Photographing heritage

Porto has a very special photographer: Luís Ferreira Alves is dedicated to capturing Porto’s spirit through its architectural heritage. As much as to the city’s historical landmarks, his architectural photography focuses to the more contemporary built legacy created by protagonists of the Porto School of Architecture.

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They actually seem to be the reason why Luís Ferreira Alves dedicated to the architectural photography in the early 1980s, after some soul searching in the area of experimental film and amateur photography. At that time, he helped out a friend who needed photos of his project for an exhibition, and after it was presented at the Faculty of Architecture, interest was raised among architects and commissions followed. Alves then made a risky move: he abandoned his permanent job to dedicate completely to architectural photography.

It turned out the right choice.

Now we know him best through beautiful photos capturing his city and its heritage, like the ones that embellish the recently reissued luxury album Sentimento do Porto. But there is one more curiosity about this author: he specializes in exposing the process of heritage transformation through photographing restoration works. These are far beyond the documents testifying of the works done in the project dossiers, they make one rethink heritage and see it more clearly as a living thing, with a potential to change and adapt to the present times.

This gives visibility to the hidden layers of the monuments’ and the city’s history that often remain inaccessible and overlooked, and (here I borrow the spot-on expression of Pedro Bandeira), helps demystifying heritage that comprises a significant part of our surroundings and daily lives.

My “discovery” of Luís Ferreira Alves comes just on time to share the news of an exhibition that is about to be open in Porto: “Nasoni – Regressos” is about the restoration works on the city’s symbol – the Clérigos church. The opening is on April 21st, 2016, in MMIPO (Museu da Misericórdia do Porto). No need to mention the name of the author!

Details on the exhibition are here.

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In the middle of the ocean

Until very recently, I knew almost nothing about Cabo Verde, except that it is a tiny country spread over an archipelago in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, and that amazing Cesária Évora was from there. But, living in Portugal, one gets to find out more sooner or later: there are more Caboverdians living abroad then in Cabo Verde itself.

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A few days ago, I learned a valuable lesson about Cidade Velha, the world’s oldest colonial city, funded by the Portuguese in 15th century (1462). Simultaneously, I learned a lot about Álvaro Siza and the qualities of a great architect.

Cidade Velha has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2009. Knowing the requirements and the contents of application dossiers and having been involved in their preparation before my present “Portuguese phase”, I could imagine how complex task it must have been to manage the inscription of a site in Cabo Verde, with scarce human and technical resources and all kinds of obstacles on the way.

That process was reflected in the documentary I have just discovered: “Siza Vieira, Arquitecto e a Cidade Velha”, directed by Catarina Alves Costa. The film is not recent (it dates from 2005), but it turned out still state-of-the-art and revelatory for me, as much about Cidade Velha and its people as it was about Siza and his sensibility.

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The idea to candidate Cidade Velha for the UNESCO World Heritage List was not new: Siza was invited by the local authorities to help in the course of preparations, in the beginning of 2000s. The film was following some three years of the process, capturing the dynamics of various, often opposed forces present. It was admirable how the architect dealt with the multitude of factors: being respectful to the people and their needs, at the same time recognizing and preserving the values of historical architecture and the sense of place, and not letting local politicians compromise the project. The film was an excellent reminder on how being a (great) architect is not about being an unconstrained creative artist, it is about swimming in the sea of opposed streams and forces and still bringing in new values for the people and their cultural landscape.

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How does one explain the need to preserve authenticity to people who replace their thatched roofs with roof tiles because the only thing they want and truly need are better living conditions? What to respond when they ask: “But why don’t you cover your own house with the beautiful and authentic reed?” How does one cope with the politicians who let one take the risk of failure and, when the work is done, ascribe the merit to themselves? How does one find a fine balance between the need for change and modernization and the heritage values? How to be respectful and down-to-earth, and still contribute personally as an author? That is also what the documentary was about. Conservators could learn from this film and from Siza, I believe.

From what I have found out, the document Siza was developing, the Plan of Recuperation and Architectural Transformation of Cidade Velha, was completed in 2008, beyond the scope of the film. The Plan turned out to be one of the bases for the successful candidacy of the site, even though it was only partially realized.

Photos: UNESCO

See more about Cidade Velha: Cidade Velha, UNESCO world heritage list page

O Porto é. Oporto is.

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“O Porto é. Oporto is.” is a beautiful and ever growing collection of poetic visual moments from the city of Porto, created by a photographer named Conceição Ferreira. She shares everyday life flashes from her city, mostly organized through thematic collages – sets of nine images.

The motifs are something we all pass by, but only some stop to enjoy and register. There are hundreds of collages on her blog and the Facebook page. There, an impressive list of awards that Conceição Ferreira won can be found, too.

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I find this collection magical and diverse, just like this city itself is!

