the image is more powerful and explores more areas without being tied up.

I am interested in topics for discussion in any area. I think there’s a richness in having variety and in the power of expression of each photographer, and even if the photographs are about the biological process of the snail, for example, they may be interesting if they are well done and if the author is really interested in that subject.

AC¿Cuáles son los temas qué están siendo tratados en la fotografía contemporánea en México y también afuera de México que te interesen?

MJS: En general hay un enfoque global a lo particular, la estética ya ha roto barreras y estigmas de lo "mexicano" para así hacer que el mensaje que está detrás sea más poderoso y llegue a más lugares sin estar atado.

Me interesan los temas de reflexión en cualquier área, creo que lo rico está en la variedad y en la potencia de la expresión de cada fotógrafo, así aunque trate el proceso biológico del caracol, por ejemplo, puede ser interesante si está bien trabajado y si el autor realmente está interesado en eso.

© Maria José Sesma

© Maria José Sesma

AC: What do you feel benefits you or is a problem with being based in Mexico?

MJS: I think there is a growing community of photographers here and this helps the system of feedback here in Mexico a lot, but as I said before, it doesn’t matter anymore where you live, what matters is the networks with which you communicate. I think Mexico is a very rich country because it contains many different cultures in a country which makes it multi-thematic and with very different realities that coexist amicably.

AC¿Qué sientes te beneficia o problematiza producir desde México?

MJS: Yo creo que hay una comunidad de fotógrafos cada vez mayor y eso apoya mucho la retroalimentación aquí en México, pero como decía anteriormente, ya no importa donde vivas, importa las redes con las que te comunicas. Creo que México es un país muy rico ya que contiene muchas culturas diferentes en un país lo que provoca que sea un país multi-temático y con realidades muy diferentes que conviven amigablemente.

© Maria José Sesma

AC: Anything you'd like to say about contemporary photography in general?

MJS: The power of an image is very great and the power to transmit a complex situation with little time to the viewer, through sight, makes this a medium very much in accord with the age in which we are living, giving greater openness to the distribution of images and to the dialogues they foster.

AC¿Algo que quisieras comentar sobre la fotografía contemporánea en general ?

MJS:  El poder de la imagen es muy grande y el poder transmitir una situación compleja con poco tiempo de atención del espectador, mediante la vista, hace que éste sea un medio muy de acuerdo con la época que estamos viviendo, dando mayor apertura para la distribución de imágenes y el diálogo que éstas propician.

© Maria José Sesma

Statement on the photographs by Maria José Sesma.

Todo en Orden (Everything in Order) is a project of ideological analysis of my mother's family, who resides in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico.

"Sundays there is a family dinner after mass. An aunt always arrives late and everyone is bothered by having to wait to eat because of her. There is something in their eyes that loads the atmosphere with tension, especially on Sundays or during major events like Christmas. Sometimes the five sisters lock themselves in a room talking and come out showing signs of disapproval or resentment. Suddenly one begins to cry, but the situation remains under water. Their husbands do not notice and if they do realize what’s going on, they don’t get involved. They watch football and drink beer."

Todo en Orden es un proyecto sobre el análisis ideológico de mi familia materna, que radica en Torreón, Coahuila México.

"El domingo hay comida familiar después de misa. Una tía siempre llega tarde y todos se molestan por tener que esperarla para comer. Hay algo en sus miradas que carga el ambiente de tensión, especialmente los domingos o durante los eventos importantes como Navidad. A veces las cinco hermanas se encierran a hablar en un cuarto y salen mostrando gestos de reprobación o resentimiento. De repente alguna llora, pero la escena se mantiene debajo del agua. Sus esposos no lo advierten y si se dan cuenta no se involucran. Ven el futbol y toman cerveza."

© Maria José Sesma