“I’m not interested in knowing how the picture will look like either. I trust the machine and my own acquired abilities to do that. I’m much more interested in discovering things around me and noticing what is slightly off-reality or disconnected.”
Nuno Moreira (born 1982 in Lisbon) is a Portuguese art director and photographer presently living in Tokyo, Japan. He has a degree in cinema. In this interview he talks about his recently published photography book “State of Mind”.
Nuno Moreira, your work has recently been turned into a book called “State Of Mind”. What is it about?
“State of Mind” is a project which emerged from trips around the world and as a personal narrative coming out of the places and people I encountered along the way.
This book serves as a monograph to my work in the last five years and it brings together images of transitory moments and encounters – what I started calling the “thinking moments” of the people that crossed my path. It’s their mental landscapes and I just happen to have recognized those silent moments and capture them on film.
What becomes interesting is that we look at these images and we will never know what the people are thinking or going through. Inside their heads is private space and we (as viewers) will never really know what’s going on. That’s the beauty of it: not knowing what people are actually thinking but still feeling compelled to look closer and imagine different scenarios.
A photographer has many “tools” at hand to bring across his message: lenses, lighting, framing, color treatment etc. Can you elaborate a little bit on the techniques you used for this particular project in order to link form and content?
This is a very good question. My tools are very simple: it’s my mind and body and a camera. If you reduce the tools you have to put more of yourself into what you’re delivering, so that pushes things further. Doing the “State of Mind” project I probably used five different cameras and the only reason for this was merely because I was in different places and had access to different equipment.
“Great directors, painters or writers didn’t start with the best conditions but what kept them going was the need to express something.”
Most of the photos are taken outside and some of them I can recall the exact moment whilst others I lost track of the situation. What connects these photos together is the feeling of suspension all of these images embody. Hopefully there’s a gap in space and time between what should be happening but the person just froze in time. That’s when I took these pictures.
In my opinion what makes things work is not exactly having the right tools but having something to say or putting something very personal and sincere from yourself in what you do. If you think of work that is relevant most of the times it’s because it speaks about something that is universal and everyone can relate with. If it has a personal voice or embodies the authors’ own conflicts it only adds up to being more interesting and coherent.
It’s a common misconception and actually a waste of time to hide behind the idea you need a really good camera and super expensive lens to do develop an interesting body of work. We all know that great directors, painters or writers didn’t start with the best conditions but what kept them going was the need to express something.
What comes first: the idea for a series or single images that at some point fit and fall into place to form a particular body of work?
Most of the times one or two photos lead the way into what will later become a series.
I never really know what will trigger the next photo project. What I do know is that it strongly reflects my life in that moment and that it will envelop me in a kind of semiotic game of attributing associative meanings to the project and vice-versa.
I wish I could predict when the insight moment will occur and the mechanics behind it but I guess it’s very unconscious and sometimes I find the idea by looking directly at images and other times I just happen to relate different topics in my head and afterwards find the image to illustrate those thoughts. I guess this is what we call a conceptual process.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at your photos?
“It’s much more interesting to listen to what people think the image is about than having me explain the real circumstances.”
Hopefully curiosity and some imagination. There’s many people who ask me in exhibitions where and how did I approach a particular person for a photo. I’ve made the test of explaining to these people everything in detail or just shutting my mouth and letting them guess and have wild ideas. Believe me, it’s much more interesting to listen to what people think the image is about than having me explain the real circumstances.
Can you share a little bit your publishing experience? How did you go about the editing for example?
As most photographers will agree the editing process is the hardest part because it usually involves getting rid of a lot of material and that means you have to make choices and cut down the loose ends until the final piece is coherent and round.
This is my first book and works as a kind of monograph. I started with too much raw material so it took me literally one year to put together the 79 images that make part of this book.
Publishing the book was not the most difficult part because I’m a professional graphic artist and I knew exactly how I wanted the object to look like.
I’m also slowly understanding that nowadays any artist can build their own career without a middleman, be it a distributor or publisher. If the work is relevant and reaches the right people sooner or later it will come to everyone’s attention and the web has proven to be the best ally in doing so.
What does a book publication mean to you personally? How is it different from having your images exhibited in a gallery for example?
I’ve come to realize that books speak to me in a much more direct and personal way. The flow of pictures on a physical object create a narrative and visual impression that is totally different from an exhibition space. The fact that I can access these pictures and flip through them anywhere at any given time offers both freedom and consolation.
Seeing pictures on the wall is important and when I do exhibitions I find it interesting to come up with a sequence that makes sense according with spatial and physical characteristics but I do prefer the intimacy of the book and the fact that I can return to that universe any time I want.
One general question: What do you consider the most important developments in contemporary photography? And what have been the greatest changes recently? Especially keeping in mind the sheer amount of visual imagery we are exposed to these days.
Well, the changes are obvious and mostly concern the automatic access to a camera and the sheer insignificance that this democratization of image has allowed everyone. It’s standard knowledge that images have become vulgarized and uninteresting mostly because we are bombarded by so many visual inputs. We look at too many images but we don’t actually see them or even retain any emotional relationship with them.
“I’m much more concerned in producing images that can survive the test of time and still be puzzling and engaging to the viewer.”
Marketing and publicity are key figures nowadays. Our minds eye gets constantly warped and raped by the way the world around us is dressed and unfortunately we have too much visual pollution (to avoid saying shit) that doesn’t really mean anything or make life more rewarding.
What we’re facing nowadays is just a different paradigm where artists are not merely artists anymore but also managers and marketeers and sellers of their own work. This of course takes time out of the creation process but it makes things all the more serious and responsible at the same time. It’s a kind of a darwinian process where the machine feeds on the least apt to survive and the more persistent and hopefully better will resist and continue to produce work.
I’m sure there’s many people using technology and hacking solutions to come up with inventive projects where fast-information is used with a meaningful purpose, but I’m certainly more interested in following a different and more classical approach with my work.
Contemporary photography – or any kind of contemporary art – will always draw parallel comparisons with former techniques and styles so instead of aiming for interstellar originality I’m much more concerned in producing images that can survive the test of time and still be puzzling and engaging to the viewer.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
I learned that photography is the least important thing. The important thing is to be fully there when you press the button and then just move on with whatever is happening around you. That’s why I’ve dropped completely using digital cameras when I go out to shoot I simply don’t want interruptions and to break the flow of what’s going on around me.
I’m not interested in knowing how the picture will look like either. I trust the machine and my own acquired abilities to do that. I’m much more interested in discovering things around me and noticing what is slightly off-reality or disconnected. It can be a person or some shadow or reflection, I like those “things that could be something else” and I prefer to keep this window of perception opened instead of fighting technicalities.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
“It’s a very organic process and difficult for me to analyze in a systematic way.”
I believe there’s a big distinction between people who use photography as a means to eat and pay their bills and those who do it for artistic purposes. I find myself included on the latter, and having said that, the stages I see myself passing mean more to me as a person than as a person grabbing a camera to take pictures. Does this make sense?
What I intend to say is that photography is part of my life as much as my partner is, so if something changes in my life – let’s say the city I live in or the friends that are around me – photography (and I don’t mean style) will inevitably change as well. So it’s a very organic process and difficult for me to analyze in a systematic way.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Oh, this is inventive! Lets see. I like reading interviews that address questions about childhood and how childhood memories affect the artistic production.
So, what has been in my head for a number of years and will one day eventually turn into a project is this idea that spaces retain traumas and that going back to spaces can be a way of going back into your own memories. I’m very much interested in re-visiting the house where I lived when I was a kid and photographing that experience.