Rio, an Inner Shore by Vincent Catala
“Like many people I had the impression that I knew Rio de Janeiro before I had even lived there. Images and descriptions of it were so visual: the city and the beach, the dazzling light; all your senses are blown away. In fact, when I arrived, I thought to myself: “this is Paradise on Earth.” Like those travelers that the writer Blaise Cendrars made fun of when they discovered Guanabara Bay, the ocean gateway to the city.
Now, three years later and my fascination is as strong as ever for Rio. But these days, I look at it more from within. The power of illusion that it radiates entices me more than its beauty. But what if the myth wasn’t the city itself, but the idea of it? A part of the world that has always been a fantasy, a distant jetty, the promise of a new beginning and at the same time, discovering a reality far from the imagined depictions.”
“Rio still summons the same repetitive, if not stereotypical figures. On the one hand, an idyllic sea front, neighbourhoods with famous names, a certain exuberance of bodies and customs. On the other the favelas, exuding other energies and Brazil’s primal vitality. Yet in a city that stretches over 30 miles and comprises 160 neighbourhoods, the favelas or tourist areas in the Zona Sul represent only a fraction of the urban fabric.
From the 70-year old administrative Centro, to the more recent housing developments in the western and northern parts — not forgetting the huge plant-covered wastelands and stretches of motorways linking them together — another perception is slowly imposing itself. The backdrop of this city appears unresolved; an empty, silent almost artificial urban community. Solitary, pensive and motionless figures, unfailingly captured in their everyday environments emerge in these successive spaces.”
“There is unspoken correspondence between the locations and the individuals: the inhabitants of this city do not communicate with each other. In fact, where are we exactly? And when? And there is almost always a humid and milky light creating vagueness and obscuring benchmarks. In this city, now as strange as it is familiar, I find hesitant, empty and silent characters. I interpret and visualize a search for balance, located somewhere between a fading order and its resurgence.”
“I began preparing for this project in 2012, before moving to Rio. I had it in mind to make it a long-term project from the start. All of the rest was organised around the objective to achieve this very personal series, as a resident of Rio, not just a traveller passing through. I knew that I would need time for this.”
“I am very interested in Rio de Janeiro’s power of illusion. The imagined representation is not necessarily the reality experienced. Hence, in my work there are these empty spaces, these solitary people and this light that clouds certainties and benchmarks. I would not have been able to produce this project without living on site for several years. From this perspective the city is the venue for an experiment where an objective, frontal reality combines with the elements of a much more personal and subjective account.”
“This project has been driven by figures representing emptiness, silence and expectation from the start. I would like to point out that there are no negative connotations: space and the opportunity to be alone are synonymous with freedom for me. I am always looking for a convergence of volume and light where the individual, whether present or absent, always remains to scale. This may be a street corner, a silhouette immobilized at night, a tower under construction, a pensive real estate agent in his office… These places and characters sometimes result from chance encounters or at other times lengthy scouting is required beforehand.”
“With my commissions, as well as my personal work, I try as often as possible to address and contextualise relationships between individuals and their space, and subjective representations of them: solitude, freedom and their place in the world.”
“I found many people on their own in Rio. This solitude is sometimes, but not always, endured. In this city there is a very specific relationship with time, with a sense of slowness. It isn’t unusual therefore to encounter immobile, prostrate and contemplative figures.”
“For this personal project that I started in 2013 I work with a large format camera that uses traditional films. Getting the films and developing them is proving really complicated here. Traditional film is impossible to find in Brazil and laboratories are therefore also closing. The city context isn’t straightforward either. You need to know the ground rules in Rio. Even as a foreigner and fluent in Portuguese there are places you cannot go alone. Furthermore the town is very spread out, and you can be stuck in traffic jams for 2, 3 or 4 hours. You have to plan ahead. For this project for example, I’ve got into the habit of working about 10 to 15 days consecutively per month otherwise progress is too slow. I’m conducting this work on my own, which presents a source of freedom as well as various constraints.“
Thanks for reading this interview with Rio-based photographer Vincent Catala.
Originally published on Art Narratives