Lucina's Album is a series of portraits that I made of my daughter during the first eighteen years of her passage through childhood recorded on the exquisite and since then inexistent instant film: black and white, positive and negative Polaroid 665.
The project was so personal that I never thought I would publish or exhibit it publicly. Seven years have passed since I decided to bring it to a close when Lucina went away to study and besides, the Polaroid Company had already declared bankruptcy and soon there would be no more of this film. Whenever I would show the small album of contact prints, I realized that it stirred emotions and was appreciated regardless of whether or not the person knew my daughter and that it had a universal value. Perhaps the most universal is found dwelling in the most intimate of places.
This was a ritual for three collaborators: myself, the photographer and mother; Lucina, the subject and daughter and the film, the medium and photography. Each had her own role, contributions and conditions.
Polaroid 665 is a very slow film, exposed at about 50 ASA. Consequently, the subject must pose without moving, or else come out as a blur. It takes time to set up the shot, the camera is difficult to focus and the depth of field is narrow. For example, from a relatively close position, the eyes may be in focus while the nose is not. Therefore, the subject must have plenty of patience with the photographer. When everything is ready and the shutter is fired, the photographer firmly grips the paper tab sticking out from the side of the camera and pulls it carefully out from between the rollers. A false movement, too fast, too slow or crooked may cause disastrous defects or sometimes interesting ones. Then a minute is counted while the developer does its work before peeling apart the positive paper from the negative film. The image is revealed on the positive to which a fixer is applied while the negative is placed in water to wash off its gooey black coating. Both the photographer and subject then have the chance to view the result and make corrections for the next shot. As long as both are willing, they continue taking pictures until finishing the package of eight.
I wanted to celebrate, just like all new parents, each month completed by my little daughter during her first year of life. Lucina was born on the 23rd of September 1986, thus I began making a ceremonial portrait on the 23rd of each month. At first I used a borrowed Polaroid camera with bellows especially made for this type of film. Later on I bought my own in order to continue the ritual I had started. In the beginning I was free to choose this moment. As long as my baby was happy and comfortable, she didn't have any objections. However this all changed as soon as she learned to walk and talk. From then on, it was she who would decide the right moment which almost never came on the 23rd. I would suggest we make a portrait once in a while, taking care not to let too many months go by without bringing out the Polaroid camera.
Lucina's childhood was divided between two cities: her first ten years were lived in Paris and her adolescence in Mexico City. Vacations were usually spent with family in California. People often ask me how she feels about her portrait album. She must have thought this ritual was something quite normal having grown up with it, like a part of life. I know she was fascinated with seeing how she used to look. To this day she continues asking me to make her portrait so that she will know in the future how she looked at this moment. However she was never one of those children who grin happily for the camera whenever one is pointed in their direction. She would not enter into the game unless there was a good reason, like a desire to document something special or extraordinary. The years four, five and six were blessed with the fantasies of dress-up and the years between fifteen and seventeen were more difficult when she usually preferred we do the picture another day.
To display the selected photographs, I fashioned a small book of linen-covered cardboard with black paper pages joined together by two brass screws in which I would slip the newest portrait under stick-on corners on the top page of the stack. Thus the album always began with the most recent picture. This book also progresses backwards in time, like memory, to end where the story began. Even at the moment of making portraits, we are already aware of looking back at them from the future.