Pain should never be an excuse, but a tool for you to create with

“Men are tormented not by things themselves but by what they think about them.” Epictetus
(Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who was born slave. Epíktetos in Greek means “acquired.”)

Giving one more interview for a magazine I was again forced to an idea of chronology that I lost some time ago, and which I found today that was in fact important to understand the whole route of my photographic work to make sense as evolution. Or final aim.

From the beginning I shall date, locate, place and inform of my state of mind:

Places have been quite important to the final aesthetic or to the concept of the photographs, and these last years I moved from Barcelona to South of Spain, to the country house in Portugal, to Lisbon and finally to Paris where I live now.

Gonzalo Bénard, self portrait 2008

Gonzalo Bénard, self portrait 2008

I got my first camera when I was 13yo, with the need of creating and register feelings. With the first film that I developed, I won a 1st prize on a contest and with that money I took a photography summer course.  All analogue by then. But at the time, developing was more expensive than using pencils and paintings to express, so I left photography, or didn’t use it as much as I was using other means to express, putting photography in a shelter for later. I also felt that painting, drawing and writing were more important as base for me to be a creator.

After some years living in Barcelona, and still full time doing painting, drawing and writing with more than 30 exhibitions done worldwide, my personal life had a twist, and in the last year there I had a big motorbike accident on the highway, two eye surgeries, and a massive stress that obliged me to some forced rest. The motorbike accident made me a spine hernia, so I had to stop painting as I was painting large scale. The eyes’ surgeries due to a severe allergy to cats forced me to re-educate my sight to understand again the concept of depth, volume and perspective. This forced me to rest, and to rest stressed me so much that the doctors decided to put me under opium medicine, which I rejected as soon as I understood the craziness of it: I was not having control.

My Private School Board, mixed media painting 2008, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

My Private School Board, mixed media painting 2008, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Right before I had to stop painting and drawing I bought a camera to be able to shoot my paintings to show to clients and art galleries “over seas”. This camera immediately became my addiction to create, once I was not being able to express by painting anymore.

Psychological, or mind speaking, my last painting was the final one, declaring a “The End” to the past (“My private School Board”: image above). In fact, my whole work of painting was strictly connected with past: I was representing all my childhood fears and traumas in them, and to be honest, I guess that the most important and honest ones were destroyed as part of the painting process: I finished them destroying them, before anyone would see. And those were done that year in which I went into the emotional spiral in Barcelona.

I started photography, and since the first one I subconsciously start expressing the NOW, instead of the PAST from my paintings and drawings. I recall that one of the very first photographs was exactly that: Sawing the Roots (image bellow). With that one I started working on some rituals of life, with a need of cleansing the body and mind. I became obsessed with putting an end to my past or to what was still affecting me from it.

Sawing Roots, 2008, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Sawing Roots, 2008, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

That moment I took a decision: I asked for the apostasy. Being baptised by the Catholic Church didn’t make any sense to me, and never did since kid. Being apostate was as important as being clean again: the apostasy became my own baptism. It made part of my “sawing roots rituals” also, as probably the most important one. This process took around 9 months, and I finally got the apostasy on my birthday, which I found an interesting “coincidence”: my own re-birth.

The photographs at the time – and talking about the self-portraits, which have been probably the most honest mean of expressing myself -, were often dark and involving smoke (as soul), death and being trapped in my own body. I was then emotionally unbalanced, physically in deep pain and literally ready to die. They were my deep honest screams and I was preparing my own death. I wished it; I ordered it to my body.

Smoking Mirror, by ©GonzaloBénard

Smoking Mirror 2008, by ©GonzaloBénard

Octopus, by ©GBénard

Octopus 2008, by ©GBénard

self portrait roped, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Roped 2008, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

This whole process ended up with a self-portrait that I called “My Widow” (image below) where I placed the shade of the veil on my face as a last and dry tear . On that day, after few weeks of becoming weaker and weaker, my body decided to stop the blood circulation: my stomach got dry and my brain was deprived of oxygen. On the day that I shot “My Widow” I knew that I was dying. I told nobody and let myself going into that trance of the coma. I remember well the 10 hours of the pre-coma though, but when my mind gave up from fighting, I went into the coma and when wake up in the hospital, re-birth, I had my mind clean, washed and with a deep loss of memory. I didn’t remember much of my past. I lost the whole concept of chronology either. I had taken the “sawing the roots” deeply. I had the need of that cleaning process no matter how painful it could be. And it was: emotionally and physically.

The widow, by ©GBénard

The widow 2008, by ©GBénard

FillGood, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

FillGood 2009, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

The first self-portrait I did after coma was the “Feel Good/Fill Good” (image above), when I decided to pick up the last role of “the widow” and show to the world that I was feeling alive again, using the dirty under-pants with an erection shape as in “all living here”, giving also more light to the photograph.

I left Barcelona to start a new life, going to south of Spain where I lived few months in a wooden house in the forest next to the sea. I needed to feel the elements again: water, earth, air, and fire: and there I had them all together.  Even though I was feeling bit weak, I rested there for few months and only after, when I felt better I went to my family’s country (empty) house far from everything to spend a sabbatical year. There I started waking up to the world, understanding and shaping my mind, getting some memories back and being puzzled. In Oneness.

