Work Station (Posto de trabalho) by Valter Vinagre at Museu da Electricidade, Fundação EDP Comentários fechados em Work Station (Posto de trabalho) by Valter Vinagre at Museu da Electricidade, Fundação EDP

Work Station Comentários fechados em Work Station

The garden of forking paths Comentários fechados em The garden of forking paths

Woods and forests, places held as sacred by all cultures, but particularly cherished in the Mediterranean or Northern European worlds, can, however, be quite different among themselves: havens of peace and kindness or haunts of unfamiliarity and fear. Gentle springs, welcoming shades, luminous clearings, delicate melodies from birds or magical beings suffused with joyous eroticism, intricate, near-impenetrable masses of vegetation, sharp cliffs, dark lairs of wild animals, freezing winds and imperilled bodies are all mental images of a symbolic duality that is also geographical and physical, reflecting such divisions as mild and harsh climates, night and day, enchantment and curse. Places of pleasure or pain, real-world models of a mythical Arcadia or Scythia.       

These photographs were taken by Valter Vinagre in the woods and forests of Portugal, a country described by geographers as combining Atlantic and Mediterranean features, and placed by certain empirical anthropologists somewhere in a crossroads of Celtic, Germanic, Classic and Muslim cultures. And yet, these places hold no memories of fairies or elves: folk traditions and their erudite literary formulations people them instead with witches and enchanted Moorish princesses, hunting knights and goat-footed ladies, melancholy shepherds and elusive or jocose shepherdesses.

However, the woods in these photographs seem to place us in a different reality, quite distant from the lyrical or bucolic ones we have just described. If we wish to preserve the mythical garden metaphor, we must realise that these are neither paradisiacal gardens nor hellish places – they are simply devastated spaces, remote from any possibility of consecration or curse. In these locations, where no ‘philosopher’s cabin’ can ever be built, new anthropological readings of natural reality emerge, distancing us from the traditional rapport of the human and the supernatural with nature. We are looking at natural locations showing signs of occupancy; and, since no figure is seen in them, we could also entertain the hypothesis of their being occupied by magical entities that avoid the presence of a human gaze. But it quickly becomes clear that that absence is due to the fact that these are settings for actions whose level of degradation would make it impossible to a human gaze to bear the judgement of another human gaze. We are looking at places that have been devastated, not by a natural catastrophe (a fire, a storm, a flood) or even by a human one (acts of war or sheer vandalism): their devastation manifests through the degradation of the very objects and materials that make up these settings. Each object seems to not belong in the space in which it is found, and appears to fulfill the role attributed to it not out of a sense of usefulness and appropriateness to that function, but rather by taking the meaning out of the space in which it is inscribed, out of its original function, and casting it into the abyss of abjection.

Trees hold up draperies that conceal and frame unrecorded actions, cushions and blankets await the bodies that have left on them the painful traces of a brief stay – what could be the stage setting for a theatrical, balletic, pictorial, photographic or poetic composition is nothing more than the temporarily abandoned scene of ignominious deeds. A multitude of other objects and materials is scattered across the space, over the pine-needles and soil, over the cushions and cloths, displaying themselves not as fragments of an exploded reality but as debris from that reality, trash – rather than a touch of light, the white of the crumpled tissues is the most conspicuous sign of that soiled reality.

The stage lighting created by Valter Vinagre for his photographing of each scenery highlights the difference between how one looks at a certain reality and how one lives in that reality – and that was the photographer’s intention: to show the other side of the legends and natural charms of woods and forests; to tell of a denaturalised and denatured nature, whose temporary inhabitants must quickly abandon it, not for any magical reasons but due to social fears; here, there are no ivory towers, only dark pits where princesses (of every colour and faith) find themselves imprisoned by a social system (the one ruling illegal immigration and prostitution) rather than by a spell; there are no knights to save them, only pimps and clients (themselves undergoing degradation), who cast them further down these pits, where the ladies’ beauty will soon disappear or has long faded away, replaced with sickness or deformity, just as fear, greed, hatred or revenge have replaced the sweetness in their eyes.

All this can (not) be seen in Valter Vinagre’s photos. The more carefully composed (how is it possible to find beauty in the composition of these squalid tableaux?), the more delicately lighted (how is it possible to apply such a pictorial light to the volumes of such a real space?), the more aesthetically thought-out (how is it possible to show without anger such hellish, repulsive settings?) they are, the more the photographer is able to teach us to see the wretchedness they contain. It is not a matter of choosing between two constantly forking paths: we must choose both – the path of photography as an autonomous practice; and the one of photography as a discourse of denunciation – both provide us with useful means to approach these works.

Lisbon, 25 March 2015

João Pinharanda

Work Station Comentários fechados em Work Station

The photographs that I present in this series “Work Station” don’t show people, but it is of people that they speak. We have here ephemeral constructions and spaces that shelter and hide underground labour activity.

These images focus upon a form of prostitution, the one that is perhaps the hardest, most dangerous and least dignified for both the workers and their clients. Any discussion of roadside prostitution necessarily implies a reflection on the public/private duality. It is public, because it is announced/displayed at the side of the road. It is private because it is practised far from the gaze of prying eyes, in the seclusion of the forest inside improvised shacks.

The series “Work Station” (“Posto de trabalho”) was photographed in Portugal between 2010 and 2013.

Valter Vinagre