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Photography in Portugal

At the start of the new art season in the North of Portugal the focus is on Photography. Under the title Metamorfoses do Real (Metamorphosis of Reality), the 17th Encontros da Imagem (Image Encounters) brings together artists, art critics, curators and galerists, all seeking to convey the real and the unreal through photographic production. As part of the programme seven exhibitions and a large number of conferences and workshops are planned.
In the four individual and three group exhibitions, which bring over fifty international photographers to Braga, there are different approaches towards the theme "Metamorphosis of Reality". Yet, identity, human relations and landscape stand out as the main focuses, approached either through the use of technical manipulation or simply by applying to the ambivalence of perception.

Patrick Tosani, Masque n°16, 2000, 110x140cm

The field of personal identity has been richly exploited in different ways. Patrick Tosani shows six works from the series Masks. Observing the three-dimensionality of a certain object, in this case a pair of trousers, and our movement around it, he changes, from this new angle of seeing, the signified within it: the photographed trousers are now a anthropological symbol of human acknowledgment: masks. By making use of the three-dimensionally projected parameters of a virtual face endowed with movement and an interactive capacity, rather than a sculptured object with volume, Catherine Ikam and Louis Fléri, in their series Portraits. Réel/Virtuel, potentate both the meaning of the face as an exclusive attribute of each individual and physical presence as attendance.
At the main exhibition of the festival is shown Cousin, by the young Iranian artist Ali Mahdavi. It is an interrogation of physical beauty. This very personal work is a metamorphosed portrait of the photographer, who went bald after a medical treatment, showing him slowly being covered in hair to the point where he totally loses all human appearance. The works of Pierre et Gilles and Nancy Burson represent two visually opposite positions. The first ones are photographs touched up with paint in order to create an imaginarily exalted cinematographic glamour of perfection and beauty. Nancy Burson, known for her Human Race Machine or for the development of the Morphing technology, has studied beauty since the eighties, and therefore also its opposite, disfigurement. The series Craniofacial is the result of this research, which aims to create documents of what people have in common, rather than what distinguishes them.

Dita pepe, untiteld, series sefl portrait, 1995-1998

The visualization of the tensions inherent in human interpersonal relations, which we usually fail to perceive, features very strongly in this festival through both reportage and staged situations. The Exhibition Real, too Real puts together a series by three artists who recently worked in prostitution, drug abuse and drug trafficking: Infertile Madonas, from the French Jean-Christian Bourcart, Sehsüchtig Sehnsüchtig, from the German Peter Hendricks, and Meeting Place, from the Danish Johnny Jensen. These three series are three perspectives on the same reality: scarlet images of brothels in Frankfurt; photographs of dead or moribund woman; remains. Dita Pepe shows us another approach to our relations with others in the solo show Self Portraits. She sets up the possibility of being someone else, taking on an identity different from her own, in spaces which are not hers and positioning herself like a chameleon actress by the side of those she photographs.
Place, time and memory continue to be important themes of contemporary photographic production. Encontros da Imagem shows several authors connected to this somehow ancestral moment in the history of photography. At the individual show Paisagem Artificial (Artificial Landscape) Didier Massard revisits the Romantics way of seeing reality in landscape models, constructed and photographed in his studio. Andreas Gefeller, also known for confusing the oppositions of day/night and light/shadow in his cityscapes, shows now the series Supervisions. It consists of images of urban scenes photographed from above, turning them into plans, delaying our recognition of the photographed reality. Angela Mendes's work, in her Retratos Pintados (Painted Portraits) goes beyond issues of identity. In the technique as well as in the esthetics, she evokes the time when one would expect to bring up sounds and stories from a still image of a person. The condensation of the sense of historical memory is resent in Mi Souvenir by Joan Rabascall, photographs of collected miniature televisions, as well as in Doris Frohnapfel's photographs of the former Nazi aerodrome in Herdla, Norway.

Andreas Gefeller, supervisions

During the last sixteen photography festivals, the body which organizes these meetings - the Photography and Cinema Cultural Association of Braga - has developed a coherent work of photographic documentation of the city of Braga. In the last four years several artists were invited to construct their Memórias da Cidade (Memories of the City), the title under which the works were made public. This year however, for financial reasons, only one artist was invited to participate: the Hungarian Ágnes Szabics. In the work she developed for the Tibães Monastery she continued her site specific work: she photographed ceramic tiles and then returned the images to the place where they were shot.
The return of the festival after its forced suspension last year due to financial difficulties brings, for this and other reasons, only a relative optimism for the future of Portuguese photography festivals. Despite the fact that there was to celebrate last year's first edition of the photo biennale LisboaPhoto, it should not be forgotten that the Coimbra Pioneer Encontros de Fotografia has been suspended now for four years due to lack of finances.

Text: Paula Januario
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