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Photo credits and more info: http://cldesignarquitectura.blogspot.pt/

Sivan Askayo’s trips

Recently I discovered an amazing, artful travel blog of Sivan Askayo, a photographer from New York/Tel Aviv. She has a dream job – traveling and photographing for the world’s most renowned magazines. But traveling is more than that for her: it is “a state of mind”, she says. From Portugal, there are photos and impressions from Aveiro, Coimbra, Lisbon (a lot) and, of course, from Porto.

She also pursues some personal projects, like this, named “Intimacy under the wires”. None of these photos are from the streets of Porto or Lisbon, but they could easily be depicting everyday life of the Portuguese cities!

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Here is the link to her blog: http://sivanaskayoblog.com/?s=portugal

Now I have the photo-guides to Aveiro and Coimbra!

 

A day in Barcelos.

Barcelos is overwhelmed with roosters of all sizes and materials: being the symbol of Portugal, they are of even greater importance for this city’s identity, since here is where the legend of the rooster coming alive to proof injustice is directly linked to. There is even an interpretation center dedicated to the famous “galo”. However, without some prior research, a visitor cannot grasp all the stories from Barcelos’ past. For example, next to the ruins of the palace that belonged to the dukes of Braganza, there is a stone cross with carvings that tell the rooster of Barcelos story. Without a single line of interpretation! Thanks to some homework done, I know that, according to the legend, it was created exactly by the man who was saved from death by the miraculous rooster, and that it depicts the details of what happened. The question to which I couldn’t find a satisfying answer is the dukes’ love for enormous chimneys. There used to be four of them in the palace, and now that it is in ruins, only one left, of magnificent proportions and irrational position in terms of heating possibilities.

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The traditions are strong, however not overwhelming, because there is also room for contemporaneity in this city. The great place to experience how old and new intertwine and complement is the Pottery museum. I was enchanted with the exhibition of Sofia Beça, a ceramics artist from Porto, named “Memórias à flor da pele” (still ongoing, btw!). From what I understood, it has to do with recovering the past feelings and sentiments and capturing them forever in clay. But it was also aesthetically pleasing and really corresponding with the exhibition space.

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Passing through to reach some more traditional pieces like roosters or amphorae, I noticed the sculptures of two fat children – “meninos gordos”, named Mateus and Ana, who lived in the 19th century, and had some kind of desease that made them extremely obese. They were an attraction wherever they appeared, so poor kids traveled across Europe and also visited Portugal. The story of them became then a motif for a line of portuguese ceramics. This sculpted pair can also be interpreted as a direct critique of the consumerism of the present epoch, I am sure.

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And then, the kingdom of roosters of all sizes, shapes and colours!

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The importance of roosters and other local traditions in contemporary life in Barcelos was obvious even outside the museum:  there were various processions around the city going on as a part of Easter celebrations. Here I share the photos of the Rooster band and the Green wine fraternity!

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The city through its windows.

My daily dose of art (and architecture) was obtained at the CPF – Portuguese Center of Photography in Porto, the place I will certainly be coming back to.

The 18th century building used to be a prison, but since 2000 it is a home to photographic exhibitions and documentation. Eduardo Souto Moura and Humberto Vieira were in charge for the adaptation project. The interior consist of just mighty stone in thick walls and cold floors, cast iron bars (it was a prison, after all) and a touch of red given by painting wooden shutters.

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One of the current exhibitions attracted me particularly: “O Porto à janela” by Pedro Mesquita. It tells so much about the city, but also about its inhabitants: to make the photos possible, the artist asked people to enter their homes and get to have the views as real people do. He was ready for all kinds of hesitation and decline of access. However, hardly anyone said no!

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And that’s also informative of Porto and Portugal.

P.S. The photos are from the CPF web page; the second one is my favourite Pedro Mesquita’s work from the exhibition.

The house in Alenquer

Another post about the Aires Mateus brothers!

Just because I am amazed with this decisive project of theirs, that is exactly about harmony of old and new, about giving new, contemporary life to a ruin and enriching the meanings of the new structure.

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 The project is, however, from the past century (the house was built between 1999 and 2002). Initially, the plan was to adapt the old stone house in Alenquer near Lisbon, and the first version of the project was developed in that direction. And then, the old structure partly collapsed, so the architect brothers started thinking differently. The problem became an opportunity, a potential for the new whole (too bad there is no photo of the old house anywhere online, nonetheless one of them can be found in the recent monograph on Aires Mateus brothers’ work by Francesca Vita)!

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The old walls embrace the new house (and the swimming pool), protect the privacy of the owners and create a lot of multifunctional nooks and crannies. The volumes of the new structure’s first floor overlap the ground floor and thus create shade or shelter in case of rain. And everything is in white & wood, enhancing even more the sense of unity of two epochs in this contemporary casa portuguesa!

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