Oct 8, 2014

Classicize this!

To walk around philosophizing is pathetic. To philosophize walking around is peripatetic.

Besides, there's the beaches

«First drawn to the place by its unusual buildings and riverside landscapes, José Bandeira has been photographing the old Dafundo neighborhood, in the outskirts of Lisbon, in the course of the last year and a half. There he met Euclides, an immigrant from Cape Verde who runs a modest tavern on the Clemente Vicente building, and through him many of its residents. The austere construction was built a century ago to accommodate the working men of two factories in the vicinity; now it provides lodging for a differentiated community which includes a significant number of immigrants and retired elders. Euclides’ “Café Africano” serves as a meeting spot for these and other inhabitants of old Dafundo, some of them living on the verge of destitution.
Perhaps because José never forgets to give the locals prints of the portraits he takes, they learned to trust him and his camera. He unambiguously assume that his pictures of the Dafundo inhabitants are a compromise between his photographic vision and the idea his models have of what a portrait should be. Seen as a whole, the hundreds of photographs José took in the neighborhood are as much an artistic pursuit as they are documents of a soon-to-disappear world.

At some time José, who has an interest in the Classics, saw what he himself calls an "unlikely connection" between the Clemente Vicente building, with its severe façade, and the Troy citadel. The simile was strengthened by the fact that the locals kept small boats, tents and furniture, vegetable gardens, bird cages, and all sorts of peculiar objects in a land strip adjacent to the Lisbon-Cascais railway line, which, in its turn, runs parallel to the (once chic but now highly degraded) Dafundo beach. José turned the land strip into a Mycenic camp and the railway line into a defensive wall and ditch ("What's a suburban train but a moving wall?," he asks.) To complete the picture, the hazardous Ivens Avenue, a straight, busy road with no pedestrian crossings, became a stretched-out Trojan plane.

After a geography was defined, José started toying with the idea of posing some of the inhabitants as characters of the Iliad and the Epic Cycle. This implied narrating to each one of them the complete story, from the Judgment of Paris to the returns of the Greek heroes, with an emphasis on the specific character they were to embody. How would people who never heard of the Classics (but whose life experience — including, in some cases, fighting a war — gave particular authority) respond to the narrative and the moral issues it poses? Were there points of contact between the sense of vulnerability – sometimes even hopelessness – of their lives and that of the Greek and Trojan contenders after ten years of ruthless war? When Professor Adriana Freire Nogueira, of the University of the Algarve, suggested that "Neither Greeks nor Trojans" could be integrated in the Imagines IV Congress and hosted at the University, what was little more than an idea became a de facto project. José spent the months of July and August 2014 shooting "Cycle" photographs; a selection of 24 – incidentally, the number of books in the Iliad – now constitute this exhibition.

In the last few days of August, José and the Clemente Vicente inhabitants learned that works to complete the Maritime Walk between Algés and Cruz Quebrada, at both ends of Dafundo, were to begin. With the collaboration of the locals (who expect improvements,) the small boats were dragged to the beach by an excavator and what remained was raised to the ground, the debris filling a tall container with the word "Renascimento" (Rebirth) painted on it. When José saw the conspicuous container facing the Clemente Vicente building, he couldn't help but ask himself: "Could that be a horse?"»

(From the introductory text to the exhibition)

Jul 15, 2013


'You're too young to have cataracts', the doctor says. 'Well', I reply, 'maybe that's because I started to see at a very young age.' He laughs – go figure why – and writes his phone number on a piece of yellowish paper: 'Call me when you're ready.' Did I say 'yellowish?' Sorry, it's the habit. Monet, you know, the French artist who painted all those wonderful variations of a japanese bridge in his Giverny garden, had cataracts. After surgery, he returned to his beloved motif only to discover that, while it still had all the usual reds, greens and blues, they were in the wrong places (bear with me, si non è vero è ben trovato.)

Until cirgury I won't be able to coordinate my eyes, but you only need one eye to use a viewfinder, right? So I'm doing the best I can to capture all those weird, screaming colors that we both know aren't really there.

May 25, 2013

Lisbon Stories (17)

I knew João was leaving the country, by Springtime maybe, we talked about it. Maybe Switzerland, he said, or Luxembourg. It was kind of our secret. He used to work in the cinema industry in Portugal as a man in charge of generators, but was left out of work when the austerity begun. He met a lot of famous people. Cameron Diaz and other names I forgot but know are important in the industry. Once, someone at the bar thought it was strange that I did black-and-white. Why not color, he asked. João got angry and shook his head in disdain. How ignorant, he said. He is a tough but noble man.

Today I knew that João, at 54, left the country for South Africa.

May 12, 2013

Lisbon Stories (16)

Friday morning at Café Africano, in the riverside neighborhood of Dafundo, Lisbon coast: the usual gathering of unemployed men, oddjobbers, and retired elders. I carry with me a small thermal transfer printer (think of the system as a souped-up Polaroid,) set it at a table and ask the guys who would be the first to have his picture taken. Most of them know me and feel at ease with my work, so I have no trouble getting volunteers. Mr. Sequeira, a retired gentleman who never drinks anything, is the first. I ask Fernando to hold the speedlight for me. Fernando lives under a railway bridge by the riverside and is trying to save €5 to pay for a haircut, but his coins always find their way to Euclides’ counter to be exchanged for wine cups. He soon becomes an expert at flash photography. When his turn comes, I ask Mr. Marinho to hold the speedlight and Fernando gives him some professional hints. ’You have to see me through the little hole in that white card,’ he says, and Mr. Marinho nods. 
Damn, I had never thought of that.

