Words often end up falling short. Sometimes they have to define distressing situations, full of pain and uncertainty, which in the end escape and get into the noise of a world saturated with messages. It is not that they do not say what they mean: they simply fail to detach themselves from a context to which a previous meaning has already been given. I have lost my life, many of those who have seen the lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano devour everything they had built over the years have said. I left with a bundle of four pieces of clothing, explained some Afghan refugees who escaped from the Taliban, I don’t know what will become of me. And it is true: suddenly nature or history took what was there, destroyed it, uprooted what was a promise, a project, a future.
These days you can see in Madrid, at the Mapfre Foundation, an exhibition by Judith Joy Ross. Since 1979, he has dedicated himself to making portraits above all, and his work manages to explore those areas that words find it difficult to reach. It is enough to get a little closer to each one of his photographs to hear the intensity of the tears that appear in the faces and looks, and in the entire attitude, of those who stood in front of his camera. Judith Joy Ross was working with one that was very cumbersome, 8×10 inches. With her he approached all kinds of people: he knew how to do it with such subtlety and persuasion that he managed to really convey what they carried inside. Whether it was the teenagers of Eurana Park, the members of the United States Congress during the scandals that broke out in the Reagan era over the sale of arms to Iran and the Nicaraguan Contra, the visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the citizens who They go to vote at a local church, reservists preparing to go to the Persian Gulf, residents of the city of Easton, Pennsylvania, the state where Judith Joy Ross was born in 1942. She arrived with her bellows camera and the tripod of wood, and did not go unnoticed. He dealt with those he was going to photograph, he convinced them, he let them be themselves. And it caught them.
In these portraits there is everything: desire for dominance, insecurity, fear, perplexity, good disposition, innocence, desolation. Perhaps because of the resonances that that war continues to produce, the faces that Judith Joy Ross captured of those who visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are today particularly revealing because they are deeply puzzled by deaths caused by a military campaign that ended up being a monumental botch.
In the biography that the writer and journalist George Packer has written of the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke there is an observation that comes in handy when one is in front of the people that Judith Joy Ross portrayed in that monument to those who were in Vietnam. “This has always been the weak point of our Diplomatic Service: the other countries,” writes Packer. “It’s difficult for Americans to really care about them; in fact, the more a diplomat is interested in a country, the worse his professional prospects are ”. And yet, without knowing much, they wage a war. Judith Joy Ross shows her radical nonsense through faces.
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