To coincide with our exciting collaboration with Visionaire that celebrates the work of Brazilian Architect Oscar Niemeyer in 3D, we have put together a new editorial project called “In the Gallery | Brasil,” which will feature work from Brazilian partner galleries. Brazilian artist João Luiz Musa has been working as an artist in Brazil, Europe and the United States for more than thirty years now. Known primarily for his striking photographic work, Musa currently has work in our new project space and an exhibition on view at Paddle8 partner gallery Luciana Brito, showing work from two series of images – 24 x 36 and Vila Prudente. We had a chance to ask Musa about the role architecture plays in his work, how he gets inspired to create his long-lasting projects and more – read the full Q&A below!
Paddle8: Many of your images are occupied by both striking and quotidian architecture – are these buildings the focus of your images or do you imagine them functioning primarily as framing or background devices? More generally, how do imagine your work relating to architecture and other built environments?
João Luiz Musa: We’re talking about the “24×36” series. I do not think of the images as photographs of architecture only, but more as scenarios for the characters that are inserted in them. The instant of the photograph being captured is almost a question about what people are doing in this place, a draft that asks who are these people. This question can be answered or not, but I would like to continue in the final photograph, as a question that is redone for those who approach the image.
P8: What inspired your new series 24 x 36? What about the cities and specific locations/people captured in each image has caught and kept your attention over the years?
JLM: What inspires me is still the question of the traveler who wonders “where am I?” all the time. Who are these people, how do they feel? How I see these people in this place is also a frequent question. The digital series begins in 2005 with two trips, one to Paris and another to New York. Part of the essay developed in these years was published in a book “Depois do Inverno” (After Winter), by Edusp, Sao Paulo in 2010.
P8: In your series Vila Prudente, you spent over two years working with and photographing a specific community in São Paulo in the late 1970’s – can you speak about what that process of working with the same community and individuals over the span of several years? What about this community kept you coming back?
JLM: Offering photos to the children was my first approach. They came and asked if I would come back, because they thought I was going to disappear, but I assured them that I would return. But this became a problem, the first delivery of photos was total chaos, because I could not meet the demand, so I had created a problem for myself, but I had to do something in order to get closer to the culture of those people. Then I started to sell the work. At that moment, I did not know much about other professional photographers walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures or even if people were buying many photos, as the population in that area, on the outskirts of São Paulo generally had very low-incomes. What I knew was that the photos were offered in color, with flash, and very poorly made, with a strange light, and expanded into different formats – some as posters. I wanted to offer an image that was worthier and better quality on a beautiful paper, resembling the image you can keep, believing that the image could show the dignity of those people. I had trouble convincing the first client. See, there was this couple of masons, who were passing on the street, saw me with the tripod in hand, stopped me and asked me questions like “Are you a photographer? how much? “At the time, it should’ve cost the equivalent of R$ 20 or R$ 30 ( $10-15 usd); I thought it was fair and inexpensive and would be enough to buy the materials I was using and a little more. I do not think I explained it was in black and white. I wrote down their address and a week later I took a careful copy and made another copy and I carried it in a box, showing the residents the work, then I began to receive multiple orders.
I had the patience to wait for them to call me. I was doing well. “Do you want a picture?” “What is your place?” “Where would you like to shoot?” It was always these questions, because I think that this offer had generated a gradual entry into the community. First, in front of the house on the street, then in the kitchen, then in the room, until you reach the residents’ most intimate spaces. The person chose the scenario. I could make a suggestion, such as to close the window, but if the person disagreed, I accepted the challenge, even if the light was strange.
P8: Can you briefly describe any differences you might see between the two series on exhibition at Luciano Brito with one (Vila Prudente) having been created over 20 years ago and the other (24 x 36) having been made over the past few years? Have you noticed any significant aesthetic or formal shifts between the two series – has your approach to photography changed at all?
JLM: Somehow the two are similar, because both are based on the same principle of knowing, rather than speaking about things. In “Vila Prudente”, there was an appeal by another social class of which I knew nothing, or very little, I wanted to meet these people, to know how they lived, how were their homes were, etc. “24X36″ replaced me on the street in general, through a research that exists as part of the colour that transcribes the image you see, in a way very linked to painting in general, to the strong desire to express myself with something that can be painted. Having studied these transcripts and have done a series of documentations of artworks related to museums, such as the MASP in Sao Paulo. The work progresses in the interpretation of colour year after year, subtle at first, but more visible in the long-term. The digital imaging and printing in inkjet points to a huge universe.