Rodolfo Vanmarcke Explains Why His Photography Is Malicious
We can only see so many decapitated My Little Ponies before we crave a return to the fundamentals of art. So every so often we seek refuge in the purity of black and white photography. "Inverses," currently on view at a new Wynwood gallery called Lunch Box, is 15 stunning images from photographer Rodolfo Vanmarcke's series "Inverso-símil" and "Inverso-símil en Clave Cóncava."
But hang on, not all is what it seems to be. Through Vanmarcke's lens, the world seems inside out, flipped on its head. The photog freely admits to some malicious camera play. At first, it was the casual distortion offered by nearby puddles. But that soon led to more deliberate trickery with a magnifying glass. In the following Q&A, we asked him about his choice to dupe viewers with more "analog" tricks instead of Photoshop tweaks.
New Times: What was your inspiration behind the "Inverso-símil" and "Inverso-símil en Clave Cóncava" series?
Rodolfo Vanmarcke: People find it very funny when I say that the
inspiration behind "Inverso-símil" happened involuntarily. It was
actually after a naïve experience, when I was strolling the streets of
NY after a rainy day and I saw an image reflected on a puddle of water.
It was only a matter of seconds when I started thinking about the
negative/inverted side of what I was seeing: the reflection was so clear
and solid, that it turned actually deceiving. I found it fascinating
mixing realities and altering the order of things, always using the same
visuals that I was naturally finding in front of me: it was just a
matter of tweaking the direction you view them. Previously, I was
already thinking about working on the topic of the two sides of the same
coin. So my discovery fitted perfectly.
In the case of my series "Inverso-símil en clave cóncava", it was an
intentional, planned and studied process (and it definitely is an
expansion of my previous series "Inverso-símil"). I sought for a way to
continue turning the world upside down, and as a consequence, the
technique evolved from being involuntary to obsessive, from casual to
premeditated, from fortuitous to meticulous. And just as a puddle of
water became my accomplice before, now a magnifying glass became my
partner in crime.
Actually, the use of the magnifying glass, due to its "negative
magnification" quality, allowed me to invert the image through the lens,
besides myself inverting the whole photograph after taking the picture
of what I was seeing through the glass; therefore, double inversion!
Also, for the gringos, what do Inverso-símil and Inverso-símil en clave cóncava translate to in English?
In Spanish, "Inverso-símil" is the result of a word game that joins the idea of inversing and the idea of implausibility (inverso = inverse and inverosímil = implausibility) . In addition, "en clave cóncava" means in concave key or mode.
You used to work as a publicist. Why the switch to photography?
Honestly, before becoming a publicist, I already had my Pentax and
started flirting with photography in an informal way. Being a publicist
in one way or another fully seasoned and exercised my muscle of
creativity. I gained amazing experiences and it was definitely part of
this puzzle of finding my own way. Actually, my first photography class
happened during my advertising studies. But I definitely think the
major commitment one has is with oneself, and being honest in this level
has no price. I came up to a moment where I said "no more of this", and
what was left was to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction.
I can barely remember that life. I'm not a publicist anymore, that was
Do you shoot digital or film?
Cover your ears, purists! It's time to talk about pixels. I used both
but from a couple of years the most part of my work is digital. I really
have no problems with accepting new technologies.
You manipulate photographs using magnifying glass and reflective
surfaces. Is this a commentary about how so many photographers tweak
images in post-production through Photoshop?
With these two series, I really didn't want to use Photoshop or any
other digital manipulation except maybe brightness and contrast. I
believe that's what viewers find more striking. What makes it special is
that it's just a real picture presented in a different way. I have
nothing against the use of Photoshop though, at the end I consider it
another tool to deliver an idea or a message; it's just another
assistant to the expression. But I do believe there are some concepts to
adjust. We have to understand that there are artists that use
photography as a medium of expression, and they aren't or they don't
need to be tied up to the pragmatisms of the theoreticians.
An artist that utilizes photography doesn't necessarily mean he is a
photographer. He just participates from this medium to state his
message. But maybe to a traditional photographer, the photograph could
be wrongly taken or could not even be a photograph per se. But within
contemporary photography, these could have a justified discourse, and
yes, may times breaking our parameters of "beauty."
I do have series that flirt with digital manipulation, but I'm not sure I
would call them photography. They are simply something else.
Some of your images are reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson and his
reflection shots such as Behind the Gare St. Lazare. Was this a
Some people have related my work with Bresson's, and I blush!
Nevertheless, is not a conscious influence. Bresson focuses on his
magnificent L'instant decisive, like in his photograph "Behind the Gare
Saint-Lazare". His intention is to capture the precise moment, the
summit of tension. My work focuses on the "malicious" recreation of new
realities and the construction of urban landscapes, departing from
already existent ones. I seek for the regulatory intervention of reason
during the process of understanding what the viewer is actually
observing. Nevertheless, I have to say I am a big follower of Bresson,
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
Miru Kim, Vik Muniz, Anna Gaskell, Ryan McGinley, Alex Prager, Marc
Lagrange, Jeff Bark, Michael Wolf, Julia Fullerton-Batten, Ellen Kooi,
and Nazif Topçuoglu, among others.
How do you define your particular form of photography?
Each one of my series defines my form of photography differently.
"Inverso-símil" and "Inverso-símil en clave cóncava" would define it as
beautifully chaotic and as a space for deceiving. But some of my other
series would define my photography as a "staging" to criticize more
sociological topics, in other series as a way to establish a dialogue
between contraries or even to exalt eroticism.
I avoid "recycled" photography, the one that repeats and repeats itself
through time. On the contrary, each of my photography series is a book
that begins and ends with it, with a hypothesis, an experiment and a
What would the hypothesis and conclusion be for "Inverso-símil" and "Inverso-símil en clave cóncava"?
The hypothesis was based on finding a way to represent both sides of the coin from solely one real image. Searching to photograph two realities as a whole could make the viewer's experience become participatory, playful and somehow, inquisitive. The conclusion is that through the use of deceptive allies, like the puddle of waters and the magnifying glass, I could merge the two sides of one image in a harmonic and chaotic manner respectively, and arise in the viewer a doubtful interpretation towards what he is seeing. To me, my conclusion is the exhibit statement.
What advice can you offer emerging photographers?
I would tell them to take advantage of the Internet and its resources of
learning (podcasts, v-logs, online lectures, etc.). Its resources for
discovering other artists, techniques and influences; its resources of
publishing in webzines, blogs; its resources for finding organizations,
chapters and associations to belong. The virtual space is a great
"place" for networking, and above all, learning and expanding your
Also, don't believe in the hermit artist: go to openings and lectures,
integrate into the world of art. Humbly learning, absorbing and being
influenced by others, regardless of the medium of expression, is the
best and most beautiful part of it.
See "Inverses" at Lunch Box Gallery (310 NW 24th St., Miami) through April 4. The gallery is open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Visit lunchboxgallery.com.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.