I only care about the truth. This statement, though not false, might well not be entirely true. Fact is: I’ve been obsessed with truth since a very young age. It first manifested in an existentialist type of quest and then evolved into other things – radical politics, artistic expression, spirituality, etc. – contaminating every aspect of my life. Finally, the concept of authenticity came to enlighten what had been unsettling me from the get-go.

In my pursuit of aesthetic authenticity, photography, in particular, kept failing to reach the standards of what I wanted to explore. Within the spectrum of this photosensitive media, cameraless photography slowly became the only dimension that somehow echoed what I began understanding as the capacity to produce some sort of artwork that had a soul. It all circled back to let me know that, once again, it wasn’t really cameraless photography per se that made that authenticity more tangible, but, instead, the way I practiced it: it was about praxis and, in sum, how my overall body dealt with the process of creating something.

As we all know, every particle of our being in the universe is connected. I came to learn that at the core of my dilemma is and has always been the impact cognitive processes have on my life and how defense mechanisms evolved from something that protected me into something pathological, that prevents me from existing without them. How can we access and connect to nature? Connect with things in their “natural state”, believing that such “natural conditions” exist only without a cognitive understanding of them. Once things come into our perception and we process them, understand them, adapt and memorize our experience of, with and towards them, it feels almost impossible to access their nature again. It is not, but challenging that perception is a struggle, a work-in-progress.

Performance, as an expanded field, is where I’ve been able to find a sort of equilibrium between actions and reactions, processes that are pathological (traumatic, stuck on behavioral patterns, mental mechanisms of defense, etc.) and processes that have the potential to create future (to make anew, to revitalize and challenge the way I feel and experience the world). That equilibrium is never constant, of course, but recognizing it exists challenges me to address it. Taking responsibility for the choices I make, whenever I let that equilibrium go to shit.  

As I keep exploring all sort of therapeutic approaches in order to try and make my life manageable, the other day I came out of a therapy session feeling like some sort of magic had just happened and I had been able to experience and internalize profound change. Because that pseudo revolution happened under the state of hypnosis, I didn’t feel the need to share something very important with my therapist, that is: part of what happened was only made possible because of my experience with therapeutic photography.

I keep telling students who want to take on traumatic experiences as subject for their works, that there’s a successful way to go about it, meaning: therapeutic photography (also, here understood as an expanded field), when done truthfully, transforms our perception of things, empowering us to change our lives. During that therapy session I kept following versions of myself that exist only photographically. I left therapy that day with a strong sense of future. I kept thinking: it is possible, I’ll get there, I know who that future self is and I know it’s in me. Somehow I understood part of what keeps happening when I engage with “therapeutic self-portraiture”: what the camera registers is not the present, nor the past, it’s a future that may or may not be out of reach. That’s why I’m almost always unable to relate to those ghostly presences. I do recognize the physical resemblances, of course, but there’s a mismatch regarding the soul, like it’s neither here nor there. It’s understandable: photographic apparatus register the way light interacts with certain materials, in a given time-space continuum; our inner selves, on the other hand, don’t necessarily fit those conditions. Maybe all portraits are projections onto other timely conditions, parallel universes where matter and materiality somehow coincide.

I managed to hang on to that ghostly presence for about a week before falling out of balance again and going back to thinking “It’s possible, but I can’t”. During that week I kept having these unexpected encounters with people who seemed to be addressing that ghostly me, but then got home, looked at my reflection on the mirror and saw the self stuck on the cognitive me. The camera lens, on the other hand, kept showing me that those future selves are still here. That routine of self-portraiture, though often harsh, is healing. It takes time, but it’s a step forward.

Non-ordinary states of consciousness are a great compliment to therapy. On their own, no matter how one gets there, altered states of consciousness are not a solution, but as tools or mechanisms to work on perception and promote change, they can be almost miraculous. Profound changes in perception take time to install themselves and they can work like roller-coasters: in an instant we’re high, right on top, having a bird’s-eye-view on our broken selves and finding ways to fix things, but in the following instant we’re crashing, having to face the behavioral patterns that keep preventing us from getting there.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working with an artist, Ana Caetano, designing a course about performance and photography, which is now well underway. We had this idea of bringing our practices together and try to make something new. The premise was simple enough: to approach durational performance in a way that could be materialized in cameraless processes. Most performances known to us have been either live and/or recorded by cameras. We were looking for another sort of register, something more abstract, less figurative, aiming at registering not the momentum in a given time-space continuum, but the overlap or juxtaposition of body, expanded time, movement and light. I guess we’re looking for materials and forms that can represent the impact performances have on one’s body and mind, and how photosensitive materials can capture the transformative potential of praxis, the strength, the resistance, the exhaustion, the compromise, etc. Letting go of the analogue register or linear discourses in not easy. It takes time. We keep getting stuck on mimesis, in positive/negative registers, sometimes looking for structure or symmetry and avoiding the fluidity of chaos, etc. Now and then we recognize something is happening, something truthful, but it’s still a work-in-progress.

Play is at the core of our experiences. That does not mean we’re always having fun, but we’re playing with boundaries, pulling, pushing, stretching, breaking, reconnecting, healing… It’s doing different things for each of us. What has been made very clear to me is that the group work creates an autonomous energy and the notion of ritual that, as I see it, is at the core of durational performance, is potentiated by that energy.

During the first sessions of that experimental workshop, we set up a bunch of different exercises, designed to challenge trust, interaction, body movements, attraction and repulsion, etc., but whatever we set out to do on those days kept changing and adapting to whatever was the energy of the group on that given day. That fluid, chaotic and organic flow has been fulfilling on its own. The group is now projecting their own individual performances and we hope in the end we can do some sort of public event that accounts for this experience and process.

Bellow, images and videos from the sessions of this experimental lab. More can be seen at our social networks, either in https://www.instagram.com/tiraolhos_atelier_lx/ or https://www.facebook.com/TIRAOLHOSFotografiaExperimental

Video by Mariana Moreira.
Video by Mariana Moreira.
Video by Mariana Moreira.
Video by Mariana Moreira.
photography by Jose Fadolla.

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