The Aim and the Target

“The true photographer of nature, like any photographer, should choose his path with his heart and tirelessly travel along it, contemplating as a complete person everything that is alive. Totally whole, without a purpose to achieve, without submitting to rules and formulas, without the need to appear brilliant or original. Only like that, authentic and free, can he capture the creative spirit in movement and create beautiful things.
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 the begining was the word

At the age of 14, Araquém Alcântara wanted to be a journalist, maybe even a writer. He spent his teenage years immersed in the literature of Lima Barreto, Machado de Assis, J. D. Salinger, Joseph Conrad and Guimarães Rosa. In 1970, he enrolled in the College of Communication of Santos. He was soon working in the branch of the newspapers Estadão and Jornal da Tarde. Everything according to plan.
But on a fateful evening he went to see a midnight movie session that a Frenchman, Maurice Legeard, held in Santos. The film was The Naked Island, by Kaneto Shindo. A film nearly without a story, or words. A couple living with their two children on an inhospitable island. The daily drudgery of getting up, fetching water, tilling the land, preparing the meals, fetching water again, the skiff at the dock, the birds on the rocks, the oar pushing against the waves. The power and beauty of the pure image. The photo as a summary of speech. Araquém, catatonic in the darkness, had an epiphany, as though struck by lightning. He left there staggering, overwhelmed, called.

The First Photo

The next day, a friend of his, Marinilda, showed him some commonplace photos, from her family album, taken with a simple Yashica camera. Still stricken, feverish from the film, Araquém could hardly look at them. Instead, he asked Marinilda to lend him the camera, bought three black-and-white films and that night went to a cabaret at the port where he often listened to rock bands and, with luck, could catch a brief appearance by a famous performer.
There he was, camera in hand, two rolls of film in his pocket, no technique at all in his head, nervous like on any first time. Although he lacked the courage to do anything, he was dimly aware that in that Yashica, in those films, he was holding a life. He left there late that night, without ever pressing the button.
At the bus stop, it was already dawn when one of the girls from the cabaret passed by and challenged him:
You want to take a picture, eh? You want to take a picture? So then, take a picture of this. She lifted up her skirt and showed her sex.
It was his first photo.


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.


Profession of faith

My photos are a song of love to nature and to the Brazilian people.
They spring from the villages, the countryside, the urban outskirts, the factory floors, the holds of ships.
The front and the back, the story at a glance.
On the one hand, this immense fertile Amazonian country, a true symphony of beauty.
On the other, the murderous rape of the ecological sanctuaries, the degradation of nature with impunity, the plundered, voiceless people.
I take photos for the archives of our memory, as Baudelaire said.
I am aware that my photos will soon be precious relics, evidence of what was lost.
It is necessary to document, because everything is quickly being destroyed.
Man has separated from nature and ignorantly thinks he can rule over and tame the vast biological complex according to his desires, even though it is he who is actually submitted to it, by higher laws.
I am a combative artist, untamed, a traveler and collector of worlds.



Once, in Cubatão, in the early 1970s, a storm of acid rain fell on my head. My body was drenched in liquid pollution.
While I was running for shelter I perceived that all that pollution is what caused acephalus children to be born and that this calamity befell mainly the most miserable in society. There, in that ravaged land, I took my first steps toward understanding what sustainability is. I understood that our lives depend on a healthy earth – and there is no healthy earth without social well-being!
The other day my grandson, by chance, asked me how the future will be. I felt like telling him that we are quickly approaching a climate catastrophe which will spell the extinction of species, the spreading of deserts, decimated forests, devastating fires, cyclones, hurricanes.


Take on our Macunaíma

To photograph Brazil it is necessary to assume our Macunaíma nature, our Carib heritage, our instinctive aesthetic.
To see through the lenses of Guimarães Rosa, Lima Barreto, Euclides da Cunha, Oswald and Mario de Andrade, Glauber Rocha and others.
The new is here in the virgin forest, in the knowledge of our people.
It is necessary to unbury the forgotten Brazil, to cultivate our true roots.
To hunt pictures with the passion of an experimenter.
It is a slow, painful pilgrimage, because the photographer will see a devastated nature and a Brazilian who has succumbed, made of hunger and silence.
But he knows that the closer he gets to his people the nearer he will be to capturing their character.