Mar 13, 2013

Lisbon Stories (15)

After months gathering stories and taking photographs at the working-class neighborhood of Dafundo – this small area of the Lisbon Coast being doomed, its once well-attended beach now conveniently classified as ‘sandy area’ and reserved for a marina – I proposed to Euclides, who runs the 'Café Africano' with his father, to hang on the tavern’s walls pictures of the place and the people who frequent it. We’ll have a vernissage – a posh thing, as you can imagine – and wine will be served to whoever crosses the door.

This ‘permanent exhibit’ wouldn’t be complete without a picture of Mr. Sequeira: he is part of the furniture at Café Africano. Always ready for a domino game, he talks very little, maybe not to ruin his shy, everlasting smile. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember having heard his voice before today. Mr. Sequeira loves football, so I took a picture of him caressing a table football dummy painted with the colors of his team of choice. He was clearly amused.

I took three or four shots and told Mr. Sequeira they looked pretty good on the lcd screen. I said I would leave a print for him with Euclides. He gave a start and looked straight at me with tiny, inscrutable eyes. Then he asked, the voice trembling a bit,

‘Do I have to pay anything…?’

Mar 10, 2013

Lisbon Stories (14)

A couple of days ago, Dona Francisca celebrated her 93rd birthday (she shyly says 82, but Euclides, who runs the ‘Café Africano’, says she’s been 82 for many years now.) A Cape-Verdian from the island of S. Vicente, Dona Francisca is a delight to talk to, even though she’s almost completely deaf and keeps asking Como é?, ‘How’s that?’. She reads the newspaper’s headlines out loud, she laughs at them, she sings, Estás no meu coração, ‘You’re in my heart.’ We sit at the same table and I ask her to take a couple of photographs. ‘Why not?,' she says, 'While the wind is blowing outside, I can’t go for my walk.’

Mar 6, 2013

Rushing Things

‘Dad,’ Daniel said, ‘it’s moving!’ He had been up and down investigating the mechanics of the thing and had pushed the pier bridge a meter or so. ‘No brake shoes,’ I remember thinking, ‘how odd.’ But hey, I’m not an engineer, so what did I know. The people at the pier were taking photographs, unaware of my son’s scientific inquiries. ‘Dad, it’s MOVING,’ he insisted, laughing nervously. I told him ‘Son, I’m taking photographs. Please wait until I’m finished.’ Kids are always rushing things. Eventually, one of the men on the river noticed the movement of the pier and started running up, crying like a madman. The others followed him and were able to put the brake shoes behind the wheels. This is wild guess, for at the time I had finished taking photographs I was half a kilometer away.

Addendum: I had lunch with Daniel today and asked him to forgive me for having been such a clown as an educator. After all, I’m a humorist: I earn my living mostly by drawing and writing very silly things disguised as deep truths about Man and the Universe (or was it the other way around?)
I added that it is highly unlikely that I change in the future. Not after 50, I won’t. He said he was glad we have always been such good ‘accomplices.’ He wasn’t using the wrong word. But I can assure the ethical reader that no human being, irrational animal, or plant was ever hurt in the course of my fatherhood.

Feb 10, 2013

Lisbon Stories (13)

(Dafundo quarter, Lisbon Coast) Many, if not most, of the ‘habitués’ of Euclides’s Café Africano are retired fishermen, unemployed workers, and homeless people. Unlike what would happen in any café of a more fortunate neighborhood, they aren’t required to consume. The sharing of space and time happens naturally.
The first to arrive sits at a table – most have preferred seats – and waits. It doesn’t take long before he is challenged. As the duel begins, other locals gather to witness the skill of the players and comment on the game. Quarrels are so rare an event that they become legend and are told in a murmur. The place has its doors always wide open, but not even the cold keeps the players at home: today, I’ve seen one of them appear with a pajama showing under his pants and sweater.
If for some reason there is no challenger, Euclides himself is happy to sit at the game table and be miserably beaten by the seasoned folk.

Feb 8, 2013

Lisbon Stories (12)

A few days ago I talked for a while with Costa, an old fisherman from the working-class neighborhood of Dafundo, on the Lisbon Coast. He had some stories to tell – mostly dealing with the life of the fishermen in the old days and the hard times that never really went away. Separated from the beach by the railway line and the coastal road connecting Lisbon to the exquisite village of Cascais, the few remaining fishermen prefer to take their chance and risk being run over by a car or the frequent trains than walking all the way to the closest pedestrian crossing.

I knew there had been accidents in the area, but had no idea if they were frequent. I asked Costa about it. He told me the story of Rui, ‘a son of the neighborhood.’ Rui is a machinist at CP, the company that explores and maintains the Portuguese railways, and works at the very same Lisbon-Cascais line his Dafundo friends cross all the time. ‘The first time he ran over someone,’ Costa said, ‘he couldn’t eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. The second time, he managed to eat dinner. The third time, he ate dinner and lunch.’ Costa became silent. There really was no need to go on.

Today, a train coming from Cascais had problems on one of its carriage’s wheels while passing in front of Dafundo. I’ve been told later by Euclides, whose father rans a tavern on the roadside, that the train passed by releasing sparks and smoke. The operator managed to reduce the train’s speed, but couldn’t avoid the derail of one of the carriages. The accident must have caused damage to a switch, for another train, though warned and following the first one at low speed, had half of its carriages sent to another line.

As I took some shots of the rescue team trying to remove the derailed carriage, I couldn’t help but thinking that at least today Rui would have all his meals.