“I have always been fascinated by these men women who present themselves in a dignified way exposed to the danger of the night and living on the margins. For years I have been building up the courage to approach them and to get to know them intimately. At the beginning the feeling is always of a “blind date” I never know what I will find and that is fascinating.”
Pauliana Valente Pimentel: documentary photographer, photojournalist or visual artist?
I have never distinguished and have always had some difficulty in putting photographic practice into “boxes”, I have both worked for magazines and newspapers and I work for galleries and museums where I exhibit regularly. I am a bit of all of that, my photographic practice is linked to the investigation and documentation of a certain reality.
You could say that I am a visual artist, since I live from my art, and with this art I create documents, and these documents are usually journalistic in some way, since they reflect contemporary political and social issues. For the last ten years I have been focusing on social issues in various countries. Youth, nomadism, gender, and social groups living on the margins are recurrent in my work. In my series the intention is always to build a narrative, recording everyday situations placing the photographic image between documentary and poetry, in a mixture of individuals, landscapes, and interiors. Despite all the difficulties of being a visual artist, I have passion for what I do, and I enjoy all the processes: the research, the meeting, the editing, the thinking of the appropriate installation for the presentation space – whether it is in a museum, a gallery, the street. I like the inaugurations, and people’s reactions. I like the possibility of the work being published in a book, allowing it to be registered for “eternity”, or seeing my work in the home of a friend or collector. Teaching is also very rewarding, being able to share my knowledge and learn as well.
In 2018, you stated, and we quote, “I’m interested in the island dimension, to understand how the youth moves, what kind of groups exist, the kind of openness and freedom they have and how it manifests itself.” “Youth of Athens” (photography + film, 2012, Greece), “Quel Pedra” (photography + film, 2016 – Mindelo, São Vicente Island, Cape Verde), are two examples of projects you have done. What differences, in behavior, do you observe among the young people you have portrayed?
This statement comes from the work I did on youth on the island of São Miguel in the Azores. Youth became recurrent when the crisis in Greece was triggered. The series “Youth of Athens” (2012) reflects the European crisis and how young people adapt and face the future. After Greece, it was the young people of Northern Europe, a series called “The Passenger” (2012), a train trip I made through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, portraying young artists trying to make a living from their art. In these series I was confronted with a Europe that was being questioned, where the experiences of the parents no longer served, and new ways of living had to be reinvented.
In “The Behaviour of Being” (2015) I have documented a group of young artists in residence in the Algarve, in the middle of nature. Coming from a big capital – London – I understood the importance of slowing down and creating in the middle of nature, away from social networks, and how this experience could influence the artistic process.
Youth interests me because it is in this phase that we believe we can change the world, where genuineness and the capacity for transformation emerges, where everything is put into question, and everything is felt in an extreme way.
“Quel Pedra” (2016) portrays a group of transgender youth on the island of St. Vincent in Cape Verde. It was in Mindelo that I discovered that there is a myth that says that whoever sits on a certain stone becomes gay between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five, they like to wear women’s clothes, makeup, and to be called by women’s names. There is still a very strong intolerance towards homosexual people in many African countries, in some cases motivated by religious convictions, in others by ignorance. Many Africans are forced to immigrate to Europe. The idea of this work was to confront the viewer with their prejudices by challenging the conventions and norms about human identity. Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born, but rather become a woman”, and perhaps this work was intended to unravel what it means to be a woman nowadays.
From the island of São Vicente, I went to the island of São Miguel in the Azores for the series called “The Narcissism of Small Differences” (2019) and portrayed the young Azoreans. A paradoxical paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with ancient traditions, a stratified and isolating society. The title refers to Freud’s writings, where the idea of small differences is addressed as the basis of the feelings of strangeness and hostility that arise among peoples. In this work, as in all the others, I am interested in difference for its genuineness and not in confrontation. I am interested in creating a dialogue. As an island I encountered young people alienated from the world and turned on their own differences, melancholic and fragile who have their own cultural restraint and the transgression typical of their age, reflecting an authentic and charming side.
Your work demands a close approach with others. How do you create this almost personal environment with those you photograph?
I am incapable, anywhere I am photographing people, of arriving, photographing, and leaving. If I’m doing a job for a magazine, where I have two days, it’s impossible to create a relationship. But even then – I don’t use zoom – I have to be next to the person and feel them – to say my name, to feel them, to make them laugh. What I really like in my work is meeting people, getting to know them, even if they don’t speak my language, even if it’s in sign language, as happens in some countries. But still, I can be with a person for an hour drinking tea, just looking, laughing, and drawing. It takes time.
In these personal works, I spend a lot of time with my portrayed people, and we often become friends, accomplices, because in reality there is an exchange. In reality I am “stealing their soul” – not that I really believe that, but they are giving me their soul and I have to give it back in return. For me portraiture is a sacred thing, there has to be a mutual respect and that gives me great excitement. For example, in the work I did in Conde Redondo about prostitution of transgender youth (Make up, 2011), it was very difficult at the beginning. For years I had to build up the courage to approach them …but this is part of the process and the excitement. I have always been fascinated by these men women who present themselves in a dignified way exposed to the danger of the night and living on the margins. For years I have been building up the courage to approach them and to get to know them intimately. At the beginning the feeling is always of a “blind date” I never know what I will find and that is fascinating. My images come from the trust and complicity with the portrayed, it is always a collaborative work.
