Ximena Echague: Trapped




I have always tried to capture human dynamics in my photography, made of hopes fulfilled or shattered, with its drama and contradictions, the odyssey of human life. 

This book is the result of a personal journey over several years during which our lives were turned upside down, most certainties vanished, many cherished ideals were challenged, and our most basic habits and freedoms were questioned.

We have been living through eerie times. Life is no longer what it used to be, and we are all struggling to overcome a deep unease, a feeling of being trapped in an existence full of contradictions we no longer understand or control.

The photos in this book capture this fuzzy new reality. They are glimpses into troubled souls trying to make sense of the unknown. They reflect emotions, fears, confusion, and anger but also resilience, irreverence, strength, and humor. There is a before-and-after feeling in them, a sense of having turned a page into something new still being formed, shapeless and blurred.

It all started for me when moving from (Brexit) Europe to (Trump) USA: two polarized societies where truth was no longer a shared value. Two years later, in New York, the pandemic sent all of us into sudden lockdown for months; our lives were interrupted and our plans became irrelevant.

When I managed to go back to Europe, in an almost empty plane, I had to face yet another long lockdown, followed by the horrors of war in Ukraine and the social consequences of all these events, including a sharp increase in inequalities and social unrest. My old world looked and felt different.

The pandemic, tragic as it had been, was just the background of this journey. Its consequences, together with the other disruptions, had irreversibly altered our lives. It had forced all of us to live with anguish and constant fear of the unknown, the invisible risk, without contact with others. We were no longer masters of our own destiny. Our lives hung by a fragile thread, and obscure scientific concepts became our new daily diet. Even the most banal human interaction had become dangerous; “keep your distance” was the new mantra.

As a street photographer I had no option but to reinvent myself through self-portraits that aspired to capture how I felt in this surreal world. Streets were empty, the noise of ambulances was constant, the great city had become a ghost town. We didn’t know at the time that the pandemic, and its consequences, would last so long. Perhaps not surprisingly, my photography became introverted, symbolic, and imagination was all that was left to replace our noisy and hectic existence. Emptiness suddenly had a meaning, and shadows were full of opportunity; even balloons adrift carried a new significance.

When the streets of New York erupted in the Black Lives Matter movement, we felt as if, finally, we were alive again. But quickly windows were broken and shops walled up, creating yet another visible barrier, a new fractured landscape, another reason to reflect on a divided society. The pandemic had exacerbated social injustices; the main victims were the usual ones, those so-called essential workers who were glorified and even applauded for a short while but soon went back to their anonymous existence.

These lockdown self-portraits allowed me to come across David Campany and be part of the fascinating ICP Concerned exhibition he curated in New York. He has been kind enough to write a foreword for this book, for which I am very grateful. My street photography during the pandemic was exhibited by the Museum of the City of New York for their New York Responds reopening and also features in this book. Both themes, concern and response, or anguish and resilience, are very much at the core of this story.

This is also a story of human resourcefulness and solidarity, a journey into how humanity struggled to survive fear and overcome many challenges. Whether in New York or Brussels, Istanbul, Madrid, or Buenos Aires, life went on and people found ways to cope and even thrive, showing unabated optimism and sometimes irrepressible humor. I have always looked for the quirky and funny in the midst of the gloom.

I hope the result captures in a very personal way how we have all felt over the last few years, not only trapped in uncertainty but also full of life and hope. It aims to raise questions rather than provide answers or explanations. Humanity will never cease to surprise me.

Ximena Echague

Ximena Echagüe is a Belgian-Argentine Documentary & Street Photographer, juror & curator based in Brussels. Ximena’s work has been exhibited worldwide in four individual exhibitions (including at the European Parliament, Brussels and the United Nations, New York) and over 70 Group exhibitions. She has been published by New York Times, BBC News, Washington Post, and many photography magazines.