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by Alice Oliver

Enter the captivating world of Alejandra Vacuii, a visionary lens-based artist from Galicia, Spain, whose photographic practice delves deep into personal experiences, reflecting abstract sensations and emotions like loss, melancholy, nostalgia, and anxiety. In a thought-provoking interview with Sola Journal founder, Alice Oliver, Alejandra shares her journey into photography, from childhood creativity to a chance encounter with a camera that sparked an all-consuming passion.


Inspired by the legendary Santa Compaña of Galicia, her project 'Walk by Day Because the Night Is Ours' captures the haunting procession of souls through dark woods, invoking feelings of hopelessness and anguish. Through her poetic compositions, often in black and white, Alejandra invites viewers into a contemplative space, exploring the enigmatic depths of human emotion. 


AO: Could you tell us a little about your early life, where did you grow up, and how did that environment shape you and subsequently your practice?

AV: I was born in 1987 in Ourense, a small city in the Galicia region, in the northwest of Spain. During my childhood, I went through difficult times and being imaginative and creative helped me keep my mind and spirit busy. I drew a lot, wrote stories, made magazines, built toys with cardboard boxes... I did anything that occurred to me without thinking too much as if it were a necessity. Due to family circumstances, I spent a lot of time during childhood walking through the woods and in the middle of nature, which deeply marked my personality and inner speech. In this region the nature is thick and leafy and the weather wet and gloomy in the cold months, becoming almost a state of mind. I owe a lot of who I am now to these environmental circumstances. 

AO: Can you tell me a bit about how your photographic practice started? What were some elemental moments in your photographic education that helped or hindered the shaping of your practice?

AV: I started taking photos shortly before I was 20 and it was by chance since I wasn't particularly interested in photography. I had studied Drawing and Graphic Design and although it was always clear to me that I wanted to work with images, I had not thought about the possibility of taking photos. For an exercise in Design classes, a friend lent me a reflex camera and that was a before and after, I became completely obsessed with the medium and the following year I began to study Artistic Photography. These studies were quite basic and very focused on technique, but one of the professors began to talk to us about author photography and pushed us to build a photographic discourse. This was decisive because he made me see photography as a medium in itself far from pictorial representations, since at first I worked a lot with Photoshop on the photos I took, being almost halfway between photography and illustration.


After finishing these studies, years of solitary practice passed, researching other authors and educating my gaze while working as a commercial photographer. In 2016 I moved to Madrid and studied in Blank Paper School, which was my first approach to the author photography circuit. In 2021 I won a scholarship grant to study an MA in Photographic Creation at Lens Escuela and the experience helped me refine things that I had been working on for years.


AO:  Your project 'Walk by day because the night is ours' draws inspiration from the myth of La Santa Compaña in Galicia. What intrigued you about this particular legend, and how did it become a focal point for your artistic exploration?

AV:  The legend of the Santa Compaña is one of the best known and most representative of Galician folklore. It is said to have its origin in the myth of the Germanic Wild Hunt, a ghostly appearance of souls, animals, Valkyries and other mythological characters. Influenced by Christianity, the legend was adapted here as a procession of purgatory souls led by a living person carrying a heavy cross and a bucket of holy water, walking through the woods during the darkest hours of the night in absolute silence. This person does not remember anything the next day and is losing strength and getting sick to death, unless during the procession he or she meets another living person and gives them the cross and the bucket. The only way to get out of being the next is to draw a circle on the ground and get inside or run as fast as you can. It is also said that when someone sees The Santa Compaña it is an omen that something bad is going to happen, usually death. This mix of fantasy and foreshadowing has always brought me up in a powerful way. The ancestral myths are universal and easily extrapolated to our present day, given that human nature remains the same and the same things continue to scare us as our ancestors. Remembering this and keeping that memory alive is a way of claiming where we come from and who we are.

AO:  Your work revolves around abstract sensations and emotions such as loss, melancholy, nostalgia, and anxiety. How do you approach translating these intangible feelings into visual art? What techniques do you employ to convey such emotions?

AV:  Developing a personal style is often something that comes unintentionally with practice, almost in a subconscious way that brings out the author's inner sensibility. In my case, it was years of practice and nourishing myself with references that made me end up taking the photos I take today. For me, it was important to achieve a dark, poetic and intimate aesthetic to be able to express what I wanted to say for so many years. Black and white, underexpose and finding symbols of my inner states out there are the base elements I use to take photos. I have also recently introduced the use of flash and colour for certain speeches.

AO: The legend of La Santa Compaña involves a procession of souls led by a living person with a cross. How does this concept of a procession and the symbolism of the cross manifest in your project? What meaning or narrative are you trying to communicate through these elements?