Then there are countries where people are more open than others, in Cape Verde we fell in love with each other and I had immediate access to their intimate lives, whereas in the case of the work I did in Dubai about the Arabs (Empty Quarter, 2015, 2018), it was extremely difficult to get to their intimacy – the work had to be done in several moments. My most recent work on Algarve about the gypsy communities (Faro-Oeste, 2020), I first had to get permission from the heads of the various communities and only then gain the trust of each family portrayed.
Diaspora. What responsibilities do you feel when you are photographing diaspora themes?
The responsibility for me is to do a thorough research and be as faithful as possible to the reality that I find, regardless of the theme.
“Afrodescentes (2021)” was a work developed at the invitation of António Pinto Ribeiro, for the group exhibition “Europa, Oxalá”, which has so far been exhibited at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and is now going to the “Afrika Museum” in Belgium, where I portrayed some young migrants – non-white Europeans who live in Lisbon and belong to the generation after mine.
In this project, I was interested in understanding if these descendents, children or even grandchildren of African repatriates still have the memory of that colonial legacy present in their cosmopolitan daily lives, and if they were born in Europe, to what extent their African roots are present in their daily lives.
Is there a setting or community that you aspire to photograph or film?
I am starting a project that portrays some Lisbon teenagers – young “teenagers” who are transgender or who don’t identify with any specific gender.
What comes first: the image, the visual concept or the message?
Everything is intertwined, of course. But, for me, the concept comes first, it always starts from the discovery of a certain reality, then comes the images that I build, and after all this experience the message emerges, which can be interpreted in different ways, from the imagetic narrative that I build.
“Quel Pedra” (2016) portrays a group of transgender youth on the island of St. Vincent in Cape Verde.
You studied Geology, the science that studies the Earth. When, and how, did you begin the transition to photography?
My initial education is in sciences. I graduated in Geology at the Faculty of Sciences, did my Master’s in Dynamic Geology and worked in research. Photography has always been a part of my life, and initially I did travel photography and published in Grande Reportagem and other magazines, not only photography but also text about my experiences. It was in 2005, when I started the photography course of the Gulbenkian Program, of creativity and artistic creation, that my life changed, and I started to dedicate myself to authorial projects. After the course I abandoned Geology to dedicate myself 100% to photography, where I joined the collective Kameraphoto and Galeria 3+1 Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon.
You are a Professor of Authorial Photography in schools such as ETIC, you organize workshops on “Photographic Narratives” regularly at Casa Independente, Lisbon, in Algarve and now also in international schools. Also, 3 months online mentoring with the creation of a project with national and international students. Did teaching appear in your career as an accident, or was it something you always felt a vocation for?
I have always enjoyed sharing knowledge and I have always enjoyed teaching. I left home at 18 and earned money tutoring math, physics and chemistry. After the Gulbenkian Course and when I joined the collective, with the exchange I had with other fantastic photographers, I felt ready to start teaching photography – how to create a narrative, how to approach a certain theme and also what is this authorial photography, how to make an exhibition or an authorial book.
Now, at this stage of my life, I am ready to start a PhD, the sciences have shown me the importance of research and theorizing, and I feel that at this point in my career I am finally ready and able to do theoretical research on my artistic practices.
“Quel Pedra” (2016) portrays a group of transgender youth on the island of St. Vincent in Cape Verde.
Do you still remember your first camera and your first picture?
My first camera, which I still have, was a Canon AE1.
The first picture I have no idea…
Can you share what you are currently creating in the areas of photography and filming?
I have a new project yes, as I mentioned before, it is about teenagers in Lisbon who don’t identify with a specific genre. Recently I did two projects – one for the collective exhibition “Europa Oxalá” which was at the Gulbenkian and will now go to the Afrika Museum in Tervuren, Belgium – about Afrodescendants and another Faro-Oeste about the Algarve gypsy communities – which was at the Faro Museum and the Lagos Cultural Center and will be heading north.
Photographies by Inês Ventura, at the artist’s atelier, Lisboa.
14th July 2022.
Her journey as a photographer began in 1999, when she held international workshops with renowned photographers, including David Alan Harvey, known for his photographs for National Geographic and the Magnum Agency.
In 2005, she attended the program of the Calouste Gulbenkian Creativity and Artistic Creation foundation in the area of photography.
Pauliana was part of the Kameraphoto collective that imitated the model of the Magnum Agency and which in 2014 closed its doors due to financial difficulties.
In 2016 she founded with other photographers the collective the “N’WE” collective, among them were: Céu Guarda, Sandra Rocha, Guillaume Pazat, João Pina, Martim Ramos, Jordi Burch, Valter Vinagre, Augusto Brázio and Nelson D’Aires . Through the collective, they photographed political and economic instability in Portugal, among other topics.
She published her first book in 2009, VOL I, and in 2011 Gulbenkian published the book Caucase, Souvenirs de Voyage, in which she and Sandra Rocha recreate Calouste Gulbenkian’s journey to the Caucasus through photography.
In 2018, choreographer Vânia Rovisco was inspired by a video recorded by her to create a choreography that was presented at Teatro Micaelense during the Walk & Talk festival on São Miguel Island in the Azores, where Pauliana also exhibited and held an artistic residency.
She exhibited in several countries, namely Portugal, United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Cape Verde, Dubai, among others. In Portugal, she exhibited in Porto at Maus Hábitos, on the island of São Miguel (Azores) as part of the Tremor festival.
Pauliana Valente Pimentel is a Portuguese photographer borned in Lisbon, 1975.
She studied at the Society of Fine Arts in Lisbon and graduated in Geology at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, where she worked as a researcher.
Her journey as a photographer began in 1999.