The Afronauts series, Yinqaba

Cristina De Middel is a Spanish photographer based in Mexico City who has been working as photojournalist for various newspapers and NGO’s around the world. Her work investigates photography’s ambiguous relationship to truth blurring the border between reality and fiction. Her self-published book “The Afronauts” was critically acclaimed, making it to the top of many notable photo book lists and is now an almost impossible item to find. At this moment she has four new books that should be out before the end of the year. “This is what hatred did”, two versions of the Jan Mayen book, the story of a failed expedition to the North Pole, and “Sharkification” which turns the favelas in Brazil into an underwater world. She also just opened a publishing house called This Book Is True which will soon launch the book “PonyCongo” by Vicente Paredes. See more pictures and read the interview after the break!

Could you please tell us more about your background? How would you define your style?
I would not say I have a style but I do have an interest that follows a certain pattern. I normally try to get close to places, people and subjects that I do not fully understand and I go there to get more information for myself that I then share with an audience. I was a photojournalist for more than 10 years and I really liked this immediacy and strong link with reality that journalism has, but I got very disappointed with the repetitive language they use. I started then exploring new ways of saying the same and that is by using fiction. People engage with fiction in a complete different way and I believe this approach could bring some power back to photography when it comes to try and change the world.

Image from the Jan Mayen series

How do your works relate to the narrative and fictional aspects of photography?
It is difficult to talk about photography without stating what kind of photography you are talking about. There are so many types and they belong to such different categories that no real, absolute sentence should be used. That is a big weakness for the medium, specially if you are an artist that uses photography as you see how people with their i-Phones are in the same basket as you. I personally think it is the greatest strength of the medium, the way it is spreading and the facility with which people consume photography now. It is a new language and very interesting changes are on the way regarding that. And now, going back to your question, when photography becomes a language and not only a medium (like painting or sculpture) then fact and fiction will melt and it will grow dramatically. I am just exploring this path and drying to get ready.

Is there some of your past projects that you consider over/underrated? Why?
I like all my projects because they are exercises that made me understand things around me, but I have to admit that some of them went a bit crazy. Specially the Afronauts book that has become a collectors item when it should be a diffusion tool.

The Afronauts series, Bambuit

Could you please tell us ore about the work “This Is What Hatred Did”?
Amos Tutuola wrote “My life in the bush of ghosts” in 1964, it’s the story of a 5 year old Nigerian kid whose village was attacked by soldiers. His mother had left him home alone and he had to run away escaping the bombs and the fire. He saved his life entering the Bush, this magical territory where no humans are allowed and where all the Yoruba spirits live and fight. The series “This is what hatred did” (Mysterious last sentence of the book) aims to provide an illustrated contemporary version of this story adapting the characters, the space and the ambient to the Lagosian neighborhood of Makoko with the conviction that contemporary issues should be described in a way that includes the agent’s traditions, perspectives, fears and hopes, this series documents the enhanced reality of one of the most iconic places in Nigeria according to the always dramatic media.

This Is What Hatred Did series, Sodomo

This Is What Hatred Did series, Ijewo

How do you keep your creativity flowing? Are there any particular places you go or things you do to get ideas and seek inspiration?
I need to drive alone at least two or three times a year. That is doing a solo road trip. Maybe because my hands can just drive and most of my body is compromised with maneuvering the car my brain starts focusing in a very intense way and I solve lots of questions when I do so. I spend a lot of time traveling and meeting people, and explaining my process etc, that is why being on my own is a very necessary counter-balance to keep me sane.

What’s a feature of your book “Party: Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung” that you’re especially proud of that may not be obvious to the public at first glance?
There is one that is especially stupid and that I am really proud of. It is the one with the text “They think about themselves before others” and the image that comes with it is a fish market. I don’t want to explain the joke but it is so stupid that I had to check with some friends before going for it. I love it when you can mix serious messages with dumb ones, forcing the audience to re-define their approach over and over on every page an the Party book was a real game for me. The world we live in is a joke and we need to exercise our sense of humor to keep up with it.

Party: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung series, Man With Ideas

Being self-employed can often mean you’re working 24/7, how do you maintain a good work/life balance?
Absolutely not! I wish I knew how to keep that balance. The thing is that I cannot stop thinking (none of us actually can) but I have so much fun turning my thoughts or ideas into real things that I became addicted. I try to go on Holydays but then I end up doing a small series about something that is not very important. My work also allows me to meet new people and to get close to subjects that I am interested in so why should I stop doing what I love?

Did you ever travel to a place that definitely changed you? Why?
Yes, the first time I went to Africa was very important. It was a horrible experience where I understood close to nothing and it was so frustrating that it triggered a new phase in my life… that I am still experiencing.

This Is What Hatred Did series, Ajewo

Cristina De Middel, photo by Nani Gutierrez

What’s coming up next? Is there something you’re working on that you’d like to share with us?
I am working on many books that will be out before the end of the year, but these are already in production process so it is not that exciting. I guess the most exciting thing now is the project I am doing with photographer Bruno Morais about EXÚ. It is a Yoruba spirit that Christianity translated into the devil but that is more like the spirit of chaos, doubt and uncertainty. It travelled with the slaves from Benin together with the Yoruba pantheon but took different shapes in Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti. We are working on a tale that explains a little bit better the character and also using it as an excuse to talk about Diaspora and the African influence all over the world. I am also drawing a lot and new books with drawings are getting on my list.

Who is the woman you’d like to see featured/interviewed here?
Lucie Beudet from Konbini website.