How come Abrantes? — Photography
Lately, we have been coming back to the questions that inspired us, in the first place to gather around a creative community in Abrantes. How old stories inspire new generations? How can we, in fact, create new inspirational stories to connect with elders and inspire them back?
For this, we have been looking closely at the old stories that might or already do inspire our new generation of creators. For us, photography has always been a storyteller, a way to communicate and also a way to connect generations through the treasury of memories it carries. That’s why this third article, embedded within the How come Abrantes series, will invite you to reflect on photography, presenting you two distinct, although surprisingly similar, visions.
Eduardo is a studio photographer from Abrantes who has worked for almost 60 years in this field.
Photography was at first a coincidence for him. When he was ten, his father passed away, so his brother brought him to Entrocamento to work with photographers until he was sixteen and was able to work for CP (Comboios de Portugal/Portuguese trains).
As Eduardo explains, at first he would be cutting photographs and then, over the course of four years, he evolved a lot, so, from that moment on, he knew he didn’t want to do anything else rather than photography. He worked in a very popular place, so he got to know all the locals. Back then, a photographer should wear a suit and tie, something completely opposite to the blue jeans uniform at CP. He didn't want to do it and ended up in photography.
This is when it became a choice for him. Even during his years at the military service in São Tomé they found out he was a photographer and put him to work in a laboratory. Eduardo thus started his professional path at the age of twelve and so far has never stopped.
But this connection with photography is not only fascinating for his personal journey. Eduardo has, in fact, passed through this whole transformation from film to digital photography. How thrilling or terrifying must it be to adapt to a new reality? How was it then and how is it now?
For a thirteen year old boy I had a lot of questions: Why like this? Why not like that? And then, we always had surprises … At that time, we were almost forced to do things, so the option we had was to learn by ourselves and from older people we had by our side. I guess the best teacher is to actually have work to do ... There were many failures along our way, but that is normal.
For almost 15 years I started to work at 9 am and finish late at night. I used to work here with 4 employees because back then, between 9 am and noon, we could easily have 150 or 200 people to photograph. Everything had to be set up manually, we made our own chemical products. Every picture would take around fifteen minutes to retouch as we were taking out the imperfections with a pencil.
What does it matter to have a nice picture if you then print it and it is a mess?
I worked on photography and controlled every step because it was crucial that everything went well. At that time, it was very important to take a good picture, but no less important was to print it in a right way. What does it matter to have a nice picture if you then print it and it is a mess?
There was this moment when digital started to appear and I’ve tried to stop it.
This transformation that photography had … I have been through all of it. There was this moment when digital started to appear and I’ve tried to stop it. But soon I saw that I had no option, I was rowing against the tide. The only advantage I see in digital is that you can take a picture, see what mistakes you have made and repeat until you get it right. Back then we didn’t have it.
What matters today is the expression of a person, the picture itself can be a complete sloppiness. Back then it was important to capture one’s expression, but the framing had to be faultless. No one from the old school photographers could afford to do “ just something”. At the time of black and white photography, people could easily look at pictures and complain. Photography was also well paid back then. I guess that nowadays people are not demanding much, also because the price they pay is low.
I keep telling my clients: “Don’t shoot just to shoot. Shoot when you think it is good.”
And I think that’s what is missing in this new generation — to be more selective and demanding in photography. Mobile phones can be deceiving and it is only when you print a picture that you can see it is not all right ... I keep telling my clients: “Don’t shoot just to shoot. Shoot when you think it is good.”
Throughout our conversation, it was notable what an honor it is for Eduardo to be a photographer. He shared that sometimes he has pity that clients take his pictures with them. Maybe that’s why he prints some of them and put them on his walls. Every picture he makes has his small, almost invisible, signature on the left bottom part. Eduardo told us that one of his greatest pleasures was to go to other people’s homes and see his work hanging there on their walls.
