quinta-feira, maio 28, 2015

In Praise of Light and Shadow: "João Abel Aboim's Photo Exhibition at Centro Cultural de Belém"

Photo Exhibition : "O Elogio da Luz e da Sombra" (In Praise of Light and Shadow)

(All of the exhibitions' photos on this post were taken by me, by courtesy of Centro Cultural de Belém and João Abel Aboim)

I believe that no art form transforms us quicker than that of a photo. Having absorved the message of an astounding photo, the subject's sense of wonderment and newfound wisdom comes together like two pages in a book. It's a wonderful thing when an amazing photo impels you to a bright new day. 

The photograph is always there to record the light and darkness. Tanizaki's quote that Aboim uses to underline his exhibition clearly demonstrates that:

"We rejoice in that flimsy pale glow,
made of exterior light of an uncertain outlook,
clinging to the dusky surfaces of the walls,
retaining with difficulty a last speck of life.
For us, that pale glow on a wall, or that half-light, far surpasses any ornament
and seeing it never tire us"

(My own loose translation from the Portuguese Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's text on the picture above)

My personal history with Tanizaki's vision is for another time and place.

I've been a film buff for as long as I can remember. I've idled away my formative years in the warm, dark womb of the Cinemateca Portuguesa (weekdays: 18:30 and 21:30; Saturdays: 15:00, 18:30 and 21:30), there to be enchanted  by the likes of "Johnny Guitar", "Casablanca", "The Maltese Falcon", "The Big Sleep", "Stagecoach", and to thrill at the adventures of "My Darling Clementine" starring Victor Mature (my favourite "doc" Holliday) and Henry Fonda. I still remember the thrill of watching "Stagecoach", my first film at the Cinemateca Portguesa, and also for the first time on the big screen! It has one of the most stunning entrances in all of the cinema. I hear a shot, and cut suddenly to Ringo standing by the trail, twirling his rifle: "Hold it!," cries the unmistakable voice of John Wayne...I was hooked for life...

I've turned this impromptu apprenticeship to the my most satisfying advantage, i.e., I consider myself to be a connoisseur of the so-called classical cinema, particulary the American one of the Golden Age. I suppose it's a sign of my age to call such a youth misspent; it'd have been regarded so in the 1980s when the cinema was for grown-ups and children were allowed to go only to Saturday matinees or, as a special treat, to see the latest Disney feature.

But those were the days when, certainly in Portugal, film was still not recognized for what it is - the art form of the 20th century. João Abel Aboim has always been at the forefront of Portuguese Cinema. The afternoons and nights at the Cinemateca Portuguesa allow me to recognize quality when I see it on the screen. Aboim was definitely one of the greatest, as this exhibition testifies. I know nostalgia is tricky. Distance does indeed lend enchatment to the view, and I've many times been disappointed  to find that a fondly remembered film had far less appeal that I had remembered. Not so with most of the Aboim's films. Some of them I consider to be classics of the Portuguese Cinema. What strikes me most forcibly is their high quality of craftmanship. The studios at the time were not that great, but there were always very skilled people on the sets: directors, writers, photographers, composers, set designers, and sound technicians, to turn out entertainment for the Portuguese film buffs. Those times, to state the obvious, are no more. Portuguese Cinema nowadays is a different "beast" altogether...

What are photos and words used for, be it Cinema, or any other art form? I use them to keep the darkness at bay...

Aboim's photos that take their rightful place in this wonderful exhibition come wrapped in a kind of mystery, that only cinema can give them. Perhaps some higher entity wanted these things to be captured, at just that particular instant in time. Or maybe the camera that captured these moments on those particular days did so purely by chance. This mystery applies equally to a photo capturing the moment Manoel de Oliveira, just arriving on the film set of the movie “O Princípio da Incerteza” (2002), imitating a cockerel with the french photographer Renato Berta; incidentally that cockerel was always on top of Oliveira's shooting camera, as explained by Aboim during one of the impromptu lectures he gave in his photo exhibition. 

João Botelho, Fernando Matos Silva, Fernando Lopes, Paulo Rocha, Jorge Silva Melo and Manoel de Oliveira are some of directors whose films were photographed by João Abel Aboim and shown in this exhibition. One of Michael Ballhaus's films is also present (“Das Autogramm”), shot in Portugal.

Some of the more unknown pictures have also photos: “Quem és tu?” (2001) by João Botelho, “O Princípio da Incerteza”(2002) by Manoel de Oliveira, and “O Delfim”(2002) by Fernando Lopes.

(João Abel Aboim in the background "explaining"one of his photos)

(Manoel de Oliveira, climbing down the steps, at my beloved Cinemateca Portuguesa)

(Fernando Lppes)

(João Abel Aboim)

(Paulo Rocha on the left)

(Manoel de Oliveira)

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