Words by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Chiara Ernandes
Generally to introduce someone, in this case photographers, we always read something like “he/she is born where and when…” because it feels necessary to find a starting point, to define a beginning in time and space, it feels like the common order of things.
When talking about the photographer Chiara Ernandes this point doesn’t seem so easy to find.
In fact, Chiara Ernandes wasn’t born. Only after five minutes of cardiac massage, she decided to start her life in 1989 in Rome. From that moment, temporaneity will replace the idea of time and those five minutes will become a limbo, a suspension that will always influence her consciousness. She will struggle defining herself, her land, her existence and she will start an endless analytical research of that starting point, the birth.
Chiara Ernandes doesn’t remember a specific period when she wanted to take pictures, as a kid she was talking less than she was looking around, watching everything, and she was attracted by her dad’s camera maybe because she wasn’t allow to touch it, only he did.
She studied at the Roman school of Photography and then worked as stage photographer in different roman theatres, exploring the connection between space and body and making images as performative and narrative act.
She never stopped thinking about those five magical minutes and re-thinking them in a more rational way until photography helped her trace a line. She started collecting documents about her birth from the family archive, “single disordered and scattered images”, some hospital finds. If the starting point was still blurred and cost the photographer a “long personal and tough journey”, the end became easily and naturally translated into a visual project and then a photo book.
Sill Birth (2018) “was the only way to make order and find a landing”. “Telling the story, I dealt with some painful awarenesses, facing and collecting them, going deep into them”. She calls them “sidereal craters”, an energy she feels and fall inside continuously.
The project is the reconstruction of a memory where reality and imagination mix together because only in these conditions they can mix and run fluid.
“I like to think memory as an indispensable and limitless resource of suggestions, ideas, epiphanies, that I keep collecting and collocating”, if memory was a landscape, Chiara would represent it in the middle of mountains, rocks and water falls, something very close to a specific place, but also the centre of the Earth.
So the black and white picture where she is naked underwater recalls the moment when Chiara was still in her mom’s belly, still protected, unaware of what was going to happen.
After memory, identity is the other element missing. The visual research is used by the photographer to interpret space and time but also to find ‘the possible and dynamic connection between myself and the world’. Still Birth is the stage where she puts in doubt the self-more than the world, falling into an obsessive hunting of her image. The different studies of the face are the attempt to determine that she exists. Despite the initial confusion, the contradiction of her birth. She studied her face on different levels: erasing with lights (similar to flash) the faces of herself as a kid and her parents inside family portraits, sewing something close to ‘voodoo’ masks directly on the printed images. Until the physical reproduction of the plastic cast of her face, resistant to time, imperturbable and transcendent that will survive her human face to become a universal representation.
It is visible how, into Chiara Ernandes’ work, the border between photography and performance is very thin. This certainly comes from the influence of the theatre where masks and gestures are meant to deliver a message, to build the narrative.
Here the story is not linear but circular and continuous, “the title Still Birth gives the idea of a never ending and never solved perpetuity. I believe this work is characterized by a restlessness, a nervous wander.”
Every element photographed seems a passage of the rite to reproduce the contradictory birth of the artist: she is moving, but the sensation is that of being stuck in the amniotic fluid, swimming towards nowhere.
Her date of birth seems also a circuit. 08 08 1989 – Still Birth in the form of a photo book saw the sun in 2021, in a light yellow hard cover, edited by Francesco Rombaldi of Yogurt, who has been able to faithfully reproduce the intimate journey of the photographer. Her imaginary has been influenced by the rupestrian art, anthropological and medical encyclopedias, the Surrealism… They are not always exact sciences and as much as in every science the investigation starts from a contradiction. Still birth.