Love will tear us apart is the title of an iconic song by British post-punk band Joy Division that has inspired this year’s International Festival of Photography - Encontros de Imagem of Braga, Portugal.
In face with a hostile and adverse environment that endures in most European countries, where the current society is challenged by a crisis of values, the new festival’s director Ângela Ferreira believes that human relationships are urgent and is crucial to reflect on interpersonal relationships or even on the traditional paradigm of family. Thus the main theme of this festival is Love and Family, which are explored in several photographic projects developed by more than an hundred distinct authors in more than thirty shows. The main exhibitions were presented in the Portuguese cities of Braga, Lisbon and Oporto but this year the Festival also itinerated overseas to São Paulo and Fortaleza, in Brazil. From the immensity of exhibited projects some stood out very clearly, revealing a multitude of perspectives, interpretations and experiences that represent feelings or connections such as Love and Family.
Matias Costa in The Family Project (Casa dos Crivos, Braga) started from his own family photo archives to reveal memories that narrate some of the major events that marked the 20th Century such as the persecution of Jews in the Czarist Russia or in the Nazi Germany, the two world wars and the European migration to America. This project culminates with the migration of Latin Americans to Europe that Costa experienced as a child. At the same time, this is also a project that evokes the historic evolution of photography, from the typical monochromatic images to the saturated colours of the 80s. In another exhibition, presented in Espaço Mira (Oporto), Nelson D’Aires also used archival images to celebrate the power of photography as a perpetuation of memory in time. In his Family Album project, Aires used as a starting point a photographic book by Pedro António Gonçalves , which portrays several generations of Mora’s family. When faced with these images, Aires felt an inner need to locate the whereabouts of these people, and ended up developing an entire photo-ethnographic project around them, revealing the marks of time throughout their environment and the way current life circumstances have shifted.
In opposition to Nelson D’Aires’s project, that reflects on reunions and seeks to perpetuate memory as a continuous moment in time, Jorge Miguel Gonçalves’s project Casamento/Divórcio/Diversos is a deep observation about institutional spaces such as civil conservatories, simultaneously cold and uncharacterized, wrapped in several and discordant emotional burdens. These are spaces where marriages or divorces take place thus forcing us to reflect on the various symbolic meanings that these kinds of spaces may hold. This latter project was displayed in the exhibition She Loves me, She loves me not at the Mosteiro de S. Martinho de Tibães, curated by Rui Prata.
Also in this exhibition we were confronted with the powerful images and texts of Jonathan Torgovnik. In his project Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape, Torgovnik revealed the side effects of a brutal reality that have impacted an entire society, the 1994 Rwanda’s Genocide of millions of Tutsis. This project discloses stories of Rwandese women that during this dark period suffered rape and torture, and contracted HIV/AIDS or got pregnant by their attackers, but against all odds managed to survive. More than 20.000 children were born from these vicious rapes. These are photographs that unveil a collective memory of a heavy past through the voice of these courageous women, mostly untold to a wider and public audience until now .
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the project Waiting of Russian artist Jana Romanova (Mosteiro de S. Martinho de Tibães, Braga) and the Athens Youth from the Portuguese artist Pauliana Valente Pimentel (Galeria Boavista, Lisbon). The former depicts young Russian pregnant couples living in Saint Petersburg or Moscow. These are photographs captured during the early morning and most portray these couples on their sleep. This project formed by 40 photographs, where each image represents one week of pregnancy, can also be seen as a documentary representing the last generation of people born before the fall of the Soviet Union and the announcement of a new generation who will only know their country through history books. Athens Youth was developed in 2012 during an artistic residence in Athens, and aims to expose a reliable portrait of the contemporary young Greek generation, which survives in this iconic city in a peculiar period of precariousness and uncertainty. This is a series constituted by eighteen photographs and one video co-produced with Sofia Riscado. In this project Pimentel reflects, inquiries and reveals issues of identity, sexual or cultural manifestation of a generation that is experiencing the announcement of an abrupt deterioration of social, political, economic and cultural values.
Athens Youth is a refection of a specific reality but it can be brought to a wider perspective, by transposing it to other European countries, such as Spain or Portugal, and eventually we can infer that Pauliana Pimentel is impelling the audience to reflect about established concepts of democracy and values that still constitute our contemporary Western societies, whose citizens “have no dreams, but [persistent] omens” (1).
(1) Chico Buarque, Mulheres de Atenas, 1976.