During the 180 Creative Camp we had George Muncey who, along with Devin Blaskovich, led a workshop on creating a narrative through instant and long format Polaroid photographs. As the creators explained, the idea was for participants to document what they would considered to be the most representative and visually stimulating parts of Abrantes through a shared lens and work in groups in order to create a collaborative documentation of the city and its inhabitants.
George is 22 but, despite his young age, he has already proved to be an inspiration for many amateur photographers to go on and explore film photography. Firstly, through a Facebook group, then on a Youtube channel and, finally, through a print magazine, all in the same platform called Negative Feedback.
George Muncey started to take pictures at a young age, buying his first camera when he was eleven to play around and experiment with it. At fourteen, as part of a school work placement, he had a chance to work for a photo studio and since then he started his professional journey with photography.
He has once shared an article on Why shoot film?, explaining his passage from digital to film photography. For him, being constrained to a set amount of frames to capture the perfect result, and knowing that you’re paying for each shot, really makes you think twice before you take a picture. Withal, picking up 36 great frames from a lab is far more rewarding than shooting a rapid 300 pictures and choosing out a few that you like.
Having listened Eduardo, someone so experienced in photography, inspired us to have a talk with George, reflecting on some of the most cutting-edge questions. How is to be a film photographer in a digital age? Exhibitions or fast related media? Printed or online?
I’ve struggled a lot for the first two years when I dropped school and started to work. It wasn't easy and I had moments when I thought I should just get a “normal” job. For some reason, I just kept pushing through. I believed and I guess I got lucky in it, it worked in the end. But it was definitely bad for a while. I think, as with anything in your life, you just have to keep going until you are good enough.
I think that there is nothing wrong with having a “normal” job to sustain the creative stuff.
But, at the same time, I think that there is nothing wrong with having a “normal” job to sustain the creative stuff. And in fact, if I really needed it, I would do it, because it’s also nice to work in different things. And I think the time you spend abroad makes you appreciate your work even more. And you will do anything to achieve your goals.
Nowadays, there are so many more ways of sharing your work now and, because it’s all new, no one really knows what the right path is anymore. In a traditional sense, people don’t want you to share any of your serious work until you have the whole thing and come out with it all at once. Everything I do is fast media related, you just upload it and spread out with the world and get people connected. Whether to do it quickly or not … I don’t know. It just brings a different way to share.
… every time you press the button it is just a lot of money that is just gone.
With the nature of shooting large format and it being expensive is not something you can do every day. It also means that you really think through the photos and you have to be sure of something you want because every time you press the button it is just a lot of money that is just gone. So I do think through every photo, not if I want it or not.
Most of the time when I am making things, I like to have an idea of how it might work in the end. And I think it is mainly just because I really like exhibitions and prints. I think people connect with them a lot more. When I’ve interviewed one of my favorite photographers he told me that photography is like music. Each version of interpreting the kind of music itself is different.
It is a fully immersive experience and I think that’s why an exhibition is so cool.
So for online, where you just have your own website, that is just like a streaming service, like Spotify, anyone can kind of come in … There is no limitation. But then some people like vinyl, they like going the extra amount to get that little bit of extra benefit, kind of authentic feeling. And that’s like having a photo book. And then there is an exhibition which could be considered a gig or a live show. You actually get a feeling from being there. It is a fully immersive experience and I think that’s why an exhibition is so cool. You are standing there and in some case, the prints are as big as you. That’s like … You are in it.
Eduardo and George represent two generations of photographers, so distinct and so curiously similar. Despite the time gap and different approaches they have on working with photography, they’ve both learned it from just doing it, they share a belief in the beauty and also the need of its physical representation.
As the new generations have more and more contact with only digital photographs, there is a growing need to give continuity not only to film photography, but also to value its physical, print manifestations.
We hope that the workshop during the 180 Creative Camp, as well as the stories and the visions of these two photographers, will encourage our young creators to keep exploring and creating narratives that will reflect our presence but will continue to draw inspiration from the past generations and celebrate them.