During a short trip to San Sebastián in 2016, Aristotle Roufanis was fascinated by how the locals would every day run to the sea after work and hastily throw their clothes off in order to bask in the sun. The popular resort town on Spain’s northern coast—not far from the French border—is famous for its spectacular bay lined with wide sandy beaches; but in Insolation, the photographer seeks to capture an impression quite different from the stereotypical image of people relaxing on a perfect beach. Golden sands and blue waters are presented in dark tones, and the carefree swimmers are rendered as dark figures that hardly betray any sign of gender, clothing or identity.
Taken during sunset when the sun cast its final rays, the photos of this series are seen by Aristotle Roufanis as a kind of x-rays, hence their strong monochromatic palette. By carefully underexposing the photos while shooting, the photographer achieves this otherworldly effect of land and sea becoming black, and all that remains is the stark light bouncing off everything. This effect is what lends the series its name, since the main subject here isn’t as much the landscape or the people, as the meticulous way the light has been highlighted—creating the impression that everything material on the scene has magically disappeared and all we’re left with is pure, reflected light. If photography is about ways of seeing, then Insolation reveals Aristotle Roufanis’s sensibility in capturing that which is not immediately obvious, and the unconventional treatment of light and colour in the series is what makes this intention clear.
For Aristotle Roufanis, the penetrating light in Insolation poetically reveals the internal world of each person, and to some extend more than their physical appearance would. Also, by reducing each person in the photos to a very dark figure, the photographer allows most of the information to be conjured by our imagination, since we’re left with a blank that we can fill in as we please. The richness in texture seen in these photos is truly remarkable, especially in the way the sands and rippling waters seem to merge into one another to create surfaces that look neither liquid nor solid. The degree of compositional density in the series varies from minimalist emptiness to multilayered complexity, artfully transforming the pedestrian imagery of a day at the beach into distilled narratives of emotional acuteness.
Text by Kiriakos Spirou