The uneasy enigmas of Damián Ucieda
I first came across the photography of Damián Ucieda at Interview Room 11's exhibition The Eternal Traveller Syndrome. In my quasi-clockwise circuit through the gallery, his works were the first I saw. The prints were large--Untitled #13 (above) had a wall to itself. And since I also happened to have the entire gallery to myself at the time I decided to drop in, there was a noticeably eerie silence to the place, punctuated only by the occasional burst of laughter or loud talking from the lobby of the building, it only seemed to amplify the effect of these photographs in the space.
We find the subjects of his work in familiar and even mundane places. The figures are sometimes dressed in drab business garb and stand in seemingly lifeless places, but Ucieda, through emphasized lighting and sharp focus, brings the human element--or the noticeable lack thereof--to the fore. I felt uneasy in front of these pictures primarily because in each of them I sensed something had happened, or was about to happen, as if I had caught sight of a person or a place in the moment right after someone has gotten bad news, or the moment before they must pass it along to someone else. We see the figures in an exquisite moment of anxiety. These images are like film stills in which the context has been completely removed, and what we are left with is a glimpse, intensified through the out-of-placeness of some of the subjects, is the brittle moment of intense, and perhaps brief strain. We want to know what happens next, and yet, maybe... we don't.
I can definitely see the influence of Jeff Wall in the high contrast, figures out of place, and even some of the actual subject matter, especially in Untitled #8 and Untitled #10, 2007 (not pictured). The latter instantly brought to mind Wall's A Sudden Gust of Wind, 1993.
The more I study Ucieda's photographs, the more that beautiful uneasiness grows. That uneasiness and uncertainty draw you in, and it's this tension that really lends the power to these photographs.