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The Artists: Aldo Sessa

December 23, 1998

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ In one photograph, a man in a wide-brimmed hat picks his teeth with a huge knife while he stares meditatively at the horizon on a windswept prairie.

In another, a man grits his teeth, grips the reins with one hand and raises his whip with the other atop a bucking horse. In a third, several men huddle around a side of beef sizzling on an open fire.

These are the gauchos, the fabled horsemen of Argentina captured by the roving camera of Aldo Sessa, one of Argentina’s best photographers.

For most Argentines the gaucho is a thing of the past, the embodiment of virtues like loyalty and a fiercely independent spirit.

Sessa has sought to prove to an increasingly urban society that the gaucho is indeed alive. And in a recent exhibition, he presented more than 100 photographs, published in his new book, ``Los gauchos.″

``The whole point of the exhibition and book is to show that the gaucho is very much alive,″ Sessa said in an interview. ``Like most Argentines, I used to think there were no more gauchos. But I’ve seen them and they are real.″

Once an independent horseman, often an outlaw of the Argentine grasslands, this uniquely South American cowboy became a ranch hand early this century as the meat industry flourished and barbed-wire fences sprang up over the pampas.

Sessa’s photographs capture the gaucho at work and at play, breaking horses, driving cattle, eating a barbecue, sipping mate _ the local tea _ through a metal straw, or attending a country dance.

``I’ve seen five young gauchos turn out at dawn to catch wild horses with boleadoras,″ said Sessa.

The boleadora consists of three leather balls each about the size of a baseball, joined by long leather thongs. It is hurled at an animal and the thongs entangle its legs.

The gaucho project began five years ago, when Sessa went to see Juan Jose Guiraldes, president of the Argentine Gaucho Confederation, at his ranch in San Antonio de Areco, 60 miles north of Buenos Aires.

Guiraldes is a nephew of Ricardo Guiraldes, author of Argentina’s classic novel, ``Don Segundo Sombra,″ the story of an old gaucho who takes a young orphan under his wing to teach him the values and skills of gaucho life until he attains manhood.

The confederation seeks to keep gaucho traditions alive through festivals and exhibitions

``Aldo told me he wanted to photograph a gaucho and asked me if there was such a thing,″ Guiraldes said. ``He came in search of a myth and found a living reality.″

Over the ensuing four years, Sessa and Guiraldes traveled more than 25,000 miles from the grasslands of the pampas to windswept, arid Patagonia, from the tropical northeast to icy Tierra del Fuego. The result: nearly 50,000 photographs, 130 of which, in color and black and white, were placed on exhibit at the Argentine capital’s Palais de Glace.

``My task was to help him approach the gauchos,″ Guiraldes said. ``I contributed my knowledge of the gaucho, Aldo his artist’s sensitivity. In thousands of pictures he captured the landscapes and the people, their habits, fineries, joys, solitudes and faces.″

Born in Buenos Aires in 1939, Sessa alternates painting and photography. He has illustrated books by distinguished writers including Jorge Luis Borges and Ray Bradbury.

He has shown his work at exhibition halls around the world, including New York’s International Center of Photography, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Brussels’ Maison du Spectacle and Hamburg’s Kunsthalle.

In the prologue to the book ``Fantasmas Para Siempre″ (``Phantoms Forever″), Bradbury wrote: ``This is the team, Aldo Sessa and Ray Bradbury or Ray Bradbury and Aldo Sessa. We hope you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, but rather how both run together.″

Critics and commentators have pointed out his use of light, for example how the light of a fire plays on the faces of a group of cowherds sitting in a circle.

Sessa and Guiraldes plan to take their exhibition to big cities around Argentina, ``to show city dwellers that the gaucho indeed exists,″ said Sessa. ``Later on, we will try to take it abroad.″

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