“Time is like another character in this work. How much can you control who you become?”
Alessandra Sanguinetti turned her lens on Guillermina, then 10, and Belinda, then nine, in 1999. She had, at first, dismissed the cousins, focusing instead upon the domesticated animals populating their grandfather’s rural Argentinian farm. But, losing connection to this project (which became On the Sixth Day) as it neared its end, Sanguinetti decided to chronicle Guillermina and Belinda as they entered adolescence. She condensed her initial documentation into The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams(2003): a rich publication revealing their lives, full of fantasy; ever so slowly encumbered by age. She did not, however, stop there; Sanguinetti continued, and the sequel, The Illusion of an Everlasting Summer, published by Mack this year, charts the cousins’ next chapter: the advent of adulthood replete with men, children, and the responsibilities of getting older.
However, together the books also delve into something deeper, a universal concern divorced from their immediate subject: the passage of time. “Time and what it does to you,” as Sanguinetti puts it. “Time is like another character in this work. How much can you control who you become?” And, in TheIllusion of an Everlasting Summer, time reveals Guillermina and Belinda to be the women they envisioned they would become – for better or for worse.
While working on TheEnigmatic Meaning of their Dreams, Sanguinetti, Guillermina and Belinda would often pretend to be on TV; the cousins would interview one another, and Sanguinetti also chipped in. “They must have been 10 or 11 then, and I remember asking Belinda and Guillermina how they imagined themselves in 20 years,” says Sanguinetti. Belinda envisioned living in the countryside, married, with orphaned animals, while Guillermina pictured becoming a geography teacher. “Guille has always been afraid of being alone,” continues Sanguinetti, “and to a certain extent she has made that prophecy come true.” In TheIllusion of an Everlasting Summer, we observe as Belinda becomes a mother at 16 and Guillermina follows soon after. However, while Belinda’s husband remains firmly in the picture, Guillermina is alone, committed to her job as an elementary school teacher.
Tracing their lives from age 14 to 24, TheIllusion of an Everlasting Summer crystallises a critical juncture in the pair’s development. They change physically – in their appearance, and their style; the way they hold themselves and connect with the camera. But they also change relative to one another. Time has stripped them of the cosseted world they once inhabited – a carefree, make-believe realm shaped by imagination, fantasy and friendship. Fun and games are no longer the focus. Instead, the creeping responsibilities of adulthood take hold. Guillermina and Belinda are increasingly separate; as the book progresses, Sanguinetti rarely captures them together.
The publication takes its name from that widely held desire to turn back time; to regress to a simpler era, whether that be childhood, adolescence or a period of adulthood. “One of the last times I visited with Guillermina we were looking at the picture and she said, ‘I want to return to that age. I want those summers to last forever’,” says Sanguinetti, recalling Guillermina’s longing for her childhood. And yet, TheIllusion of an Everlasting Summer bears witness to those years fading further and further away. Time ticks on, pushing the cousins along an inevitable path; one which every one of us is on.
The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Illusion of an Everlasting Summer is published by MACK.
Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.