Look at Me: Fragments of a Body

Self Portrait (Neck).

Since I bought a smart phone, three years ago, I have taken photos of my self (many of which are posted on Instagram). This “self-portraiture” has been a necessity of sorts – a way of seeing myself in the world as I pass through or (more precisely) live in it as a physical being. It is a way of viewing my ordinary body without a mirror. Skin, hair, creases, and folds are so utterly commonplace and things that we all share, as human beings. Despite this sameness I feel out of place and flawed. In some photographs I am dressed. However, it is nakedness that is of greatest interest to me since it is literally skin that separates my inner landscape from the outer world.

Each photograph is of a fragment of myself. It is a distorted and incomplete view – a detail. Since I hold the mobile phone in my hand there is no other way to see myself except through these closeups.

Self Portrait (Belly).

The photographs of me are not always flattering but, the only body I truly understand and need to embrace is the one I occupy. Yet, I often want to reject it since it is now a heavier and baggier form than it was in its youth. Wrinkles are now laid bare. I am not quite old but old age is a taboo in North American society. I am past the age of fifty and women, in particular, are led to believe that their shapes are imperfect and regard them with disdain (and all too often I believe this is true for myself). In fact, reshaping one’s body with plastic surgery (in an attempt to recapture youth) is widely accepted.

Some pictures are meant to give a sense of mood. Many are simply the camera (and an app, perhaps) drawing my figure. The person (me) is not the subject; it is the body (mine). I am not dealing with older age, per se.

Self Portrait (Armpit).

There is something freeing about turning the camera toward me. I feel alive and empowered. My body is all mine no matter the imperfections. I intend to continue these photographs. This act of imaging my self as an evolving being is a path to self acceptance.

Self Portrait (Knees).

Self Portrait (Mouth).

Self Portrait (Thighs).

Self Portrait (At Rest With Headache).

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