Interview> IGNACIO COLÓ, winner of the 1st Star Award

The photobook project “Eduardo & Miguel”, by the argentinian author Ignacio Coló, has won the first edition of the Star Photobook Dummy Award, an initiative from the Photographic Social Vision Foundation, in collaboration with the publishers Phree, Ediciones Posibles and RM, who give  advice in the final phase of the process, take charge of producing and printing the book and will also distribute it internationally from April 2022. 

We spoke with the author about this experience, about the process of making the photobook and the origins of this project, where he recounts the day-to-day life of two twin brothers in their fifties, who have lived together since birth, barely in the company of one another, in the city of Buenos Aires, where the photographer himself was born and lives.

By Carlos G. Vela

Photographer and photo editor Ignacio Coló.

First of all, congratulations on being the first Star Award winner! The jury chose your work among 150 projects from 34 different countries, shortlisted by an expert team of international nominators, yours being proposed by Nicolas Janowsky. How did you receive the news and what were your expectations regarding this new award? 

It was really nice when I got the news that I had won! I was on vacation with my family in the north of Argentina, in the province of Misiones. I knew I was among the finalists and that the results were going to be announced that day. We were having breakfast and I think it was through Instagram that I saw that my project had been awarded. I hugged María, my partner; in a very exciting moment, that was another reason for happiness in that holiday context. The expectations were huge, being an award that led to a book, for real! With three important publishers backing it, with the Foundation organizing it all, and also that great jury… And at the same time, I had the awareness of how difficult it was to win, because I knew many of the other finalists and they all do very good work. But I felt enthusiasm towards the prize, which was then proportional to the joy I felt once the “Eduardo & Miguel” project was recognized as the winner and I knew that it would materialize in a book. 

When choosing your photobook dummy, the jury took into account its concept and design, but also the human values of what was narrated, because the Award honors and it’s inspired by those of the designer Inés Casals, so the winner should stand out for concepts such as “friendship, empathy, intimacy, warmth, love, beauty, poetry, uncertainty, challenge, tenacity, empowerment, self-determination, resilience, acceptance, self-care and compassion, without forgetting irony and the will to avoid all clichés”. Do you identify with them? Which ones motivate your project?  

I started this project more than six years ago and it never ceases to amaze me that many of the values you mention coincide with those that I was taking into account as I faced the history of Eduardo and Miguel and the way in which I became involved with them. I think the project vindicates many of those values, which encompass a certain humanism when it comes to telling the story of these two twin brothers, who were never apart from each other, who build a life together and take care of each other, …  Since I started to take pictures of them, they awoke on me a sense of tenderness, which led to something broader, that kind of humanism that is a form of empathy, to connect with them and their history in a very honest way. And later on, appeared certain characteristics related to how to tell the story, with a certain poetry, with warmth, respecting that bond and approaching them in a very sincere way as well.

Sample of the dummy “Eduardo & Miguel”.

It is obvious that you achieved total intimacy with the protagonists. How did you get that kind of access to their lives?

Without any doubt, we achieved a lot of closeness, a lot of sincerity, which continues to this day. I see them regularly, they live close to my house and we see each other often. They are very aware and excited about the book and they are following the entire process very closely. The first contact came naturally and spontaneously. I saw them on the street and went for getting a first photo of them, which then (I thought) was going to be the only one. We met for coffee and, when we got together, I realized that there was so much more to tell. And at the same time, I did not have any urgency, it was not a commission, it was something that was born naturally. I was discovering their world in a very progressive way and I got closer and closer. I would go in the morning, because they start the day very early, and I would accompany them while they had breakfast. Also when they walked through the city of Buenos Aires and it all created a daily relationship, me always with the camera at hand and taking advantage of every opportunity to take pictures and to get to know them better. Every shot added to the story.   

To what extent did you naturally capture them and to what extent did they pose?

I accompanied them in their routines, reflecting what they did, trying to spend whole days with them. But my work as a portrait photographer and my photographic vision include getting directly involved when I see a situation that interests me. For instance, the first day that they had a cell phone I was around all day, following their interactions. But, if at some point I saw a space in the apartment that seemed more photogenic to me, perhaps this armchair, I asked them to move there, but to continue with what they were really doing. And that set up was a back and forth game, something very playful in which they also participated actively. They carried out their own rituals and daily tasks, with me around them taking photos. And all of a sudden, maybe  I did set up a flash and ask them to pose for a portrait. Or we would go for a walk and they would stay in a corner, and then I started taking pictures and, as they noticed me, they would not move for a while. All that game went through the entire photographic process and it lasted six years long. To this day, when I see them, I get pictures of them. The book’s process is now closed, but somehow that photographic bond between us remains the same and continues to grow.  

