Behind the Lens:Hope & Reality

Art Basel Exhibition

“Nobody wants to talk about death, everyone wants to live forever especially in Miami where we live in this plastic world…”

Two photographers intertwine their creative forces to visualize the vulnerability of life, and the inevitable coming of death. Tony Chirinos and Baker come together to show their projects “Requiescat in Pace” and “God Boxes” together to create a visual narrative that illustrates spiritualism and the possible afterlife.

Their opening is on Saturday, December 2 at Space Mountain 6-10pm (738 NW 62nd St, Miami, FL 33138) also a portion of the proceeds will go to the Louis Salgar foundation.

Baker: For a while now I thought to myself that Tony’s RIP and my Saints project would pair well, the themes just fit, on one hand you have people who dedicate so much time to worshiping these saints or gods to ultimately have an eternity of happiness and something inside of them tells them that if they are loyal to these deities they’ll gain it. Whereas in Tony’s photos it will show the stark truth of what happens after our passing, as far as we know.

My original inspiration behind the saints project was when Chuck Dolgos, my color and comp professor at the time. We were talking one day in class watching paint dry and he said something like “ I always wanted to see a project on those god boxes” and I knew exactly what he meant even though that’s not what they’re called. I ran with that idea and I got entry into that project pretty easily because I am Cuban and I feel like folks who practice it aren’t as open to someone from the outside.

I was born here in Miami Florida and my parents both came from Cuba and I am interested in the Cuban culture i.e. santeria, so I figured it would be a good way to connect with my heritage as well as my mom who is also into it on the down low as I would see images of saints around the house and as I grew up she was more open about practicing it and I always was fascinated about the rituals surrounding it.

The most memorable times that I had shooting were when strangers would welcome me into their botanicas and were stoked to have me to take photos, also the few times I was able to go into strangers houses.

I don’t think a project could ever be finished, like how Tom Roma takes photos in Brooklyn and how he makes small projects out of the general idea of Brooklyn. I could go on with this project for a while, but it helps as an artist to cut your umbilical cord from the project itself before you reach a creative plateau. Like, you’re never really done with a painting, but you have to know when to walk away from it.

Tony: I started this project in graduate school, Columbia University during the worst time in American history (9/11) and of course nobody would want me to go in a morgue to take pictures, as at the moment New York was full of dead people. It was hard to find a scientist who understands the aspect of being an artist, and I eventually found one who gave me access to his morgue, 24/7 and that was phenomenal. I didn’t really know what to photograph at first, I had to make countless visits, both with and without my camera, to really immerse myself in the world of what is the end of life essentially.

Requiescat in Pace was an investigation into my Catholic religion, I wanted to know more why these superstitions happen, why we need to turn off the radio when someone dies, there are just so many superstitions regarding death. Gaining access to a morgue was more difficult than I thought since I was not in the medical photographer world anymore, but once I got to access it hit me as soon as I saw the first body wrapped in those white sheets. And so I associated that with everything that had to do with Catholicism, the shroud of Christ, the wrapping of Christ and the mystery of the afterlife came all together, and that is how it came about.

There was a time where I wasn’t getting the image that I wanted to get, I didn’t get the viewers to react visually to the images I made, and so I spoke to Tom Roma and he told me to go photograph without a camera, to make images in my head that I would want to photograph. He also pointed out that I was so embedded in these images that I wasn’t scared of death, and maybe he was right, I’ve seen it so much when I worked as a medical photographer that I was desensitized. So I went and asked the morgue attendant to help me out, I wanted to be afraid of death, so I asked to be placed in one of the refrigerators and to close it shut until I kick the door. So he laid me on the stainless steel gurney, no pillow, and slid me in head first, shut and locked the door. As I was being sledged in I could see the bodies around me, next to me, above me, below. Mind you it was about forty degrees in that fridge and I felt many things in there, I heard voices I felt people touching me, the smell was unimaginable and I tried to stay in there as long as I could and when I finally kicked the door, he slid me out and had a smile from ear to ear, I asked him what was so funny and he said ‘I closed the door and walked to my office and I already heard you knocking, you lasted ten seconds’ those ten excruciating seconds felt like half an hour. After that is when things really changed, and then I knew what images would really affect the viewer.

What I aim for in my photos is to describe, everything that you see in my photographs is described well, I want the viewer to get the visceral sensation that it is very cold, very finite, very ending. I want people to be attracted by the beauty of the photograph but then be horrified by the fact that the viewer is creating their own horror in their head.

What I like about this collaboration is that both of these have their preconceived notions, luggage that comes with it, and once the shooting started some of those preconceived notions are out the window, nobody wants to talk about death, everyone wants to live forever especially in Miami where we live in this plastic world where everything must young and vivacious and then the world of Santeria has these preconceived notions that are completely wrong and these two projects coming together really makes sense.


December 2 - December 20 2017

A collaboration of Tony Chirinos and Baker The peace of mind in knowing, or at least thinking there is an afterlife and it’s all guaranteed, or so you think. Showing loyalty to your saints or gods. The Hope: that this loyalty will grant you an eternal afterlife of happiness. The truth is death does not discriminate. The Reality: death is the only guarantee we have in life, we all have to go sometime.

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