Seven years ago, while living in New York City, Seattle-based photographer Rafael Soldi’s partner left him suddenly, without explanation. There were no premonitions or warning signs, and the disappearance nearly destroyed him. To help understand his pain, over the next few years, he made a series of photographs called Sentiment, which combined natural-lit portraits, still lifes and fragments of letters as a chronicle of his loss. These pictures, shot largely on film with warm, natural light show Soldi coming to terms with his individuality and sexual identity. As time passed and he gained some distance from from this emotional trauma, Soldi embarked on his most recent, ongoing body of work, Life Stand Still Here, which he’s been making for the past three years. This new series, which opens as a solo exhibition on June 2 at Seattle’s Glassbox Gallery, offers a darker, more conceptual manifestation and exploration of himself, his fears, and moments when life and its darkest facets can offer monumental symbolism.
The first picture Soldi made for the series, Untitled (XXIV) came from a commission for Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, where a group of 36 artists were prompted to make a piece in response to poems in James Joyce’s volume Chamber Music. “I read up on what Joyce had to say about this suite of poems,” says Soldi “and he mentioned ‘When I wrote Chamber Music, I was a lonely boy, walking about myself at night and thinking that one day a girl would love me.’ At the time I identified with this statement and made this image.” While the picture, an anonymous black and white bust-portrait of a man photographed from behind is not literally a picture of Soldi, he’s come to see it as a self-portrait, and a lynchpin to explore the emotional depth that may have once been out of reach.
Life Stand Still Here, while an extension of Sentiment, approaches loss with a darker, visually abstract lens. Departing from the often straightforward representational portraits and in-between moments of his earlier work, it includes sculpture, altered photographs and digital creations that respond to what Soldi describes as “ the most private spaces within me, my ‘innerness’.” “At a certain point,” says Soldi, “I ran into some ideas that I couldn’t communicate in a single image.” He began working with multiple panels, which expanded his practice into sculpture and installation. The entry-point to this new direction And All of a Sudden You Were Gone, is a grouping of ten digitally fabricated images - ten white, and ten black, of a point, or blurry sphere, somewhat resembling a soft focus monochromatic sun or moon, gradually fading into nothingness. This parallels Soldi’s loss -- not just his relationship, but as a fading inverse of his own self.
Expanding into other mediums, two life-sized replicas of Michelangelo’s David, which Soldi coated in a velvet-like black powder, stand next to each other nearly gazing into each other’s eyes. This might represent another mirror to his inward reflection, with a specific gaze towards self doubt or perhaps a nod to impostor syndrome. “I started to notice how myself and others are so quick to put ourselves down,” he says. “ the moment we receive a compliment we shut it down -- we’re unable to see in ourselves the beauty that other see in us.” For Soldi, David epitomizes the western ideal of chiseled masculine beauty, a mirror which we may constantly hold up to ourselves. As each David stares his reflection down, they imbue an continuous loop of not measuring up.
While Life Stand Still Here, and Soldi’s earlier work Sentiment come from a deeply personal place, the visually ambiguous metaphors for pain and self discovery in his latest work create an accessible, open entry point for viewers to understand and connect to the images and sculpture. Loss, heartbreak, and various levels of self exploration, no matter how dark they may dive, are largely universal experiences, and Life Stand Still Here makes them relatable from infinite angles. “Otherwise,” he says, “it doesn’t give much latitude for viewers to imagine anything other than my experience.”
Bio: Rafael Soldi is a Peruvian-born, Seattle-based photographer and curator. He holds a BFA in Photography & Curatorial Studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He has exhibited internationally at the Frye Art Museum, American University Museum, Griffin Museum of Photography, Greg Kucera Gallery, G. Gibson Gallery, Connersmith, Photographic Center North West, and Vertice Galeria, among others. Rafael is a 2012 Magenta Foundation Award Winner, and recipient of the 2014 Puffin Foundation grant and 2016 smART Ventures grant; he has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and PICTURE BERLIN.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, and the King County Public Art Collection. He has been published in PDN, Dwell, Hello Mr, and Metropolis, among others. Rafael is the founder of Studio 126 in Seattle, and co-founder of the Strange Fire Collective, a project dedicated to highlighting work made by women, people of color, and queer and trans artists.