Paths to Nua Island
Does predestination exist? It is hard to know. But there are, certainly, determined catharsis moments in a person’s life that seem to guide him or her in an inevitable direction. When Araquém was a boy, this transformative instant took place in the dark, with the light in front of his eyes, at a midnight movie session, and catapulted him irreversibly into the world of pictures. In his own words:
When I was 14 I wanted to be a journalist, perhaps a writer. I spent my adolescence amidst the vast arid backlands and low-lying marshlands of [the novels by] Guimarães Rosa. He was followed by Lima Barreto, Machado de Assis, J. D. Salinger and Joseph Conrad. In 1970, I enrolled in the College of Communication of Santos. I was soon working in the branch office of the newspapers Estadão and Jornal da Tarde.
One night I went to see a midnight movie session that a Frenchman, Maurice Legeard, had organized in Santos. The film was The Naked Island , by Kaneto Shindo. A film with practically no story or words. A couple living with their two children on an inhospitable island. And the daily toil of getting up, fetching water, tilling the land, preparing food, fetching water again, the skiff at the dock, the birds and the rocks, the paddling against the waves. The pure beauty and power of the image. The image as a synthesis of speech. I, in the dark, was having an epiphany, an enlightenment. I left the cinema staggering, overwhelmed, called.
The next day a friend, Marinilda, showed me some very common photos, from a family album, taken with a Yashica. Still stricken, feverish from the film, I could hardly look at the photos. I borrowed the Yashica from Marinilda, bought three rolls of black-and-white film and that night I headed out to a port bar, where I would often go to listen to rock bands and, with luck, catch a brief appearance by a famous performer.
My camera in hand, two rolls of film in my pocket, no technique in my head, and nervous like on any first time. Even though I lacked the courage to do anything, I was dimly aware that in that Yashica, on those rolls of films, I was holding a life. I left late, without ever pressing the button.
At the bus stop, it was already dawn when one of the girls from the bar went by and challenged me:
– You want to take a picture, eh? You want to take a picture? So then, take a picture of this. She raised her skirt and showed her sex.
That was my first photo.
That catharsis moment, which took place more than 40 years ago, drove Araquém to scour all over Brazil countless times with his camera. If there were some way to measure the kilometers of his travels, we would certainly know that he is one of the people who have roamed through this country the most, even going to various places where no one, or nearly no one, has ever been, like when he photographed all the national parks in this land of Brazil.
No one treads the vast lands of this country unscathed. Araquém went around, pilgrimaging with his camera, forging the sun, shadows, dusts, fire and torrents of water into a poetic and political being. The intimate, organic contact with nature coupled with contemplation as an essential exercise of his trade made him an irreversibly intuitive being. Able to understand the dimensions that are interposed between the visible and the hidden, between the measurable and the intangible.
As he himself has stated:
He who dives into the journey of seeing must always keep the doors of his perception open. He knows that before the eternal, he must forget himself. Creation is what matters, the fundamental gesture, a path of knowledge, a powerful weapon for encountering the world.
The creative act is continuous and endless. The always renewed practice of contemplation humanizes the vision, annuls truths, allows inventiveness, enhances the inner self.
In this respectful relationship with himself, the photographer creates something original and significant, with spontaneity and fluency. The observer merges with the thing observed, the void sets in. What was constrained begins pulsating again, what was once a premonition is now a realization. The purity of his dialogue tells him that in truth, no matter how many photos he makes, how much dust he wipes from his eyes, he will continue walking alone with his camera. But he also knows that he is learning another much greater art: the art of not being anything, of not being more than nothing, of dissolving himself in the emptiness between heaven and earth.
As attested by the pictures in this book – a brief panorama of some great moments of Araquém’s black-and-white photography – this idea of being dissolved in oneself led this poetic being to seek moments of sublime nature, of the apex moment arising from Zen contemplation, of his ability to harmoniously become one with the environment and with the instant and, above all, of his meticulous observation of light and of how it is a transformative agent.
In his work, however, the beauty is not there as a means of clothing his photographs, nor much less nature, with the mantle of Narcissus. Beauty, in Araquém, is a political gesture, a boundless utopia. It is the inverse of ugliness, that threat which is constantly lurking about.
While walking that already long road, however, more than pictures, Araquém has collected many friends and partners in his work. One of them was the memorable, combative journalist and writer Marcos Faerman. In one of his texts about Araquém’s work, he comments on this vertigo that exists between the political being and the political gesture:
In Araquém the mildest record is the photograph. Some radical thing that connects the photographer to the world of the alchemists of images. His photos are a must-see.
Photos that are the exercise of a vertigo: justice. Of a utopia which is a labyrinth that leads us to another order, or to the disorder of the real world. A port of entry to the world of dreams. An unsubmissive photography, an accomplice of the defeated. A friend of the Sun’s breathing. The photographer Araquém Alcântara proclaims that the pieces of the world we call photography are also a reality.
Through his photos, Araquém enters the secrets of the planet. What moves, what transforms, what unsettles the photographer is that he has managed to discover some secrets of nature and of men. What makes him despair is that he wants, through his award-winning work, so often acclaimed on so many pages of magazines, in exhibitions even in Paris, is to contribute to saving the last signs of humanity emitted here.
These “unsubmissive” photographs that make beauty their shout of warning, and which the reader can now appreciate in this Ipsis Collection of Brazilian Photography, will inevitably become one of the most important iconographic heritages of this country, in light of the sensitive and systematic recording of Brazilian flora and fauna the photographer has made over the last four decades. Time is the great ally of these images.
But it is important to note that the political current in Araquém’s work does not exist without an oneiric dimension, without the artist’s allowing himself – during each new trip into the photographic camera – to be dissolved in the lights reflected by the landscape, whether in its visual power, or in what is unconstrained in it.
Contemplation reinvents worlds, as he implies in this statement:
The always renewed practice of contemplation humanizes the vision, annuls truths, allows inventiveness, enhances the inner self. The reward is the mystical experimentation of the encounter with beauty. In that fleeting moment the photographer feels something like the Buddhist satori, a moment of revelation, an undefined and marvelous pleasure.
Does predestination exist? In light of these reports and these images, the answer becomes increasingly difficult and complex. It is better to forget the question and to enter the journey provided by these photographs that mark the beginning of the Ipsis Collection of Brazilian Photography. Among various times and spaces that revisit in pictures the travels of Araquém, we can be surprised by a catharsis moment. Where he points out to us the path of The Naked Island, that symbolic place of personal transformation. There is always an island waiting for us in some immemorial place.