Rafael Arocha, Medianoche

JTF (just the facts): Self published in 2014 (here and here), and distributed by Dalpine (here). Hardcover, 84 pages, with 52 black and white reproductions. There are no texts or essays included. In an edition of 500. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Rafael Arocha’s Medianoche oozes with the call and response of men and women on the prowl. Taken in bars and clubs when the lights go down and the mood is right, his photographs are full of touches and gropes, flirty rubs and come hither gestures, cool glances and ecstatic laughter. It turns desire into a fleeting glimpse of a confident dance in the shadows, with a bold sweep of hair and a drink and a smoke in the same hand.

Finding photographic inspiration in the sweaty embrace of nightlife isn’t an original idea, but Arocha’s sophisticated integration of his images with the design of his photobook is so compelling that it’s hard not to be seduced by his cleverness. His pictures turn the universal (the beer bottle, the high heels, the leather jacket, the cleavage, the disco ball) into something brash and ephemeral, like Anders Petersen but with less grit and more glamour. His invasive flash spotlights hidden nocturnal behaviors and non-verbal communications, when the music starts to pump and the energy in the crowd rides invisible waves. Soon the extremes start to appear – a maniacal grin, a drop of blood in the crook of an arm, a tongue, a hiked up skirt. Arocha tunnels deep into the midnight darkness, unearthing these intimate fragments like found treasures.

Printed on glossy paper and interspersed with numerous ink black pages, Arocha’s photographs deliberately seem to emerge from the shadows. The matte cover sucks in the light, only to give it back again with its shiny interior surfaces and high contrast images. After a slow build of page turns, we reach a frenetic middle area of the book, where women’s faces and mirror pages of various sizes are collapsed into a densely interwoven jumble. It’s a little like being on a dance floor when the strobe lights go on and off – faces appear and disappear, reflected and repeated in a passionate whirring blur; as original design elements go, it’s one of the smartest I’ve seen in a while. As the “night” wears on, things get spicier, ultimately leading to a final image of a pair of hands clinging to the edge of the bar, holding on with weary desperation. Clearly, the illusions of the evening have started to fade.

What this small photobook does so extremely well is set a particular energized mood. It’s a thoughtfully executed jolt of dark glamour, just brazen, reckless, and open ended enough to step away from the clichés.

Collector’s POV: Rafael Arocha does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Interested collectors should likely follow up via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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