Sample of the dummy “Eduardo & Miguel”.

It’s easy to see that it is a very dear project for you, that also won a  POY Latam for you in 2019. Are those the reasons why you decided it should become your first photobook?

I chose this project for different reasons. Without a doubt, it is a job in which there is a great emotional commitment, due to my inevitable involvement in the lifes of Eduardo and Miguel and the bond that I was building with them. A routine that grew over the years, which gave a lot of meaning to my life. Every time I took pictures of them, it generated new meanings in my own life, not just in the story. And I also have no doubts that those encounters generated true meaning also for them; to share that daily life, while photography was always at the center.  

I also feel a strong photographic commitment, because this project was also an aesthetic bet, a narrative bet, a way of telling a story in images with a peculiar language, very much my own, which somehow also reflected who they are. 

And finally, in this particular work I felt from the beginning, very clearly, that it was going to materialize as a book. There are stories that can be reflected through a video, a trans-media website, an exhibition, an installation… There are many ways to show a story today! In this case, I always had the intuition that the way I was going to finish telling this story was on a photobook. 

Precisely, the jury off the Star Photobook Dummy Award declared “esential that the photobook was the optimal support for the project” and they noted that the dummy you presented had “an impeccable and well-resolved design, which enriches the story and the concept in a balanced way”…

They are all fundamental pieces so that the concept is fulfilled. The original concept emerges from my own search, from how I wanted to tell that story. Then there was a process of editorial conceptualization, which arised during a photobook workshop with Yumi Goto (Japanese curator and editor), which was very interesting to add another layer to the story it was telling through the pictures. And, in terms of design, there was a challenge; that this device that we were making with Yumi worked fine and well. And for that matter, the contribution of Ricardo Báez was decisive. He’s a designer whose work  I  appreciate a lot and, without a doubt, he was the right person not only to make the book look good, but also to enrich the concepts and make it work, so the photographic side and the editorial side would get more strength in terms of design. I think that’s is a bit of the convergence that sustains this book: the photographic part, the editorial part and its design add up to fulfill the whole process.  

The protagonist twins, in a double-page of the dummy.

The Star Photobook Dummy Award supports the final phase of design, ideation and distribution of the winning photobook. How advanced was your dummy before presenting it to the Award and how has it evolved since it was awarded? 

I had made like five or six models on my own, before reaching the last version, which is the one we did with Ricardo (Báez) and the one I submitted to the Award. In that sense, it was already quite advanced both in terms of concept and design. After winning the Star Award, the exchange and work with the three publishers that will publish it and with Arianna (Rinaldo, coordinator of the Award and member of the jury in this first edition) was very interesting. On the one hand, what we are doing with the texts that are going to be incorporated into the book is a very meticulous job, so that they are complementary to the photos in their proper measure. And all the exchange in the production phase is also very beneficial to the final object. Without being a complex book, which was not my purpose, it does have its own difficulties in terms of production, which make it more expensive.  And, therefore, you have to find a way to reach the appropriate numbers, without losing the quality of the book. And that, although it may seem cold, also has its importance and conceptual repercussions. This entire exchange process is very interesting to me and, without any doubt, will make a better book.

What has been the main challenge when capturing your work in a photobook format?

The biggest challenge was for the device to enhance the story and not to play against it. I wanted that the route it proposed was not too traditional, which was also a possibility, although I had the feeling that it would waste some potential that the history had. And, on the other hand, I didn’t want to create something too complex, that would make the reader’s journey difficult. Beyond the initial puzzle, it has been very nice to face the challenges of turning this story into a photobook, because, in a way, overcoming them ends up enriching it. When you see the pictures, the story is told in a way. But it is remarkably enriched, I think, when it is reflected in the book, enhancing its main concepts, from the brotherhood and the symbiosis of Eduardo and Miguel, to the whole game about the concepts of the double, the duality and all those ideas that are already in the photographic history, but that are replicated and enhanced with the photobook format.

Ignacio Coló was born in 1980 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He lived in Paris, where he specialized in History of Photography at the Sorbonne University, and upon his return to Buenos Aires, he finished his photographic studies at the Escuela Argentina de Fotografía (EAF) in addition to studying Cinematography at the union of professional filmmakers SICA. Currently, he works as a photographer and photo editor in the Sunday supplement of La Nación, one of the main Argentinian newspapers. He has also published regularly in international media such as the Financial Times, Le Monde, El Mundo, or the magazines Papel, L’Equipe Magazine, France Football, Society or Art Magazine. He has exhibited his work in collective and individual exhibitions.

“Eduardo & Miguel” is his first photobook.

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