I ran into Herberto in an event organized by a mutual friend. He was shooting some photos, but it was another thing that grabbed my attention — he seemed fully present in the moment and fully absorbing the world around him. It was my clue.
I started talking with him, and we quickly realized that we both liked to help young people. I don’t remember how much time it took, but soon, through him and a friend who shoots videos of hip hop groups, I was discovering that Lisbon, the city where I was born and raised, had many more layers to uncover. What some people call the invisible city.
You can be impressed by Herberto’s photos, his contagious smile, his calming voice, or his beginner’s mindset — among many others things. But most people don’t know his impact on many communities through what I call “kind activism” — the one that’s done in the fringes, in the spaces in-between.
As you’ll see in this interview, sometimes it takes time, and knowing different realities, to become aware of the things that matter the most.
Bird’s Eye View
Can you give us a glimpse of your life story?
I was born in Guinea-Bissau and moved just after a few months to S. Tomé where I lived until I was 18 years old. I had a very common childhood and adolescence, apart from the fact that we had to deal with our father’s health problems.
I was very shy, reserved, and didn’t have many friends. I loved having a good conversation with my closest friends and reading my father’s books.
I was always very curious and tried to go beyond the limits imposed by the insularity of the place where I grew up.
I moved to Portugal at age 18, started my senior year, and then joined ISCTE where I studied industrial engineering management.
It was during my time at ISCTE that I discovered photography, fashion, and theater. It was a very intense phase where everything happened simultaneously. I was discovering a new world and, at the same time, seeing all my dreams fading away.
I dropped out, and became a photographer, and also worked in fashion, theater and television. I tried almost everything, but always without much dazzle.
In the meantime, I got married and had children. We moved to the north where we stayed there for five years, moved to Lisbon for another five, and we are now in the south, in Alentejo.
How do you see your role in contributing to a better world?
My contribution starts with myself. I always try to be a better version of myself. I believe that we can all, if we feel like it, continue to learn and improve. And that also means knowing ourselves and having clear values. Values can determine how we see the world and how we relate to it.
Then, being the best father and best companion. Making the best contribution to my children’s education and training.
The third level is my relationship with the outside world and my professional life — for which the previous points are determinant. As an image creator, I want to contribute to a more just and balanced world.
What’s your take on the current social movements?
I recently decided to disconnect from social media and almost everything that is more mainstream. I only know about the news that comes to me occasionally.
But what I can feel is that we are experiencing moments of great social tension. The world is increasingly polarized from the political point of view, widening the gap between the very rich and the poor. The pandemic situation brought more anxiety, more unemployment, and more distrust and more control over citizens. Increased racial tension, cases of police violence.
This whole situation shows that the role of social movements is increasingly more important in helping to overcome these issues.
I have also been observing from a distance, but I worry a lot. I feel that it is an endless fight and that the combat strategies need to be continually adapted.
Every time I talk with you, I sense a big openness to understand other people’s views and perspectives. Can you share some thoughts about that?
Yes, it’s part of my values to develop a capacity for compassion and empathy. It is something that I intentionally practice. If we all have this awareness, the world would certainly be a better place.
First, do not start with the premise that you are right and others are wrong. Second, we learn more when our perspective on things is more comprehensive. I don’t feel anxious to prove that I’m right. Although it costs me, I always try to respect different perspectives.
You told me that you overlooked Lisbon’s peripheral neighborhoods’ human landscape while living there. When and why did you start to notice?
There was a period in my life, right at the beginning of my arrival to Portugal, when I lived first in Odivelas, then on Linha de Sintra, and then on Margem Sul. During this phase, I was completely absorbed by my degree and by my endeavors in other areas (photography, theater, fashion, and TV). I had no social life in the places I passed. They were places where I just went to sleep. I didn’t have the opportunity to socialize and make friends. So many things went completely unnoticed on my radar. I was not even aware of how these sites were viewed by the center. I was not aware that they were on the peripheral. First, because I didn’t have social relationships there, and second because I had lived for about a year in each of these places. I ended up moving to the center where my social and professional life was. I didn’t have the opportunity to compare realities.
I only had this awareness after moving from Lisbon to the north of Portugal. This distance allowed me to see things with a greater perspective. It was like zooming out and seeing almost everything at the same time. Then I started to notice the social, territorial, and racial differences between these places and the center where I spent most of my time.
After being there for a while, I started to notice or to look at Lisbon with different eyes. In Lisbon, there was much more diversity of cultures and environments. Just go out on the street to see people from various geographic backgrounds. That did not happen in the place where we lived. For example, I started watching videos on YouTube of different environments that were unfamiliar to me. I saw rap videos with images captured in neighborhoods that I almost didn’t believe were in Lisbon. I realized that there was a lot to discover about another Lisbon that did not appear in the media.
You’ve been involved in giving a voice to people in those neighborhoods, in your low-profile and kind way. What moves you to do so?
After discovering this Lisbon, which was invisible to many, I felt that I should contribute and give visibility to its causes. In the process, I became aware of the challenges they faced, and I began to reflect on how I could contribute to their cause. My connection was almost always with young people and with a strong connection to urban culture, music, and especially hip-hop.
I started by photographing them and documenting my experiences in interacting with them. I always offered them the images I made, which were often used to promote their work. I shared my insights on how they could improve the communication of their work.
The result of these experiences has been used as an art project that, in collaboration with the photographed people, I have taken to other spaces such as galleries, museums, and even academic spaces.
Learning and Reinvention
What does learning mean for you? And how do you learn?
Learning is one of the pillars of my values. It is what moves me in almost everything I do. For me, everything makes more sense if I have to learn something and if it helps me to evolve. I always try to learn in all the interactions that I establish. In addition, I reserve a space every day where I intentionally devote some time to research any topic that arouses my curiosity.
I would like to learn a lot more with others, but it has not always been possible so I learn a lot on my own in the research I do.
How have you reinvented yourself throughout life?
Throughout my journey, I have been dealing with major changes. I moved to another country, I moved to another city four times and I changed my job four times.
Just moving to another city has already forced me to reinvent myself. The changes I made forced me to always look for new job opportunities, make new friends and change many habits and routines.
During these processes, you are obliged to reevaluate everything you have done before and often leave behind a lot of the burden of the past and sometimes start over almost from scratch.
Almost all of these changes went hand in hand with my family, which means that there is always a common thread. These were difficult but necessary decisions, always in the sense of self-improvement. I always try to fulfill my purpose as it becomes clearer to me.
How do you see yourself in the generalization/specialization spectrum?
I’m quite a generalist, I don’t consider myself an expert on anything. I have many interests that I explore. I like to think that I have a polymath spirit. I really appreciate the determination and focus that it takes to get to specialization, but I also love the pleasure of knowing a little bit of everything and getting into everything, and being able to mix and experiment.
Past and Future
Can you share some of the major lessons you’ve learned in life?
- The importance of being patient, focused, and persistent.
- Always being ready to rethink or question my assumptions.
- Being strict with myself and more tolerant with others.
- Always have a beginner mindset.
Which big questions do you have on your mind currently?
- How can I live in coherence with my values?
- How to deal with different perspectives from mine and how to be open to listening and absorbing what may be useful?
How do you face the future? Do you make plans for it?
I try not to make big plans. I try to live in the present as best I can without worrying too much about the future. I think the best way to prepare for the future is to be present at all times.
What should I have asked, but didn’t?
Why do you think you were invited to the reinvention.space?