Category Archives: Brazil

A House on Castelhanos

 

Watermelon. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

One day, in the middle of my art residency on the island of Ilhabela (Sao Paulo State, Brazil), I got a ride  with a 4×4 Jeep (one of the few vehicles that can navigate the rocks and holes over the island’s central mountain which is part of the Atlantic Forest), to Castelhanos. My visit was but a few short hours, but one kind couple welcomed me into their home.

They were exceptionally sweet. We exchanged names but sadly I forgot to write theirs down. We managed to communicate somehow – me with my poor Portuguese, and the three of us with our hands. He was a fisherman who made his own nets. She stayed at home. I never asked if they had children.

The house had one small bedroom, large enough for a bed and a chair, a very modest kitchen, and an even more modest bathroom. Outside, in the back, a few chickens ran about. She proudly showed off her new washing machine to me; her life has been made easier. This washing machine matters. Shortly after that I left. If only I can recall their names.

He. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

She. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Kitchen. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Kitchen. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Bedroom. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Top of the Washing Machine. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Chicken. Castelhanos, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Casa Na Ilha Art Residence

House. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

The sequence of 20 photos in this post is a glimpse of the immediate environment in and around the two houses on the property of the Casa Na Ilha Art Residence, in Brasil, facing the Atlantic Ocean with the Atlantic Forest behind it. I have wandered in and out of these houses and up and down the grounds (the houses sit on the rocky slope that borders the forest). Since I am the only artist staying here this month, the days are my own. This gives me a chance to look at the small things and not just the magnificent landscape surrounding me. The forest is known to have a similar biodiversity to that of the Amazon. Daily, I take note of the diverse flora and the myriad of birds, butterflies, and fruit trees growing here. 60% of all of Brazil’s threatened animal species live in this forest.

What attracted me to the residency was the idea of slowness  – an art residence that sits on the edge of the forest, on the island of Ilhabela, off the north coast of the state of Sao Paulo. There is one main road that runs north/south on the west coast and goes through three small tourist towns that are easy to avoid. 85% of the island is preserved. So… staying here I have the opportunity to just think and/or create without distraction. It is a retreat of sorts.

Bedroom. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Before I arrived I had a specific idea of what I wanted to do: visit and photograph the native Caicara people and their homes in Castelahnos on the east side of this island (just beyond the state park) and on Bonete beach on the south side of Ilhabela. However, as it turns out, my first two weeks were more about taking the time to think and photographing the houses and land, here. This environment allows for reflection.

Trees bow and sigh in the wind. The ocean rolls and crashes or whispers a breath. At times, ones sounds like the other. Insects, such as beetles, ants (and of course mosquitoes) abound. The commotion and calls of parrots in the trees wake me up at 5am and later remind me that it may be time to stop working, or at least take a moment to listen to them, at around 5 in the afternoon.

Palm Tree. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

My room, to date, has been a magnet for:

  • a spider (non-venomous, hairy, approximately one inch long with a leg span of about three inches)
  • a (dung?) beetle (about three inches long and one-two inches wide) – it sadly did what many beetles do: hit a wall or door, fall on their backs, struggle to turn over and fail, then die
  • a baby tree-rat (that scared me half to death when I saw it at the foot of my bed)
  • a cockroach
  • a few fireflies

Of course, none of this is unusual given that most of the island is forest and the house sits at its edge.

Everything is on the move and has its rhythm and yet there is a quiet here – a stillness. In part, these photos capture this.

Laundry. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Stairs. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Pool. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Kitchen. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Living Room Floor. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Water-hose. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Trees. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Telephone Cord with Shoes. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Bedroom. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Railing. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Mural (on a Colonial wall which is covered with lichen on the border of the property.  Artist Cole Swanson, during his residency at Casa Na Ilha, used the lichen as a starting point to trace the lichen with natural pigment paint that he made with different “harvested” soil on the island). Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Garbage Can and Broom with Banana. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Banana Tree. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Doorway. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Rug. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Leaves and Lichen. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

Bamboo. Casa Na Ilha Art Residency, Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brasil. October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Salvador de Bahia and Reconcavo Bahiano

