Saturday, September 25, 2010

*****Contrasted Gallery Show

I have been invited to show my work at this online gallery on Flickr. All my favorite photographers there have shown their work in this group, so I guess I must be doing something right. Click on this slideshow to view all the pictures in sequence. Here are some of the posters created for the show. I love them all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Backpack and a Camera

(Here you can see some of my Street Photography from my trip to Europe)

I was talking with my son Caetano about his future, one of those things that all boring parents of teenagers do every once in a while, and I was trying to make clear to him that I would support him in any decision he made about his life. So I said, “If you want to be a musician, I will buy you an instrument; if you want to be a scholar, I will buy you tons of books; if you want to be a vagabond, I will buy you a backpack." I was certainly joking when I said that. Caetano is a really smart young man and he has the potential to be anything he wants to be in life, but I can’t say that I would blame him for taking this last course. I had my year of backpacking around Europe, and I truly think that it is a legitimate way of life, as long as you work just enough to support yourself and don’t get in trouble with the law.

I was 22 when my father offered me some money to buy a car like he had done for my siblings, but being completely indifferent to these machines, I decided instead to buy a ticket to Europe and a Eurail pass. That was a decision I have never regretted. I certainly learned more about history by travelling than by reading books, learned a lot about how to survive in a strange environment and get by in four different languages, and most of all met some extraordinary people. Here are some of them:

Adriana Komives (left), who went to Film school in Brazil with me, has always been one of my dearest friends. She has been living in Paris for decades now, and at the time she was my main reference in Europe. Yael, her Israeli roommate, introduced me to falafel and Hebrew versions of Jorge Ben's music.

Oron was Adriana's Israeli husband at the time (she is the shadow on the right in the background). He made me feel less than welcome for sure, but I understand: I was jumping on their wagon after all.

Alba is from Bergamo, Italy. We dated for a few days when we were in the same hostel in London. She was very young then and I think she never trusted me much, for which I don't blame her at all. We keep a sparse correspondence through email, and she is now married with two lovely children.

When I got to London my money ran out and I had to find work. Fortunately there was no shortage of jobs in hotels for foreigners. Rogerio and I were roommates in one of them (yes, they gave accommodation to all the workers), and I confess I was less than thrilled when I learned that I was going to share a room with this super tall guy with a thick Brazilian southern accent. But the first night we spent in that room, we struck up a conversation that lasted hours. Ever since he has become one of my greatest friends - a guy that I would trust 100% with my life.

Monica is a well-educated girl who had studied at USP like me and, also like me, was feeling a little aimless so took some time off in Europe. She has a Spanish passport and speaks flawless Spanish. I met her again recently. She is back in Brazil planning a photo book about Brazilian insects. I hope she does it because it is certainly needed.

Nandi is from Asturias, Spain. A woman that mixed a strong personality with a great dose of sweetness, she had been traveling around for a while, but made London her home around that time. I never saw her again, but I found her on Facebook. She is also a photographer now.

Marta introduced me to Basque culture and their weird language. She was the only one of us to be deported because at the time Spain was not a full EU member, and she was caught practicing the terrible crime of working.

I don't remember this girl's name, only that she was from Rome and had a very interesting philosophy: according to her we should only buy big things, the small ones we should put in our pockets and walk away with. We had some delicious caviar together that we acquired in this very manner. I hope she is doing all right.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

An Urban Myth

My first encounter with the anti-photography militia was in 1988, in London. I was in the tube and saw a kid with a very expressive face. I took my camera out of my bag and started shooting a few pictures of him. Before I could get a good one, a lady got up from her seat, walked toward me and told me that in that country it was forbidden to take pictures of people without their permission. Being a young man in a foreign country, I just put my camera back in my bag and let that great photograph go to the “lost opportunities” bin. She smiled a sick, victorious smile and went back to her seat. I ruminated over that meeting and concocted a dozen very witty responses I could have given her. I was really surprised because I had just visited an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum of British photographer Chris Killip and couldn’t imagine how such a great photographer could work in such a hostile environment. Obviously he didn’t ask permission to take all his photographs, or they could never be so expressive. But the most annoying thing about this incident was the use of the words “this country” which logically meant that she knew I was a foreigner, and that her objection to my photography had much more to do with this fact than with my photographing people without permission.

For many years I didn’t have any other problems, especially in places like Salvador, where people actually invite you into their houses if they see you with a camera. Things only changed when I moved to the USA where the urban myth that people cannot be photographed in public without their permission seems to be widespread. The first time a new encounter happened was when I was at a festival photographing kids playing in the moonwalk ride (we call it pula-pula in Brazil). A father approached me and asked why I was taking pictures of his daughter. All those witty answers that I had been collecting over the years raced through my mind, but all I could say was, “It is Art.” The father was somehow disconcerted by this answer, especially when I gave him my card which says “Fine Art Photography.”  What could he do? Tell me that he hates Art and that he doesn't give shit about my work? He threw me an angry face and went away. I moved to the other side of the ride and kept shooting before another parent asked me the same questions. That ruined my mood and I left the ride and went to the stage where the musicians seemed not to mind being photographed. Don’t get me wrong; I am a father too and I understand the concern of the parents. Just the other day I read about a serial killer who photographed all his victims before killing them. Parents should be cautious, and I am too, but they should also be careful before accusing (or implying) photographers are pedophiles.

I am a foreigner here too, and even though in Madison I can’t say I have had many encounters with racism, this attitude of people asking me to delete their pictures or questioning my right to taking them put me off for a while, and that is when I started the work I call Urbania. At least people riding their cars won’t stop to question you. Now I am finding ways to fool the militia, photographing people when they don’t see me as intruding on their privacy. And I also bring some material to show them that, contrary to their beliefs, it is totally legal to photograph people in public places without their permission. This pamphlet, for example, seems to make all the points that I need. Now, I know that there is a hard balance between people’s privacy and my rights to photograph them, but if such a law that people cannot be photographed without their permission were passed, then the Art that we call Street Photography would be totally dead. I don’t know how many people would miss my pictures, but are we ready to do without the works of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Totally New Website

Here is the much anticipated overhaul of my website. I spent long hours coding it and must say that I like photographing so much better. But here it is. It includes a few new works and old ones that have been simmering for a long time. My idea is to keep most of my photographs in my site and use the blog to give it a little context, so I will come back here and talk a little bit about each one of them. But for now, here it is. Hope you enjoy it.