Forest of Memory
When photographer Elena Baca Suquet first exhibited her images of Central Mexico’s Sierra Gorda wilderness at the Culture and Arts Institute in her home state of Querétaro, she called the series Añoranzas – “nostalgia,” or “longing.” For Baca, the title was personal. It referred to the period 10 years earlier when she discovered the one million acre World Biosphere Reserve while working as a youth instructor for a local environmental group. Her time in the mountains, she says, was life changing. It was at once her introduction to the marvelous power of the natural world and a formative experience for her as an artist. As Baca explained in an interview accompanying the exhibit: “Surrounded by an intimate and lonely atmosphere, full of spirituality, I dove into a world of shapes, colors, textures and rhythms, where shadow and light reigned.”
For those who have never been to the Sierra Gorda, Añoranzas may carry a different meaning. The feeling of nostalgia reflects not a personal longing for a specific time and place, but the universal sense of loss for all we have destroyed. In some places – deep in the Amazon, say, or in the northernmost reaches of the Boreal – the ancient forests persist. But they are islands, long ago cut off from the epoch in which, as legend has it, a squirrel could have traveled from Maine to Missouri without touching the ground.
Baca’s gauzy photographs of the Sierra Gorda, then, are a glimpse back through time. The images of the Sierra Gorda’s old-growth woods reveal what the forest primeval must once have looked like – the trees before the Fall. The nostalgia the viewer may feel is for an unlived remembrance. Yet the feeling of loss is still powerful, for it touches on the collective, shared memory of the place we came from.
Baca’s Añoranzas series is a departure from her typical style. Usually she digitally manipulates her photographs to create dark, fantasy-like images. Her Sierra Gorda photos, she says, are “transparent.” They don’t need any artifice. The sights are, on their own, like something remembered from a dream.
In addition to numerous exhibits in Querétaro, Baca’s photographs have been shown in Houston, Mexico City, and Havana. You can see more of her work by visiting www.flickr.com/photos/elenabaca.