Burning down the house


A Brazilian poet named Mario Quintana once wrote that we should always go out to the street as if we were running away from home. It’s a poem called “The true art of traveling” (A verdadeira arte de viajar):

A gente deve sempre sair à rua como quem foge de casa

Como se estivessem abertos diante de

nós todos os caminhos do mundo

Não importa que os compromissos, as obrigações, estejam ali

Chegamos de muito longe

de alma aberta e o coração cantando!

(in a free translation:

We should always go out to the street as as if we were running away from home

as if all the ways of the world were wide open in front of us

It doesn’t matter that the commitments and obligations are all there

We’ve came from far away

with an open soul and a singing heart!)

In portuguese, the word “home” is the same as the word “house”: casa.

I’m a Brazilian photographer currently on a trip taking pictures. I photograph mostly in a candid way, something in between Documentary and Street Photography. It’s been so far 9 months traveling through parts of Europe and Asia. A question I’m often asked is how I finance a long trip like this; how I deal with the costs of traveling for months, photographing for myself, on what I consider a personal project, without being actually paid. (A correction: I’m not often asked; I’m usually asked, by people who — with a sincerity that I find quite touching — put into words a curiosity that others may also have but are too polite to ask. Personally, I’m never bothered by anyone who are curious enough to ask me questions on such matter. Just a little embarrassed, for reasons — I admit — I never bothered to investigate…) I suppose it is an important matter.

I don’t believe in such a thing as traveling the world in 6 months or a year. I’m not doing that. Still, you need money. Unless, of course, you are a twenty something who can just sleep anywhere and eat anything — or photographer Joseph Koudelka, one of my inspirations for this project. Well, basically, the money I’m using came from my family’s house.

After the death of my father, 15 years ago, while I was living in New York City — and 5 years after the death of my mother -, my sister and I had to decide on what to do with the family apartment in which we had spent our childhood and adolescence. The house we grew up in. I still have the memory of our arrival — us running through an empty space, screaming with joy and pretending to be choosing our bedrooms. It wasn’t really that big, but for us, children, it probably had the magnitude of a real house.

Decades later, the house would be once again an empty space. An extremely painful task that my sister, with the help of my brother-in law and a couple of friends, went bravely through. I was in New York, but to this day I wish I had been there, no matter how painful it would have been.

We had decided to rent it out, which we did for a while. Soon, however, we thought it was best to just sell the house. I have used, in the past years, part of the money to get by, but I kept most of it for a possible future emergency. Of what kind, I can’t be really that sure. (That’s why they’re called future emergency, aren’t they…)

Perhaps I was saving it for a cancer treatment?… Maybe the same one my mother went through and served only to make her last days on Earth an absolute suffering?… Well, I decided to do better and use the money for this photo project — Which, to me, goes beyond Photography. Call it a life project.

But the initial reason I wrote all this was because I was in search of a metaphor. And I had figured Mario Quintana’s poem would provide it. It is certainly a romantic one and it does make sense to me. I especially enjoy the true meaning of it, which resides in the fact that you don’t really need to leave your own country to travel. It is enough to just leave the house. And in that resides also the true meaning of Street Photography as a genre (for as shallow as it might be, at times…). Regardless, I do feel like I’m doing exactly that: running away from home. I’m a little too old to be a runaway, but who cares… Fuck it.

In the end, though, the metaphor might not be as romantic and sweet as I had thought. Perhaps, what I’m really doing is burning down the house. Maybe something we should all do at some point, to burn down the house? Just burn the bitch down.

Which reminds me of an old song from the Talking Heads, a band I loved so much in my teenage years. The one song that starts with:

Watch out, you might get what you’re after.

And ends with:

No visible means of support and you have not seen nothing yet

Everything’s stuck together

I don’t know what you expect staring into the TV set

Fighting fire with fire.