Inside an abandoned factory where homeless people, who are part of the Roofless Movement (Movimento dos Sem-Teto), live. Looking out at the Atlantic Ocean and the island of Itaparica. Salvador, Brazil

In my blog post, last week, I mentioned that I took a workshop with Ernesto Bazan in Chapada Diamantina, Brasil. He and I also spent much of January in Brasil with another group of people in Salvador de Bahia and Reconcavo Bahiano (in and around the city-town of Cachoeira). This mid-winter trip made me quite certain that I want to return and continue photographing in the province of Bahia so that I may proceed with work on (what is now) my project, This Miracle.

Please do take a look at the galleries of photographs from the Bazan workshop this past January, in the group we called  “With Legs.”

Effigy. Igreja Senhor do Bonfim. Salvador, Brasil

Chapada Diamantina Revisited

Bed, Andarai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil.

This past February, I took a workshop with Ernesto Bazan in Chapada Diamantina, Brasil. I have mixed memories of this place because during the last three days, there, I had terrible food poisoning and was stuck in my room or tethered to the bathroom… Thankfully, most of my experience was utterly brilliant. In the end, the open and warm people and the magnificent landscape are what I truly remember; I look forward to returning there as well as other parts of Bahia, to continue work on my project, This Miracle.

Please do take a look at the galleries of photographs from all of us, in the group we called “Circles,” on Bazan’s  Circles Gallery Page.

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

 

 

More Thoughts on Saudade

 

Living Room. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

In my last post I wrote:

This [most recent] trip to Brasil was an eye-opener for me on a few levels. I felt that I was walking on a tightrope in… the country… I became very conscious that behind the myth of a magical/spiritual Bahia lies a very difficult, and sometimes unbelievably harsh, world of poor, landless, and/or homeless people who suffer yet are determined to surmount obstacles. They struggle daily to survive – and do not always succeed.

I saw a great deal of poverty and began to understand that it is difficult to break through social and economic obstacles (due to the dramatically unequal distribution of income ) – *many* people live in destitution. Black Brazilians are among the poorest. Throughout the country, they live in sprawling favelas (slums) or in abandoned buildings and warehouses, as part of the Movimento dos Sem-Toto (Roofless Movement).  In the Bahian countryside it is common to pass through small villages where the housing is barely basic and where multiple generations of people live together. Quilmbos (also known as mocambos), are plots of land given to those who are entitled to slavery reparations. There is a pervasive lack of decent education there too. The chances of getting out of these conditions are slim to none.

Man in Living Room. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Yet I also saw strength, endurance, and hope surface in daily life. Upon reflection, I understand this hope to be related strongly to religion. Perhaps it is because the state of Bahia is at the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture and that the Baianos (as the people are called) practice religious and festive traditions that go back to their African ancestry. While I was at the coast, I had the opportunity to experience three different celebrations of Iemanja (the goddess of the sea). In the region of Chapada Diamantina, I witnessed the preparation of the local Patron –  a part of the Umbanda religious celebrations in one particular small village. Umbanda combines Catholicism, African, and Kardecistic religions and is headed by a Catholic saint (sadly I missed this celebration because of food poisoning).

Mother and son on the doorstep of one of Salvador’s Movimento dos Sem-Toto buildings. Salvador, Brasil

Living Room. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Saudade is the word Portuguese colonists used to express their longing for their mother country; it is considered a melancholy nostalgia for something that may not have even happened and thought of as a central element of the Portuguese soul. It is said that this was the same feeling that was intrinsic to the African population that arrived in Brasil as slaves and who were sick and nostalgic for the homeland from which they were uprooted. It continues today as the millions of Afro-Brazilians hold on to their culture, religion, and traditions. And yet, nevertheless, I was able to see how these utterly impoverished people are able to find love and joy in the everyday, despite acute daily hardship. They are extroverted, are touched by the mystical, and ache for something long-gone. Looking at my photographs, with the distance of just a few weeks, I see that much of what I caught on camera was a mere glimpse of narrow lives, people with a shared past, a long history but an uncertain future.

