• Interview García Rodero: "'Hidden Spain' has been the same as working in India"
  • Exhibition Cristina García Rodero, History of Marginalized Women in India

In his story 'The Ethnographer', Borges told the story of a man of science, a devotee of the truth (perhaps a photographer), who, after having lived in the heart of the tribes of the West and after having experienced the secret of the shamans, gave up in the face of the desperation of the Academy from the necessarily futile effort to narrate the result of his research. "Those paths," the character concluded, "must be walked."

Who knows if in some of her past, present or future lives Cristina García Rodero (Puertollano, 1949) has not been, is or will not be a character of Borges himself. Like the protagonist of the story, he refuses to give explanations and as the only testimony of his way of doing, composing and looking, he simply offers his work, his hands, his photos. And it is perhaps there, in the enigma, in the mystery, in the certainty that no secret is worth as much as the paths that led to it, where, suddenly, the author of the totemic book 'Hidden Spain' (1989) acquires the size of giants.

"It's very strange for me to go from chasing others to being the one who lets others follow me," she says to explain succinctly and somewhat plaintively the meaning of the documentary 'The Hidden Gaze' of which she is the protagonist. In spite of himself, perhaps, but protagonist in the end. For almost four years, director Carlota Nelson has literally become García Rodero's shadow and has gone with her to every corner of the planet she has trodden, lived, sweated and, finally, photographed.

If one thing is clear after watching the film, it is that photography, for this 78-year-old woman who has accumulated awards, honors and mentions and who was the first Spaniard to enter the mythical Magnum agency, is just the opposite of what we do when we use the camera of our mobile phone. "I follow Robert Capa's maxim that you always have to be close. But close both physically and emotionally. I spare no effort. I put up with tiredness, sleepiness and fear. And I suffer, I cry and I get emotional with whoever I photograph. And if out of respect I see that I shouldn't take the photo, I don't take it," she says emphatically because there is nothing that García Rodero does not do or say categorically.

He says he has just arrived from Tamil Nadu, India. He says that along with the photos, he accumulates blisters, hours of jet lag and the restlessness of seeing himself on the screen instead of, as is the custom, seeing others. He tells it all at the Seminci in Valladolid, where the film that will soon hit theaters was presented a few weeks ago. There she is seen working tirelessly with water up to her neck to find the best image of the Virgen del Carmen, there she appears among flaming brooms at the festival of the brooms in Jarandilla de la Vera, there she can be guessed submerged in the mud in Haiti or among an explosion of colors in the India from which she comes.

"During all this time," he says, "I've learned to suffer. I'm not a fetishist or a mythomaniac. It's being with people that feeds me and I'm always very aware that they are the protagonists. I try not to disturb, not to interfere with the joy or the pain." Pause. "I remember once in Naples I was photographing a woman walking with her disabled son in search of a miracle. It was so much pain that I couldn't," she recalls.

Photographer García Rodero in the water in the procession of the Virgen del Carmen.WANDAVISION

Part of the film is about confronting as a mirror of time and sand what Cristina was as a young woman when she was starting to what she is now 50 years later. It would seem that little has changed by dint of changing absolutely everything. "When I wrote the book 'Hidden Spain', no one was interested in festivals because they believed that they were the product of lack of culture. And no, popular culture is not barbarism, it is the wisdom of a people expressed in their festivals and traditions." And it's still there.

He remembers that when he started he traveled at night, he stayed wherever he could and it wasn't until he had to sleep a night in the open at a train station that he bought a sleeping bag. "The girl in the sack, I happened to call myself." It also recalls a grateful Spain that went out of its way for the stranger who no longer exists, who was lost. And for the end she leaves the first time when, very young, when she wasn't even sure what was going to become of her, she attended the Endiablada de Almonacid del Marquesado surrounded by demons. It was there and at that moment that he decided his future, which is now forever.

"I'm bothered by my phone. I don't like to always be located and not be able to get lost. I don't like selfies either. That determination to be the protagonist... for what?" he says and says no more. Those paths have to be walked.

  • cinema
  • photography