"I didn’t want to create postcards from Poland", says Cristiano Mascaro, a Brazilian documentarian and photographer of architecture, whose photographs are presented in the Kraków-based MCK cultural centre. The artist told us about the glamour of the shipyard’s ruins and about the pleasure of seeing the photographic landscape of Łódź and Gdańsk’s historical emotions.
During the few study visits you made to Poland at the invitation of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, you went to four cities: Gdańsk, Warsaw, Łódź and Kraków. Did any of them particularly intrigue you?
I was surprised with Poland. In Brazil, separated from this part of the world, we try to seize the most information about geographically distant countries. It just so happened that my high school was located right next to the Polish consulate. There, I become acquainted with Polish cinema, graphic design and above all with the Polish poster school. I visited Gdańsk, Kraków, Warsaw, and then I heard about Łódź. This was a major discovery for me!
I knew Łodź from Roman Polański’s films only, but I was surprised by the diversity of the architecture, and this is the main topic of my interests. During the beautiful, sunny days I walked around Łódź with my camera and each alley was a fascinating discovery!
In Gdańsk, on the other hand, I felt historical emotions, because we have a similar history in Brazil, when the leader of a workers’ movement became the president. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came from a similar environment, we lived under a military dictatorship, however the social movement had a smaller scale.
In Brazil we followed everything that had to do with Poland’s Solidarność. And now, after 25 years, I felt these emotions again. When I spoke with the guide in Stocznia I said that, despite the time that has passed, the zeitgeist from a quarter of a century before is still strongly present here, especially around the former workshop of Lech Wałęsa. The visit to Nowa Huta in Kraków was also very emotional – a new city constructed to be a communistic utopia.
But you’re not telling stories about places, but, as you said, you seek for the traces of everyday life, traces of people.
One day, there was this beautiful, foggy morning in Warsaw. I photographed the skyscrapers of the city centre bathed in fog, wonderful shots, but the topic of my works was different. I didn’t want to create postcards from Poland. After watching a show-installation by Stephan Stroux in the Katowice-based Huta Cynku – I knew that I want to tell about industrial history and culture, about memories of work and places. That’s why I photograph traces of human activity in the abandoned, inoperative industrial places, graphics on the wall, worker’s trousers left hanging on some string in a factory. This way I reminisce about the people who have worked here in the past. People do appear on some of my photos, but architecture always plays the main role, understood as urban scenery.
Remarkable Polish photographer Tomasz Tomaszewski, a specialist in intimate portraits, reiterates that one should become invisible to take a good photograph. Architecture poses a different kind of challenge.
Architecture evokes enormous emotions in me, one of the remarkable Brazilian art historians and precursors of modernism said that architecture is music, and music is architecture. I get chills when I enter a cathedral or a building. Unfortunately I don’t possess perfect pitch, something that allowed Beethoven or Chopin to compose from an early age, but what musicians find in sound I’ve got in my sight. My sight replaces my hearing, I draw physical pleasure from seeing.
Portraits are an equally important photographic topic to me, I’ve got about 500 of them in my collection. In Brazil photographing people is often regarded as an act of aggression. I would like to return to Poland exactly because I want to take portraits, although I think that coming into contact with people may be very difficult due to the language barrier. Another topic that arose during my visit to Poland is the interiors of homes. I would like to see how people live, what they’re surrounded by, how their spaces look. I’m often asked what I like to photograph when it comes to interiors. I always reply that it’s what’s most individual, unique, personal: objects, images, decorations they hang on the walls. Everything that says something about the personality and character of the residents.
I would discover much more in Praga if I was able to enter houses. My attention was also attracted to gates, often demolished, covered with posters or graffiti. In the abandoned factories of Ursus I found tools that seemed as if they were left just for a moment by workers that went to get lunch. Similar kind of work was carried out by a Brazilian photographer of Polish origin who documented Polish colonies, communities in the south of Brazil, who published an album Tu i tam / Here and there. I’m not sure if you know that we’ve got a “little Poland” in Brazil; I was fascinated by Polish homes festooned to the very last spot with images of saints, photographs, souvenirs.
The history of workers, as well as the history of Warsaw’s Praga residents, are also often histories of poverty, social exclusion, unemployment, marginalised life. Do you, as an artist and documentarian, feel the need to speak of this matter as well?
I was never interested in photography which denounced poverty or aesthetical delight over poverty – it’s a photoreporters’ work. If I photograph poverty as evidence, trace of the way people live in particular time and place. I’m not informing about a social problem. Photography in Brazil focuses on two extremities – aestheticization of poverty and exploration of misfortune, and this has an explanation in journalistic photography, or photography of nature, the beauty of the Amazon rainforest, exotic flora and fauna. And between these two extremes is the everyday expanse which I try to cultivate. And to lighten, aestheticise and to raise the everyday to the level of art.
The whole world now distributes images in a new way, the popular press titles have commitments towards media syndicates and politicians, now anyone can make a recording of a protest or an act of violence, in Brazil we have organisations which help to share recordings like that. Artistic photography can have an ideological charge, but one has to be careful not to turn that into propaganda, carried around with help of images, like I recently saw in Russia.
I live near São Paulo and poverty is an everyday thing, but I do feel a strong ethical barrier against capturing it in an image. There was a Brazilian illustrator, writer, humorist and comedian, Millor Fernandes, who used to say: “don’t trust the one who benefits from his ideals”. I think that one can separate political views from one's work as a photographer, whose goal is aesthetics, not ideology. A photographer’s perspective should always come from his fragility.
Cristiano Mascaro is a Brazilian photographer interested in urban landscapes. He graduated from the faculty of architecture and city planning of the São Paulo University in 1968. His main interest now is photography, mainly of architecture. As opposed to the famous couple of German photographers, Bernd and Hilla Becher, he doesn’t focus on archiving vanishing industrial forms. Mascaro uses the visual medium to analyse identity, memory, and space. His documentary photographs from Buenos Aires, Havana, Berlin, Paris, New York, Tokyo and São Paulo have been presented at numerous exhibitions and are parts of private and public collections (e.g. in Centre Pompidou).
His photographic impressions of Poland are showcased at an exhibition The Traces of People. Cristiano Mascaro/Sławomir Rumiak in the Kraków-based MCK. Next year, the photographs will be presented in one of Brazil’s most important galleries of modern art – Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo. Culture.pl is the exhibition’s producer.
Author: Anna Legierska, Culture.pl, transl. Agata Dudek, 27/04/15.