Girl. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Boy. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Girl. Quilumbo near Cachoeira, Bahia, Brasil

Woman. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

 

Saudade: Traces of the Past

Igatu Chapada Diamantina

Photograph, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudade)

“Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter ‘repented,’ changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again… The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.” – Introduction to Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento

Effigy, Brasil

Efigy, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

I just finished the second of two back-to-back photography workshops with Ernesto Bazan (this one in Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brasil). We visited families in Arandai and Velho Mocambo(?), explored a few out of the way places (i.e., at the end of long, dry, pocked, iron-filled dirt roads), and had the opportunity to watch a celebration of Umbanda. It was quite overwhelming as children from the homes we visited, ran around posing and trying to grab each photographer’s attention. Multiple generations live together, and both calm and pandemonium abound. Likewise, the festivities we witnessed had equal shares of order and chaos. It was easy to get lost in the throes and, as a photographer, to lose intention.

Focusing (no pun intended) is difficult. It is a trait that I must nurture, when a great deal of activity surrounds me. I have to remember to do what I am naturally inclined toward, rather than be swallowed up by the waves of movement around me (or, alternatively, do what I think is expected of me when I take pictures with other photographers). When I heed my own voice I tend to turn in a different direction from others. I do not do this to be contrary or non-conformist but rather to find my own space. I get lost in the details, layers, cracks, and crevices, rather than be swept away by the whole; I go at my own rhythm. Looking until something – almost always intangible – captures me. I then try to transform that particular something into an image.

BEd, Andarai, Brasil

Bed, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

After initial inner struggles (and many poor shots thanks to these fights with myself) what calls to me are typically the quieter and less certain spaces of my surroundings – the things that can be overlooked because they may be too quotidian or too spare. But, I respond to these with my heart – they feel like psychological layers. It is a dance between “me” and “object” – and I explore the space where we intersect. How it manifests itself to me and then how I translate that feeling into image is unclear to me (at least for the moment.) I simply allow myself to be carried with it and go with the grain. Like saudade or pentimento, the photograph becomes an utterance detached from context, thereby giving it a unique integrity and opening it to abstract or new meaning.

This trip to Brasil was an eye-opener for me on a few levels. I felt that I was walking on a tightrope in both the country and my work. In regard to the Brasil, I became very conscious that behind the myth of a magical/spiritual Bahia lies a very difficult, and sometimes unbelievably harsh, world of poor, landless, and/or homeless people who suffer yet are determined to surmount obstacles. They struggle daily to survive – and do not always succeed.

Homeless, Salvador, Brasil

Woman, Salvador, Brasil

With this as a background, it seems almost trite to talk about my photography. But I am discovering that the  pictures I take are responses to the spaces and places where I work in. During these weeks in Brasil I figured out that I must feel comfortable in my own skin and do what is right for me. It is something I always know but do not always allow myself to remember and act upon. In Brasil I felt strong links to saudade, something that escaped me entirely when I visited the country in 2015. After a while it was difficult not to see it everywhere. Yet, despite the melancholia there is strength and hope that seems to prevail even under some of the more dire circumstances.

My work is not straight documentation but, rather, a subjective (and limited) description of experience. In framing the material subject of a photograph I express an embodied tactile knowledge – it is a gesture toward turning familiar places and objects into visceral experiences. But my photographs barely scratch the surface (or layers) of this state of being, of saudade.

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Landscape, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Landscape, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Poster, Salvador, Brasil

Poster, Salvador, Brasil

Bela Bahia

Salvador, Brazil

Warehouse, Salvador, Brasil

I’m now past the halfway mark on my travels. After beginning my trip to Brasil with two weeks on my own, I’ve just now completed the first of two photography workshops. Below are a few photographs taken over these last nine brilliant days with Ernesto Bazan, and the four wonderful people who joined me with him.

Igreja Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Brasil

Igreja Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Brasil

Salvador, Brasil

Beauty Salon, Salvador, Brasil

Salvador, Brasil

Warehouse, Salvador, Brasil

Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

Living Room in House, Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

Ruined Sugar Factory Outside Cachoeira, Brasil