Oneness was the need of locating the “me” within and with nature, questioning who I was as man, woman, animal, plant. Organizing my mind in my body, creating or re-creating the emotional and physical balance again. The weather was great so I could spend few months naked in nature, which helped me to feel the whole. My rituals changed from rituals of death to rituals of life. Or when about death, like the weepers and voodoo dances, I played them as observer to understand them and not to live them. I needed to project the feeling to get rid of it also. The photography was indeed my moment, the NOW. I was expressing everything I was feeling. The intense migraines of the brain getting blood again were part of the re-birth process. I was still suffering but I knew that was for a good cause: after all, I decided to come back to life and not give up. I used plants and played with animals and me and with everything around that could give me sense of life, doing also all the photos with an analogue black and white feeling as more physical and as part of a alchemic process of turning the mud into gold. To find myself again.

Self Daisy, by ©GBénard

Self Daisy 2010, by ©GBénard

The Tamed Mand and His Horse, by ©GBénard

The Tamed Mand and His Horse 2010, by ©GBénard

Voodoo Dance ©GBénard

Voodoo Dance 2010 ©GBénard

If my last year in Barcelona, probably the most intense and painful year in the physical field; the sabbatical year after coma was for sure the most intense and painful year getting track of everything and fighting with the childish plays and tricks between the subconscious and the consciousness world. I had to find pleasure in it though, so I kept playing with myself in nature. I created the Oneness then: Me as part of Nature.
I rediscovered also the pleasure of sex: as all this was part of a massive mental and physical masturbation.

Self-Swan, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Self-Swan 2009, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

The day I felt that the sabbatical year was no longer needed, I went back to Lisbon, where I knew I had to face my past once it was there where I was born and raised, where all my family was. But I felt comfortable and I only had to find my place in that world, or back into the society.
The series “Conversations around the Table” was the result of that. There was a space and there were more people. There were people asking questions, most of them silly ones or nonsense. With this happening, I felt the need of expressing all that non-sense chitchat with old friends and old family. They were no longer part of my life, even if they thought so or wanted to.  I was not there anymore in those conversations, and I didn’t want to, as didn’t feel any need to be part of them. I was living my own age, and they were out of them since long time: as if they were in a past life for me. I mean… before coma. Before I re-birth. Who were those people anyway?

Conversations Around the Table #11, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Conversations Around the Table #11, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

In fact, I started a new life without them and they didn’t make part of it. After I realised who I was, I started preparing myself to understand my place in the world, I joined social networks, and I met new people online. The new me was not more than an evolution of the old me. A new version, probably more balanced, more honest. I then behave like an observer of the society in the world as I wanted to understand it, but at the same time I didn’t want to be part of it yet… so I watched. I observed. I was ending the process of Oneness, still with defences and questions towards the world, so I couldn’t face the society without understanding it. I found then several human feelings that I didn’t know. I start connecting with people through skype, and it was when I start doing the first shooting of “B Shot by a Stranger“: I needed to see other people, to understand them, but as a voyeur, an observer, being in my corner, protected in my own energy till I understand the moves and steps to take in the world.

My life and needs were changing, from analogue to digital. But I was still split in two then: B Shot by a Stranger, or my digital new world; and those never ending analogue Conversations around the Table. Passing through some really Bad Mornings.

Self Portrait on Mirror, 2012, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Self Portrait on Mirror, 2012, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

ABM #12 by ©Gonzalo Bénard

ABM #12 by ©Gonzalo Bénard

The confrontation with the catholic society, the fakeness of beings when I was even more fascinating by honesty of nature; the catholic based concepts of bad and good all misunderstood; the most inspiring people who were later on the most deceiving ones, all led me to an attempt of understanding the real world, and for so I express it doing the “Moi, le Beau et la Bête“, inspired in the art movie by Jean Cocteau “La Belle et la Bête”, using multiple exposures of the Royal Palace in Lisbon and a decay warehouse showing the Portuguese society under my eyes. The different layers of a society, which are as wrong as fake; not even being conscious of that.

So I left Lisbon, conscious of all that and ready to leave. I was feeling emotionally and physical prepared to live again. I came to Paris, the target that I had in mind since even when I first moved to Barcelona. My father’s death, probably the only root I didn’t saw: my all life big partner in great talks, made me aware of my new life as well, creating those days the WiredScapes, the X-Rays on Life and Death.
I started then living again. I started collecting faces as a new empire with the Cyber Portraits. I wanted to understand the Meaning of Identity. Of relations. Of friendships.

self-portrait with webcam, 2012, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

self-portrait with webcam, 2012, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

My analogue life was finally dying, my whole perception of the world changing and I stopped reading world news. My mind started becoming or creating deeper roots in digital. My brain became clear. Coded. There are no longer grains but pixels. Pixels are small balanced geometric spots. More balanced then floating grains. They contain information needed as new blood to keep the oxygen alive.

My digital life began.

I came back to writing, which I always did as private and personal but now turned public. I created a blog. I assumed the digital as I embrace it. With my own developed matrix mind: coded and pixeled in a body of flesh and blood, preparing a new series of self-portraits expressing the mind living in one’s body.

text by ©Gonzalo Bénard for 2HeadS
Feb, 2013
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