The recently published monograph by Rita Lino (b. 1986, Portugal) suggests a new reading of the body and the model, becoming a pure image and tool, free of any pre-established identity. Lino’s work can be described as diaristic, instinctive and intimate while commenting on the preconceptions of contemporary society. Her latest body of work refers to William Mortensen’s (American mid-century photographer) book The Model: The Book on the Problems of Posing, whose approach to posing primarily relies on the idea of de-humanization of the model. The body, in this case, becomes a mere object without meaning in front of the camera. It is then the work of the artist to mold it like clay into an image, stripping it off its emotion and personality. Similarly, Lino approaches her own body, being in complete control, she removes herself from representation and instead, becomes a machine-like figure.
In an interview with Discarded Magazine, we question Lino about her approach to herself as a model and photographer alongside the creative process behind her book Replica.
How did you come across William Mortensen’s text and what inspired you in particular?
I came across this book through a conversation with Brad Fuerhelm who also wrote a test for my book. I still remember when he mentioned William Mortensen’s name for the first time, saying something like: “he would not approve my work he would go mad if he saw my previous book ENTARTETE,” cause it was so “wrong” that immediately created curiosity and I went to investigate and couldn’t be happier with what I found, a very specific book about how you should or shouldn’t pose, rules, tips and a wonderful aesthetic that I couldn’t take my eyes of.
Inside your book, you combine black and white self-portraits with abstract and colourful landscapes in addition to pixelated video stills. What were your ideas behind the editing process?
For me, it was important to keep my “personality” in this project, I’m not just a black and white photographer with a clinical point of view, I don’t use only photography as a medium I also make movies and videos, chaos is somehow part of the way I think and I wanted it to resonate in Replica as well.
Usually, and especially for this project, I recorded all the self-portrait shoots in order to have a full view and more material for study and understanding of the body and its movement. I knew those frames must be included in the book as raw and pixelated as they are. I see that part of the book as almost a window to reality and a small view into my real self and not the “Frankenstein” I created in the other pages.
The abstract diapositive images are not necessarily landscapes, they can be whatever the viewer decides them to be. However, my idea for including them was not only visual and aesthetic, to create a sort of chapter, but also to create a form of “uncertainty”, making you look twice and face it suddenly.
When I was going through your book, immediately Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto came to my mind. In her text, she defines the concept of the cyborg as a rejection of rigid boundaries (between human and animal and human and machine) and as a criticism of feminist focuses on identity politics, instead, proposing posthumanist views of our bodies. In this way, I saw a certain resemblance with your work as it’s also completely stripped from the ideas of identity when your body is almost reduced to a machine-like form. Could you perhaps elaborate on how you use your body in Replica and how do you want to be perceived?
I need to read that book! It was important for me that in this project my body was just perceived as a tool. It’s important because I spent so many years working with my own identity, my own life, my different personas so then I wanted to do something different while still remaining close to myself.
At the beginning of the book, I strip off things that give me an identity, clothes, hair, face/eyes creating a sort of body/object where emotions and identity are no longer a subject of study giving space only to the body and the shapes of it. I had this urge because of many reasons, be it curiosity, boredom, or not wanting to have a sort of label and give space for me to grow as an artist. I think that REPLICA is the death and rebirth of me; a chapter that I want to close (very intimate self portraits) in order to open another one, I have no idea what’s next but I’m looking forward to seeing what my next step will be. The body is something that interested me before and will still interest me. I find it fascinating and I will probably keep working with “it” just in another way. Why limit my practice in what I am when I can be anything?
Apart from Brad Fuerhelm’s text at the end of the book, there are also short entries from The Model: The Book on the Problems of Posing, commenting on posing in modern times. What then would you say is the relationship between the text and your body of work? Would there be an image without text?
Mortensen’s recommendations were documented in the book “The Model: A Book on the Problems of Posing” (1946), and in his view, the model’s emotionality is “irrelevant and misleading”, and the model is simply a “machine that needs adjustment”.
The whole text in the book is written by Brad. He had the authority over it but the rest of it was him collaborating with me and Mortensen – adjusting paragraphs of the original book to his own words. We worked on a text that would read similar to Mortensen’s but go a step further. Together, we reviewed the main chapters of Mortensen’s book and recreated the key focus of each one. The resulting text, placed throughout the book, became essential to my visual narrative.
One image struck me – the close-up portrait of your head which is in the book overlaid with a tracing paper with drawings, showing different angles and lines as if your body was a model made from that sketch. Later in the book, there is one more full body image presented like that. Could you say something more about these two photographs?
In 2020 after all the world events I was focused on finishing this project no matter what, it was harder than I thought… No money, no space, no inspiration, just worries…. Till August, I found a very small private studio that I could rent for a full month and there I could “force” myself to finish the project. It was my little “cave” -just me and a couple of cameras, a notebook where this image was one of the first to be executed.
This image was extremely important for the continuity of the visual reading of the book.
The face is covered with a replica of my face that I made at that moment out of a silicone cast (which I have done already the year before). Removing my identity was important, recognizable but off, no eyes, no soul; a blueprint of a body ready to replicate.
The shoes were a detail that I wanted to keep, I have been using these exact shoes since 2011 in almost every performance or shoot I have. I like them and I like to keep repeating certain elements in my work that sort of ground me or my ideas.
The measures were done by Frederick Fialin, my partner, who measured me with great patience and invented a system to build this body.
In your oeuvre, self-portraiture seems to be at the centre. Why is this your opted way of working?
It became a tool. My tool, like my cameras and my computer.
At the beginning of my work, there were a lot of emotions and with time passing by and a lot of work done, I just can’t stop, it makes me feel happy and most importantly free. I don’t need much to create…
I don’t know if it’s always going to be like that but in the last 15 years, this internal conversation and collaboration between my mind and body have been a big source of my happiness.
Do you always like to be in complete control of your photographs, or do you sometimes leave space for chance?
I always leave space for chances, I’m not (maybe I should be at this point) a meticulous photographer where everything is measured and thought through. I mean if I need to, I can be. However, in my practice, I’m pretty punk and the only thing I like and want control of, is the overall idea, look, and feeling.
I can set up days for shooting, I can decide props I need to use or even travel on purpose to create an image but once I’m there behind and in front of the camera, I rein spontaneously.
Following your book, what are you working on at the moment?
Besides being lucky enough to be promoting Replica and finally going to book fairs like Off print and Unseen.
I’m working on a first-time solo exhibition in Braga in the festival Encontros de Imagem in the gallery OKDJSHSJS in September where I’m going to explore REPLICA in another format, big and on the walls. I am also working on my next publication with XYZ Books which will go to print at the end of this year.
I couldn’t be happier to be able to explore, produce and show my work.