25 March 2012

my home is where you are

Cover detail, courtesy my iPad
Last week, I received an e-mail from a nice young man called Filipe Cacasa, a Portugese photographer who has recently published his own photobook (well done, Filipe), titled a minha casa é onde estás ('my home is where you are'). This collection of 15 black-and-white photographs, selected from a larger body of work made over 3 years, have Cacasa's wife Teresa as a subject and explore intimacy, domesticity and a strange kind of theatricality that emerges when the photographer takes his camera into a private space. The book is available, in a limited edition of 300 copies, from a bookstore near you (stockists, I am told, include Photo-eye, Santa Fe; Dashwood Books, New York; Tate Modern bookshop, London; Flotsambooks, Tokyo; Tennis Club Bookshop, Amsterdam; and Ivory Press, Spain). However, Filipe very kindly offered to send me a comp copy of the book and to answer a few questions I had about him and the work – so, you can see our mini Q&A and my review of the book below!

As you can see from some of my (poor) photos, 'my home' is a pretty serious production, reflecting an apparent desire for this book and the work within to be absorbed quietly and thoughtfully. In terms of production, this desire translates into a straight-forward, even sombre, black cloth case-binding (no tricksy 'Blurb' design for this Lisboan), and the choice of weighty, classy materials within (200gsm Gardapat paper, seeing as you're asking). There is a little too much of this studied quietness for me – the severe design of the book, for example, doesn't necessarily reflect the wittier images in the series, such as a photograph in which the photographer's feet are held to Teresa's breasts, creating an atmosphere at once tender and surreal and a figure at once humorous and humanised.

c. Filipe Cacasa
There are also niggling issues with the production; a slightly lighter paper stock, for instance, might have made the book a more natural, flexible object without harming the dignity of the photographs. However, these are fairly minor qualms and, as much as I like a jaunty book design, I've also got a lot of time for the way in which Cacasa's more reserved choices (and no doubt those of designer Ana Fatia) reference his photographic concerns; what is hidden and what can be shown, what is in shadow and what in light, and what can be known about another person from their physical presence. This is a recurring theme in the photo series presented here – a combination of images that plays with the conventions of recognition and identity. Some of the photographs are pure, formal explorations of the body's appearance in space, the shapes it takes. These shots work individually as elegantly formal investigations of light and dark, and physical gesture.

c. Filipe Cacasa
However, taken in series, these (often faceless) physical portraits also strike up a conversation with both more intimate, 'close-up', facial studies, snapshot-style photographs of props including shoes and lingerie, and apparently staged images, in which the model theatrically veils or otherwise obscures her face. The series works well as an illustration of the ways in which we see those closest too us. Most of these photographs are taken from a domestic, 'colloquial' viewpoint, with the photographer's model and the camera moving in relation to one another with apparent independence. While the choice of black-and-white photography, the high contrast printing (which leaves areas of extreme, obscuring shadow) and simple 'set-up' and props of most of these images imply a kind of universality or impersonality, this never translates into a cold or exploitative aesthetic. Rather the overwhelming impression is of warmth, playfulness and, somehow, conversation.

c. Filipe Cacasa
I would like to see more of Cacasa's work, particularly his work from Asia, in book form. There were moments in a minha casa é onde estás - the simple, formal studies of discarded shoes and hanging lingerie, for example – that are well-made and evocative in series, but don't necessarily leave me hungry for second and third viewings (though I'm aware my taste always runs to more complex, 'messy' imagery as a general bias)! Nevertheless, Cacasa clearly has an eye for mood and an ability to work intelligently with space and sensitively with the human figure, and I would love to see more of his well thought-out books. He is clearly investing in the way he tells his photo-stories and I'm left with a desire to invest the time in reading them.

It's not often I get to quiz the photographer behind the work on this blog, but Filipe has very generously answered some of my questions about his work below. Enjoy!

Your training and exhibition history are pretty international - China, Japan, Portugal – what drew you to these different countries to take photographs or was it all pure chance?

It was not by chance. For a long time I have had a strong interest in Chinese and Japanese culture. I feel drowned by the relation between it's past, it's history and that influence in the present day, despite  a great influx of foreign cultures through the years. The assimilation of foreign cultures by the ancient cultures created new identities. I like the way people think in Japan, the way they organize space, whether interiors or urban areas. And photography! Japanese photography is a big influence on me; their unique way of seeing and showing something personal associated with the subject of their work. I know that I have a strong need to know and understand Japan. Portugal is where I live and, strange as it may sound, it is much more difficult to work here, maybe because I have a few pre-conceived ideas about my environment that come across in my photos. But this is something I am working on.

I think 'my home is where you are' is quite an intimate, personal series. Is it representative of your work, or is this project different from your previous work?

It is very representative of my work. Speaks a little about me, about my private space and mostly about my wife. When I started to photograph, my subject was my friends, their spaces and sculptures. This series started after I meet Teresa and developed in our home. I think this series is like a performance. But it is my performance. The (photographs) are of Teresa as performed by my mind’s eye, which is different from anyone else’s. It is very difficult to photograph someone you know. The fact that I know her doesn’t make it easier. It actually makes it much more difficult. There is a tendency to bring our opinions of somebody to bear on the photographs we take of them, projecting on them that image we’ve created, which doesn’t always correspond with their own self-image. That’s what’s most interesting: showing her an image that she hasn’t seen before. And that’s what these images are about, about the way her body is, the movements she might not even be aware of.

Why present this series as a book? Did you always intend for it to take book form, or is that a decision that came about later?

When I photograph I normally think of editing in series, of a body of work and not independent images. I think in book form. It is essential that people see these photos with time, step by step, to get into the feeling. You have to see it photo by photo, page by page, to understand that all these photos are one photo. Another strong reason to present this work as a book was because I see it as a gift from me to my wife. With this book she can understand better how I see her through the years.

Are there any photobooks in particular that influenced you? Which other photobooks do you admire? (Love Filipe's answer here by the way, I have to look some of these up!)

The books that influenced me: Rinko Kawauchi - 'Cui Cui'; Nobuyoshi Araki – 'Sentimental Journey'; Jin Ohashi – IMA; and the work of Dirk Braeckman.

And I also admire: Miguel Rio Branco – 'Silent Book'; Daido Moriyama – 'Farewell Photography' and 'Memories of a Dog'; Antonio Julio Duarte – 'Peepshow' and 'White Noise'; Larry Clark – 'Teenage lust'; Andre Cepeda – 'Ontem'; William Eggleston – 'Los Alamos'; José Pedro Cortes - 'Things here and Things still to come'; Shomei Stumato – 'Hiroshima–Nagasaki Document 1961'; Paulo Nozolino – 'Para Sempre'; Nan Goldin – 'The Other Side'; Kohei Yoshiyuki - 'The Park'.

Do you any advice for young/ new photographers about to make their own book. Do you have any words of wisdom?

I don´t know if I have “words of wisdom”…my advice to young photographers is work hard. Not all of what we do will be perceived as 'good' or as a 'master piece'. Some work is a personal improvement of our way of seeing, of thinking and feeling, and this only comes with persistence and dedication. A book is the best investment a photographer can make. We can learn a lot in that process of thinking, and this will open new paths in our work method.