Jose Suarez was a photographer with a strong humanist vision and an innovator. As early as the 1930s, he incorporated the avant-garde movements of the time into photography. But he was also an intellectual admired by his contemporaries, Unamuno, Alberti, Bergamín, Pérez de Ayala, or Kurosawa and a self-confessed lover of Japanese culture.
Jose Suarez experiences in Japan left a deep mark on him. “I have been told that I take photographs like a Japanese person. And today I believe that I am Japanese and that perhaps I am going through a period of karma for having mistreated some Westerner.”
The black and white photographs he took in Japan (1953-54) present different features from those of the rest of his work. In these, Suárez keeps his distance from the photographic scene, without intervening, simply framing, and selecting the moment that interests him, without establishing a rapport with the subjects being photographed. This contrasts with his previous images, more elaborate, where the relationship with the subjects was clear.
The two years Jose Suarez spent in Japan had a decisive influence in his way of seeing life. He came into contact with a foreign culture, becoming interested in its literature, history, mythology, and philosophy of life and in the different religions, and also studied the language .
Suarez said farewell to Japan by going on a pilgrimage, as due, to the peak of the Fujiyama in September 1954. It was an ascent that was full of symbolism and that is reflected in a photograph taken at the top. “During my last days of coexisting with the Japanese, I wanted to say farewell to their land of enchantment, from the peak of Mount Fuji, the sacred mountain of the Shinto gods. I had only climbed a few meters when my pole became a pilgrim’s staff, directing my steps towards a monumental encounter that, at all times, brushes our senses when we live in close contact with the children of the Sun. This is, to my judgment, the state of mind with which Westerners should approach the rich and millenary culture of Japan.”
The series Mariñeiros (seamen) is his most famous work and the most relevant in his extensive career. Shot in 1936 with a medium format camera (4.5 x 6), José Suárez takes a close look at the life of seamen through close up portraits and longer shots where the presence of the person is essential. The same can be said about the images of objects, which always refer to the seaman’s labour. “Man is always present in my photos, or at the very least, his trace. ”
The careful formal composition of all Jose Suarez images is outstanding, All the images are the product of a very meticulous way of working, as can be seen by the careful framing. The strong light of the sunny days is softened by a reflective screen, the pose is closely directed, and filters are used. Nothing is left to chance. He had a very filmic way of working.
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