If Diego Maradona is Argentina’s most famous export of the 20th century, then the tango must surely be the second. Invented in the piano bars and brothels of the late 1800s in Buenos Aires, the tango began as a dance of gauchos, petty criminals and prostitutes among the Porteños. After seeming to die out after the 1940s with the onset of rock and roll in popular culture, the tango has become a resurging phenomenon in such far flung places as New York, Berlin, and, remarkably, Helsinki which bills itself as the capitol of tango culture outside of Argentina. The late, great Jorge Luis Borges, reminiscing about the tangoes sung and danced before his time, inevitably had the protagonists share a quick knife fight in a darkened bar after a night of too much passion, alcohol, and cigarettes. These days the tango has been somewhat domesticated, refined even, and the knives have been put away. The passion, the cigarettes, and the alcohol remain, though, in the milongas, or tango parlours, of the world.
Adriana Groisman, a Contact Press photographer, was born in Buenos Aires and now lives in New York. She has photographed tango dancing for more than 15 years in her home town. Her pictures eschew the overt clichés of tango that one sees in bright musicals like Tango Argentino. Rather, she sweeps us with her deliciously dark images into the grainy, smoky world of the milongas and the dancers. Her work, which received a Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography Award in 2000, is not about showy dips and sweeps but about the passion of waiting, of advance and hesitation, and of emotion contained and, sometimes, released. The images perfectly capture the most basic sides of the Porteño: desire, melancholy, frustration, and a hope against all hope. She moves with the dancers like their third shadow. She photographs the preparations, the meetings, the glances, the moves, the excesses, and the stories. Groisman gives us with absolute sincerity the power of the dance between a man and a woman. She notes, “Embellishment comes from the woman’s needs to caress the man with her legs. Men tell you little stories with their knees.” Her work takes us directly into the heart of the Porteño’s darkness where the milongueros and the milongueras meet to share a three minute long infinity together.