What impresses me most about exceptional architectural photography is its ability to imbue inanimate subjects with a life and soul of their own. [OB1] So when Portuguese Photographer Gonçalo Duarto Pacheco contacted me, I was so happy to interview him. This discussion is even more fantastic than Gonçalo is not only an Architecture photographer but an architect and a landscape photographer as well.
Gonçalo Duarte Pacheco, please tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic universe?
One of the aspects that defined my artistic universe is travel. The sense of displacement in different universes of my daily life makes me perceive different perspectives and realities. This perception connects to experience, atlas and landmark. I am interested in mapping and defining points that connect images to new landmarks and frame them in a specific context and, in some way, connect them to meaning. My work has centered a lot on the Anthropocene, in its most recent period. I have worked with the antagonistic idea of a relationship with a world that reveals the difference between transformation and adaptation to places. I am also interested in the idea of evolution with the notion that time occupies in place and finding the clues and agents of transformation, from origin to present, excluding ruin as a mere aesthetic object, but more as part of an imaginary idea. On the other hand, I have been interested in the notion of emptiness in a landscape – remote landscapes where, for geomorphological reasons, trees and plants do not grow. I immerse myself in the idea and utopic sense of an “original place”.
You’re an architect and an architecture and landscape photographer. Which one came first?
I guess Landscape Photography. I started shooting around 2001 with my first camera, and landscapes were the first subject.
How do you describe the link between these 3 passions?
They are inextricably linked. Landscape refers, beyond visual apprehension of portions of space, to how places link humanity and territory.
We photograph projects in the state of transition that we call “hour zero”, which consists of the transition from the builder to the owner (who will be living), and this image is primarily one that is representative of the new, but that often does not stand the test of time. In my opinion, work without the component of time does not demonstrate its true character, therefore, I am more interested in projects with time, with the true senses of transformation.
To summarize, there are three moments of interest to me: 1. The metaphor of the original place; 2. The transformation of the place; and 3. The insertion of time in place. These moments significantly relate to the time of a place, and architectural photography can reveal them as clues and layers of the place’s origin. Architecture has the power to resist and yield to the transformations of everyday life on one hand, but on the other, it resists time. This dialogue is very interesting for my work.
What special skills and equipment would you consider essential when photographing architecture? What would your advice be to anyone thinking about taking up architectural photography?
There are several ways to photograph architecture and, above all, to represent it. The technique differs from an artistic representation to a more documentary representation, which suppresses any dynamics, disciplining matters in a certain way.
In my case, I’m trying to create images that amplify the idea that originates the project in a chirurgical and poetic way. These images create an almost premeditated synthesis that mediates the representation of the idea and the place.
I believe that there is no magic formula. I try to receive as much information about the projects (drawings, sketches of the idea, some images of the work), to respond more faithfully to the request, to the intentions that originated the project.
The medium that represents the project is indifferent in my case since I have photographed in medium format analog and digital medium format.
For many artists, creativity is first preceded by a phase of observational learning. What is this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist?
I think somehow, we all have our heroes and references. At some point, we diverge and look for our way, but a closer reading allows us to make connections. I identify with the work of several photographers whose approach differs substantially. I would say that the observational phase began with architectural photographers whose representation faithfully tries to represent the work of reporting architecture. With the gradual interest in architectural and landscape photography, I became more interested in the limits of the field of representation. The limit exists when the work is detached from the photograph and creates an almost autonomous image of the construction. I am also interested in all fields of representation that significantly expand architectural photography – writing, painting, illustration, etc.
Every piece of art has its own vocabulary, a visual vocabulary that confers its structure and interest. Your work is quasi-abstract. What would you tell your fans to help them apprehend it?
I would say that, to some extent, it may refer to the dimension of landscape photography as quasi-abstract. I believe that it is the dimension of the void that gives this abstract side. The idea that there are no elements that disturb the spatial and sensory dimensions of the image. The elements that compose it crucially define the place. In this idea, many times even the games of light and shadow are subtracted from the context. The meteorological context provides a generally flat light that contributes decisively to this abstract reality. The skies are usually gray, and the fog thickens this language even more.
You published the book “Weightless – Tracing Landmarks” which “relates photography, landscape and architecture through experience as a moment of capturing and revealing places”. How did you approach this project?
This book was born from a reflexive synthesis of four years of traveling to countries surrounding the Arctic Circle, including Iceland, Norway, Faroe Islands and Svalbard, revealing landscapes and places whose relation between artificial and natural interventions reveal a certain Weightless.
This need to escape from everyday places arises as a search for the least intervened territory, as a return to the origin, to the underdeveloped. Weightless arises as an analysis of the importance of the relationship established by the tripartite axis between Nature-Man-architecture. One exists, the other adapts and the other represents the construction of the place. In these journeys, the restrained and thoughtful way, in which buildings accentuate the landscape, integrating it, and generates a new category of landmarks, new places, wherein some cases, the constructions improve, clarify and reinforce the reading of the landscape’s character, configuring a unique meaning.
When prefacing your book, the artist José Luís Ochoa wrote, “Because the Arctic will propose to the spectator an adventure that will force him to suspend all previous thoughts, since this place will be like a reflection that will reveal our own identity, free and naked, sometimes shaking and sometimes horrified. This reflection will be a symbol by which a hidden part of our being will be exposed.” Could you explain what you finally found?
Allow me to speak as a spectator who also experienced those places. In the Svalbard Islands, I found that our existence is put to the test in all aspects. On the one hand, a place that was not made for man. All the dangers suggest a recent past. Low temperatures, topography and wildlife recover much of our fears, raising us to a unique experience. All movements are equated, the distance, and the means of circulation. The cold, which in the winter can reach -20ºC, with thermal sensations of -50ºC, suppose that we were never welcome to that place. And this causes us a new experience, a new way of life, combined with a raw, naked, and covered landscape over a white blanket. This void is the nature of the Svalbard Islands and gives us a feeling of returning origins as if we were born again.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
I propose that to be creative, to a certain extent, is to persist and reflect on ideas and places. When there is no thought about a place, we must search for new points and territories, restarting the cycle. I believe that there is a moment of apprehension of other approaches, where we receive teachings and filter what is necessary. In the second stage, there is a kind of suspension about everything that is around us. We abolish what does not matter. We try to transmit a synthesis of a reflection in images, words and illustrations. Calling upon other areas enriches the work. Working with other artists, thinkers, illustrators and photographers further instill an open understanding of the world in which we live. This enrichment is what I tried to do in the book “Weightless – Tracing Landmarks”.
Thanks again, Gonçalo Duarte Pacheco, for the opportunity to interview you
for CreativInn! Are there any final thoughts or words of advice you have for our readers?
I believe that in this paraphrenic era in which we are surrounded by images, the idea of image perfection and the level of improvement of the technique cannot stand on its own. There must be something behind the images. Taking a good photo should be an objective, but not the only one. There must be a continuous and persistent reflection around the archive, the series, and what we want to convey with the images. Otherwise, we will be immersed in the surroundings of an immense world empty of beautiful images.