AV:  The Santa Compaña is a legend with a very rich and visually powerful iconography, and the more I read and search for information, the more symbols I find. I am still exploring all the aesthetic possibilities that the legend can have since I am still working on it in a non-closed way, but a decision that I have kept from the beginning is the use of two characters (one female and one male) who are lost in the darkness of the night, one wandering with the souls and carrying the cross and the other trying to save herself. The underlying discourse is the hopelessness and anguish that our relationship with death produces in us.

AO: The phrase 'walk by day because the night is ours' is a powerful declaration associated with the legend. How does this declaration resonate with the themes and emotions you explore in your artwork? How does it inform the overall tone and atmosphere of your project?

AV:  I think it's a phrase that perfectly sums up what the legend is trying to express: that you should be careful with the things you come across at night and it's also a warning to those of us who try to approach to the dark things. The night is present throughout the project because all the photographs are nocturnal. Taking photos at night in a dark forest puts you in the perfect mental and emotional state to develop this project.

AO: Your images evoke a sense of mystery and invite viewers into a poetic space. Can you elaborate on your creative process in constructing these images? How do you approach composition, lighting, and visual elements to achieve the desired impact?

AV:  My compositional schemes are very simple because I usually work with symbols and I usually place them in the centre of the photo as if they were medieval paintings, so I can give the message more strength. Light is a fundamental element in my photographs since it is through light subtleties that I achieve the necessary setting. In my work with natural light, I sometimes underexpose to the point that a lot of the information in the photo is wrapped in a tide of greys in which strong points of light stand out. I have recently started using flash light which helps to give night photos a greater sense of strangeness and unreality.

AO: In your project, you explore a sense of impending doom and the idea of a cancelled future. How do you address these themes visually, and what reactions or responses do you hope to evoke from viewers?

AV:  It is important to me that the message I communicate is achieved through powerful aesthetics and good photographic technique. The use of black and white reinforces the oppressive and dark feeling that I intend to convey, as well as the composition that I was referring to in the previous question. I like that my photos do not have closed meanings and that viewers can interpret them, always from the universe and emotion that I create with my technique.

AO: Can you discuss the role of nature, particularly the woods, in your project? How does the natural environment contribute to the storytelling and symbolism in your artwork?

AV:  Forests and nature are a constant in my work because they are the landscape I see every day, as well as the evocation of my childhood that I mentioned above. In the woods the reality is different, time seems to go at a different speed, sounds are amplified among the treetops, the feeling of serenity and calm constantly contrasts with the perpetual threat that exists to be attacked by one animal (or another person) in the middle of such a lonely place... I think they are magical places, full of beauty and contradiction, and perhaps that is why I return to them time and time again to take pictures.

AO: Some photographers prefer to work with photobooks and publications, while others feel that exhibiting their work is the most effective way to resolve and expose their work. Based on your own personal practice, what do you think suits your work best, and how have you come to this conclusion?

AV:  I would like to say that the perfect format for my work is the photobook but I have not yet published any, although my work La Mala Fortuna was published as a fanzine within the Fotofobia collection of the UFCA Collective. I would like to make a photobook with my project 'Walk by day because the night' is ours that tells the story of the legend, I really want to see it on paper but it is still an open project that I will continue working on. I also hope to work more in exhibition rooms where I can recreate the right setting for the project, but I really believe that my work is better enjoyed seeing it in privacy and not so much in an exhibition hall.

AO: As an emerging woman photographer, do you have any advice to offer others on gaining exposure and making a name for yourself, in what is considered quite a male-centric industry?

AV: Although there is increasing awareness of feminist issues and many proposals dedicated to giving visibility to women's work, we all know that there is still a lot of work to be done and that we are far from being in a situation of total equality. I see that many female artists around me are not as confident with their work as men are, we have much more pressure about what is expected of us and due to our gender socialisation, we tend to be more perfectionist and humble with the results of our effort. I am also tired of the “feminine” label when talking about art made by women as if our discourses always depend on the circumstance of being women and not so much on the work, conceptualisation and universal human intellectuality behind it. That is why my advice to other women photographers is to stay strong and true to themselves, to learn to see themselves as the human beings full of strength and dignity that they are and to never shut up in the face of injustice.
AO: Finally, please can you share with us some of your favourite photobooks or bodies of work that have influenced your practice?

AV: Plexus by Elena Helfrecht, Transmontanus by Salvi Danés and Sleep Creek by Dylan Hausthor and Paul Guilmoth were works that made a great impact on me when I discovered them because I saw that they told things very similar to mine through the same elements that I wanted to use. Also, The essential solitude by Tereza Zelenkova, Dream Moons by Yurian Quintanas or David Jiménez’s work are among my favourites.

However, it is music that inspires the most when taking photographs, especially the work of ambient or dark artists such as William Basinski, Cocteau Twins, Anna Von Hausswolff or Grouper. Here is a playlist that I made with some of these artists, I hope you like it!

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