SAUDADE e FADO
Have you ever tried writing about the idea of being ? I am not Portuguese but I have lived in their country. I have recently gone back to experience what being is in 2016 compared to when I lived there in 1968 under the fascist dictator Antonio Oliveira Salazar.
Shooting pictures in 1968 was difficult enough with the laws forbidding photographing on any public conveyances i.e. trains, buses or publishing one’s work of the people under any condition other then happy Portuguese singing the praises and sowing the fields of the countryside. Alas, the Portuguese people of 1968 were anything but happy. They were caught in the grip of a 44 year dictatorship begun by Salazar and continued through to April, 1974 by Marcel Caetano.
It took me well over a month after my arrival on an American Fulbright Fellowship to understand something of the Portuguese character. It was a state of being the Portuguese called Saudade. As Nuno Gama, a well known fashion designer told me, Saudade is something you don’t talk about. It is on your heart. If one has ever had trouble writing about being imagine what it must have been like to try to photograph it. I believe I finally began to picture it just by being me and allowing the Portuguese ethos to filter through my camera. In that time of 1967 – 1968 I saw it as hopelessness, a dark tunnel with only a trickle of light. Eventually by 1974 the full light came through the tunnel and the people were free. I never forgot my time in their country and I came to admire their steadfastness. The people emerged as the victors in a near bloodless revolution they proudly called The Carnation Revolution. They completely won me over. My admiration for the Portuguese soul is unshakable.
I went back in 2016 at the suggestion of Frank Maresca, a well known art dealer. He said, go back and make a film of your experience in 1968. I did so but I also could not forget my photography. Again, I was caught in the crucible of not knowing what to photograph and again I spent time absorbing who these people are/were in 2016. And again I found the saudade, that state of being – longing for past glorious era’s not attainable, nostalgia, melancholia, vulnerability, love, life and death all over again. Hopelessness was gone but its naked absence revealed to me the power of the saudade. I could once again feel it throughout my body. These photographs express both the hopeless saudade of 1968 and the emergent vulnerability of a saudade that never left but remained in 2016. Ultimately these photographs are about photographing and visualizing the saudade in each of us.
Photographing a state of being which I believe saudade is, is not a direct route normally encountered with a camera. It is a series of equivalents to humbly quote Alfred Seiglitz. In effect anything can be visualized and mean saudade from an everyday graffiti scribble on a Lisbon bus shelter to the haunting music of the Fado, the best known expression of the saudade. The choice is the photographer’s. Whatever visual symbols lit up my eye seemed destined to be photographed. Like in 1968, the subject, no matter what it was, already was imbued with the Portuguese saudade. That journey continued from 1968 through 2019 with my photographing the life of a people possessed with what the late Carlos do Carmo, the famous Fado singer called a mystery.
The difference between my photographs of 1968 and 2019 is not the difference between black and white or color. It’s in the absence of hopelessness in the fulfillment of saudade. I returned to find it after my own 50 year saudade for the people I loved then and still do now.
View the Images