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Sofía Ayarzagoitia’s Every night temo ser la dinner
From Every night temo ser la dinnerCourtesy of Sofía Ayarzagoitia

Photographing the art of seduction

Mexican photographer Sofía Ayarzagoitia explores the tension and intimacy of a playful relationship with a lover she met in Madrid

In her own words, Sofía Ayarzagoitia was “always the kid with the camera”. What initially began as a childhood curiosity soon stretched deep into adulthood fascination, with Ayarzagoitia taking an almost scholarly approach to her relationship with photography. Beginning with the discovery of Jean-Michael Basquiat in her early 20s during a trip to Europe, the Mexican photographer soon found herself indebted to the works of Francesca Woodman, Maya Goded, Edward Weston and Georges Bataille, all while developing her own, deeply personal oeuvre.       

Every night temo ser la dinner – a project which helped secure Ayarzagoitia’s place as one of 23 winners of Foam’s 2016 Talent Call – sees her continue to artistically entangle her curiosity with both the act of taking photos and her own individual sense of self. The series sees Ayarzagoitia capture her nocturnal encounters with 11 different men during time spent living in Madrid, balancing genuine documentation with performative fiction as she journeys through each respective encounter. It’s a work that operates as a visual diary of sorts, plotting the photographer’s movements through the relationships she has shared in the Spanish city.

Ahead of the opening of Foam Talent London, a travelling group exhibition which celebrates the work of the winning photographers, we spoke to Ayarzagoitia about exploring masculinity, attachment and striking a balance between intimacy and performance in the project.

“I think with men there is a seductive tension. With women, what happens is very different – it’s almost like a passive reaction of the way I photograph. But with men there is a different tension” – Sofia Ayarzagoitia

With Every night temo ser la dinner, what is the title referring to?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: The project consists of 11 personal encounters I had during my time staying in Madrid – all of them men. The title is referring to a seduction game. I am afraid of being their dinner, but in a sensual way. We built a playful relationship.

Why did you decide to document your journey through encounters with different men specifically?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: I think with men there is a seductive tension. With women, what happens is very different – it’s almost like a passive reaction of the way I photograph. But with men, there is a different tension. This makes it more interesting and enjoyable for me to study right now – photographing and collecting these constructed moments.

Is masculinity, and your perception of it, something you’ve always been interested in exploring?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: Yes, I am interested in studying this because of my father figure. It’s about exploring this intimate energy. Also, in their heads, their body, their muscles, their space, their actions, their impulses, their reactions, and all these decisions that resolve to take place in a photo.

The character named ‘Mbagne’ appears in a number of photos used in the project – how did you come to meet him? What kind of relationship did you have with him?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: Mbagne was one of the first people I met in Spain ­– I was photographing him every day in his house, and also hanging out. When I met Mbagne I liked his energy so when I went to his house to photograph him I took a fish as an offering. He presented me to his friends, and I also photographed them. We started to want to share more time – we dated for some months. Now, we are good friends.

You refer to your photography as a ‘visual diary’.  What parts of your life don’t make it into your work?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: Almost everything! These photos are a reaction to a certain way of living and exploration. I have a ritual. There can be a lot of questions around these photos, a lot of work and decisions made, a lot of time studying them, looking at them, thinking of possibilities for readings and more. It’s just these encounters that I decide to show, the images that are interesting for me. There are many stories in one story.

You like to emphasise the performative nature of your photography, but do so while maintaining that they remain intimate and personal, too – how do you strike this balance of distance and intimacy, real memories and fiction?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: The act of photographing creates distance in relationships, an interruption, something that was a goal – the shady part. But, when you have the image again in your hand you are creating a very intimate and special bonding, adding signifiers and emotions. By performing, the person looking for the photo creates a moment of provocation on the person being photographed. With each person there is a very organic relationship, something private. It is a special connection, very personal, and a deep bond. All of these moments happen in order to get the photo I want to stay with or study or communicate.  This process is very intuitive and very improvised, it becomes very intimate and more intense, like a petit mort, our bodies are also talking, and is super valuable for me.  

Memory is always a fiction because it is a constructed memory, a memory of a memory in a different circumstance, with different signs that you choose – objects, relationships, space, thoughts, time. Even if we are constructing that moment from the side that you would like to show, then the photo becomes an object encapsulating that present, that is already past, a memory, something constructed, something disjunctive shown in present.

What other stories do you want to tell through your photography?

Sofia Ayarzagoitia: I still don't have something definite, but I am doing new photos. I want to expand to other medias like sound and video, and keep questioning language.

Foam Talent London opens on May 18 at Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, 22 Newport Street, Vauxhall, London, SE11 6AY