About two years ago António Júlio Duarte approached me in order to consider writing an essay about his artwork. The invitation itself and the challenge were tempting, but I hesitated a lot, thought it was more than I could handle. Obviously now I’m writing this because, at some point, I decided to embark on the journey and the result of this collaboration will finally be out next Friday.
Ph. is a bilingual collection of monographs dedicated to contemporary Portuguese photographers that aims to present the expanded and multiple territories of photography. The collection is an initiative of publisher Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda and the editor in charge is Cláudio Garrudo, also an artist who works with photographic imagery. Ph. started in 2017 and is now on its 10th volume, the one dedicated to António. Previous volumes can be found here.
The launch will happen next Friday, the 16th, at 18h30m, in the Library of the publisher’s headquarters.
One of the reasons I hesitated to participate was the collection’s track, regarding the people invited to write the essays. They are all well established and recognized authors, art critics, philosophers, curators and I, being none of that, felt the extra pressure of not fitting in. Anyway – I though – I never do (fit in), so what the hell. I also kept wondering why António wanted me to do this, but I never questioned the nature of his intentions and ended up trusting his confidence in what he was doing might just be enough for both.
Throughout the process of accompanying António and Cláudio’s work, that pressure got diluted as I kept being surprised by how we managed to establish some sort of team dynamics, which somehow grew to feel more organic. Though António’s artwork was the focus, and each of our roles had its boundaries, we kept working towards an autonomous goal: dealing with the premises given, to make the best book possible, something truthful to Antonio´s life and artistic process.
António and Cláudio’s meetings started in February and I joined in in May. I was mostly a passive sitter, observing as they were going thru hundreds of António’s photographs and editing them. Being new to this, I’d never accompanied such a long process and as they kept excluding images from a possible final selection, sometimes it felt violent. The sharpness with which they made decisions often made those sessions a blur: stacks of images on the table, changing hands, moving places, being assigned new post-its and whatnot. As that dance unrolled, I kept writing down my impressions and by the end of the day I usually sat down to make sense of those notes. The essay grew from there.
Their meetings were more than I could account for, but I joined in for just about 4 or 5. As my self-esteem stumbled in the process, I kept feeling the need to have some distance, then some proximity and so on and so forth. António and I also had some parallel conversations about his references, life and work process. Nothing very concrete, always more about stuff that, being structural to the author’s ethics and the work’s aesthetics, is intangible, in a sense even ethereal.
Writing about António’s work was tricky. For once, first I had to write a bunch of bullshit in order to get that out of my chest (some preconceived ideas, surrealistic impressions, etc.) and overcome the dilemma about engaging with the artwork of someone I know in person (António was once my teacher, later we became colleagues at the university, etc.). Whatever I ended up writing about is difficult to sum up. I guess it is mainly an essay about the character of the images he creates: their hunger, their strength, their autonomy, their power as icons.
As the process was coming to an end, we obviously became a bit tired. António is fed up with his images and I’m nauseated by my text. But Cláudio has been tireless in bringing a positive note to all the stages of the process and the meetings, even if under the most unexpected and difficult circumstances. Cláudio is happy with the result, and so are we.
The images that made it onto the book and the way they were arranged (with help from designer Paulo Condez), tell a familiar, yet unforeseen perspective on the past 35 years of António’s work. From where I sit, this book manages to bring to evidence that, whatever the context, all the images António creates come from the same place: a place of urgency to photograph in order to build a world of references in which he fits in, in which he, being somehow a misfit, experiences marvel, amazement, excitement, joy, from which he draws the strength to continue dreaming about a life he may enjoy living. Anyway, we’ll let the book speak for itself.
I’ll take this opportunity to publicly thank António and Cláudio for making me feel welcome all throughout this journey… Thank you!