The Shared Intimacy of Manuel Esthaem
When I see some of Manuel Esthaem‘s nudes, often comes to mind some nudes by Egon Schiele, on a softer chromatic aesthetic, but on the same level of intimacy, fragility and poetry.
Now imagine Egon Schiele (Austrian, like Esthaem) working together on a project with Francesca Woodman, challenging her identity, sexuality and solitude.
Esthaem seems to have inherited some lost stardust of their souls, and for our goodness he expresses and shares his work with the world.
We finally managed to have a talk, and here it is, illustrated by some of his most recent works from the series “Somos“.
“Somos” means “We” in Portuguese and in Spanish.
2HeadS – I’ve been paying attention to your photography for some time now, and you always manage to deliver a very poetic aesthetic and energy through it. Are you a poem in real life or is your work a compensation for your inner struggles as person and artist?
Esthaem – I wouldn’t call myself a walking poem, but definitely consider myself to be a very shy, quiet and thoughtful person. I also have the tendency to overthink pretty much everything, which always results in a complex set of emotions that are dying to get out of my head and be put into a photograph.
2HeadS – there’s a continuous beauty on the way you relate with your boyfriend, (the main model apart from you), and with nature, as if you intertwine and mingle with either of them as one. Do you feel part of nature and humanity as one?
Esthaem – Nature has always been a big part of my life and personality as well. Before we’ve moved into our new apartment I had to be absolutely sure that there was a forest nearby. I also don’t really think there’s a difference between humans and nature and never understood why we as humans always feel the need to differentiate between the two – after all, we’re animals, no matter how smart we think we are. There’s also an aspect of remembering one’s own roots which always draws me back to using natural elements in my work.
2HeadS – Your works of photography can easily mirror the mood of the viewer, did you notice that already? If the viewer is sad, even if subconsciously, they might see your work as sad, and vice versa. Did you have opposite feedback on the same photograph?
Esthaem – Up to this point I’ve never really thought about it in this way, but it is a very interesting statement, which kinda tells me that I’m succeeding (partly at least) in what I’ve been trying to do with my art since I’ve started. Even though it has been a very personal process right from the start, I always liked the idea of giving something back to the viewer. Concerning the second question, I did receive opposite feedback on my whole body of work ranging from „I love what you do“ to „This is shit and it says absolutely nothing“ – and I absolutely appreciate both, be it negative or positive.
2HeadS – From all the series you’ve been working on, which one do you feel more related too? And the one that you felt more accomplished?
Esthaem – It’s definitely „Somos“. I worked on it for about a year, which is the longest I’ve ever worked on a single body of work. It deals with the topic of searching for one’s own identity, so in this series I pretty much put all of myself on the table, without censoring anything at all. Considering how long the whole process took, „Somos“ has gone through some major changes – it started as a series of self portraits and ended up as being mostly portraits of my boyfriend and I. Once I realized that his identity is connected to mine everything happened very naturally and nearly automatically – as in I didn’t even have to think about which pictures the series still needed, because they all somehow happened on their own. And I have no idea if this even makes sense to anybody but me, but that’s just how it has happened.
2HeadS – I find your work to be very honest and raw, which is great and inspiring. Do you feel taking risks and facing challenges often when you shoot?
Esthaem – Thank you! For me, it never really was about taking risks for the sake of risk-taking, it’s always been about what I’m trying to say with my photography. If I don’t have anything to say, I will not photograph. However, there were certain milestones in my work that felt like I was taking a risk at that particular moment – being naked in front of my own camera would be a good example.
2HeadS – Most of your work seems to be towards your personal relation with yourself, your body and the discovery of your partner self and body within the relationship. Your bodies seem to be very similar though. Which is the biggest challenge that the personality of both influences the work you’ve been doing?
Esthaem – I really like how you pretty much summarised my work in this one sentence. And I absolutely agree. Our bodies may seem similar on the images, but in reality they are quite different. While he is very tall and very slim, I’m pretty small and have a more average build. The biggest challenge is probably how used we have gotten to this whole thing, so I’m pushing the boundaries of what he is willing to do for a photo without even realising it at that moment.
2HeadS – Do you ever feel your photographs to be therapeutic and somehow releasing to your inner doubts and challenges?
Esthaem – Photography has always had a very therapeutic aspect to me. I run into the problem of failing to express something with words quite frequently, so I’m eternally grateful to have been able to find another medium to express what is circling on my mind.
2HeadS – When you shoot, is there special moments you feel that is better to use film or digital to express better?
Esthaem – Not really. It’s funny, some months ago I was shooting pretty much film exclusively for quite some time. I still love it, especially the processing and darkroom part, but right now it just feels right to shoot with my digital camera. However, as I know myself, in some months I’ll go back to shooting film, then to digital,… I was pushing myself to choose a medium and stick to it, while lately I’ve realised that I don’t even have to choose. So now I will use whatever feels right in that moment.
2HeadS – Are there any new challenges? And new projects?
Esthaem – The biggest challenge is thinking about what I’m going to do next. „Somos“ was such an intense experience and I still feel very connected to it, so it’s been hard to take the next step. It also had a theoretical skeleton at its base, so right now I’m just enjoying getting much more into self portraiture again, without thinking much about what I’m doing.
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“The Sacred Book of G” is a stream of consciousness, a thought provoking intimate journal written by Gonzalo Bénard. After 3 days of brain death he reborn with a deep loss of memory. He reborn without any sense of his past — of his own roots — of his own self. Before that he’d spent his time creating defences to disguise his autism. He had lost it too. New born G had no memory and no defences.
“I, Energy” is a book on Cosmic Consciousness, Quantum Physics and Old Shamanism written by Gonzalo Bénard who not only lived in Himalayas with shamans and in a Buddhist monastery but also in the Western Sahara with old shamans. A guide on healing and transcendental meditation and how you can master your own mind, leading yourself the collective consciousness.
Gonzalo Bénard is a lecturer, author, tutor of autistic teenagers, and a visual artist. His photography has been part of the annual programs of several universities around the world, mainly about the series Oneness, Nudes and B Shot by a Stranger, and are in several private and public art collections such as Museum of Serralves, Cultural Centre of Cascais or Sir Elton John’s.
His photography can also be seen in Hollywood productions and TV series and you can see his main work of photography at his webpage.
Follow @GBenard on twitter for daily updates.