Alípio Padilha – The initial day clean and whole*
*Sophia de Mello Breyner in O Nome das Coisas
The relationship of Alípio Padilha with the mornings is not confined to the landscapes of Penacova (the village where he was born) or Madeira (where he lived for four years), which appear even more dazzling at the first light of the day. It also extends itself to Lisbon’s urban scenery and of all the cities that he visits. He says that, when traveling alone, he has to wake up quite early at least once to see the city stretching itself out. There are kiosks opening, the first people going to work, the illusion of the restart and the willingness to not give up the possibilities. That is the moment when he surrenders himself to the addiction of loneliness that follows another addiction: people. He relies on photography to get hold of these and other things – that unfurl on stage –, which continue to captivate him. The connection to the arts began in radio, but he learned photography and people with his grandmother, who used the images to reconquer her love.
“I have a very close relationship with my grandmother and I recall spending evenings checking boxes with photographs, some coloured, others black-and-white, with different formats. And I remember that I looked at her and saw her with that size and then I looked at the pictures and I saw her as a child. I thought that I knew my grandmother as a child, because a photographer once took pictures of her,” he says. “She took photos with the intent of regaining the husband who had deserted and fled to Brazil. She sent him pictures of her and her daughter. It was like that, a passionate scene, despite having been a man who left her pregnant, who never said anything to her again. But she told me this with a smile on her face and I thought it was beautiful,” he recalls.
The story continued with his father who, years later, went to work for one year in Africa. There he bought a polaroid – something whose existence Alípio was unaware of when he was 7 or 8 years old – and all the letters had 3 or 4 pictures that allowed the family to share that day-to-day at a distance. “For me, photography always had this feature of connecting people,” he explains.
Then adolescence arrived and the dissatisfaction with what he was studying. Despite all the stories of childhood involving cameras, he never pondered the possibility of making a living out of it. One day, he was in a bar in Penacova and looked for a reproduction of The Kiss of Robert Doisneau, and said he would be a photographer. He went to Coimbra and bought a used camera but continued to study economics. Thanks to his engagement in local radio, and his friends who came from outside of Penacova with “different” music, he began to get new stimuli.
Later, he completed his formation at Associação Portuguesa de Artes Fotográficas, but the decisive turning point came in the early 90s, when Coimbra was the Capital of Theater. He followed the festival and the establishment of the company Escola de Noite, and began to attend the rehearsals. He recalls when he interviewed Olga Roriz for the radio, deeply nervous, but fascinated by what he had seen. Today, he works with her and is developing the scenario of the upcoming Roriz’ show, based on a photo of her. And he still regards that as an incredible thing, unlikely to happen to a boy born and raised in Pencacova. It is the same appeal of the first great work that he did, covering five nights of Sérgio Godinho at Teatro Maria Matos, having the chance to meet on stage and behind the scenes artists whom he admired, such as Caetano Veloso. It is the same appeal that he still feels for many actors, musicians and dancers whom he photographs and this is what fuels him.
After many years shooting music shows (which includes a 6-year collaboration with Musicbox), he realized that he was no longer enjoying being the audience and, above all, Alípio considers himself to be a good spectator. He then found the moment of performing arts and, there, he encountered a pace that is closer to what he is interested to explore. “Performative arts are richer in terms of image and also by what they make you see and think. Also because we follow creative processes, they end up adopting and integrating you during this process”, he explains. Every doubt, every uncertainty of a show and of the protagonists are present in the rehearsals. A relationship of trust is then established, because the photographer has in his hands something quite precious – the frailty of whom is on stage.
He recalls photographing a masters of staging at Conservatório and having been invited to “perform” with the main actress. She portrayed Natália Correia and, when the public entered the venue, the scene was a photo session. It was supposed to be a make-as-if, but Alípio, with his back turned to the audience, was laxly shooting the actress with a medium-format camera. “I was grabbing the camera and Fabíola to forget the nervousness and those pictures continue to be the most beautiful that I ever took during a scene. I don’t appear in them, but I’m there organically, because she later told me that she also clung to me to forget the nervousness, the scarce experience and the fact that she was there to be assessed. It was a moment exclusively ours and I came home and dreamed of her and was ashamed to tell her. It took me five years to tell her this story (laughs). And I thought that I couldn’t take photographs with that intensity. During those 15 minutes I stood on stage, it was as if there was nobody else in the world. And it was someone with whom I never had any relationship beyond that on stage. I really get attached to people when I shoot them,” he explains.
Perhaps to balance this intensity, he affirms that he is increasingly replacing the night with the day and people with the solitude of landscapes. Many times, he leaves a night out sooner than usual, goes home, makes coffee and goes to one of the deserted beaches that he knows close to Lisbon to see the sunrise. Or he catches the boat towards Cacilhas and then the bus to Trafaria. “I found myself doing what I did 50 times. It has nothing to do with not liking people, but with not enjoying my presence on that night,” he explains. “I like the morning’s pace and how I feel connected to those things. I live near here a couple from the North and I go there to see them opening their kiosk. Just to look at them. For me, it’s a whole movie. They have already told me that they have been doing that for 30, every day, and you look at those two people who continue to do the same thing… relations attract me, the way people live this kind of things, supporting each other, helping each other, being tolerant. Things that are no longer up-to-date anymore,” he says.
In the exhibition First Light, on Apaixonarte until 31 March, there are no people, but movie-like landscapes. They are images of three places where he lived longer – Penacova, Madeira and Lisbon -, all shot at sunrise. One feels the solitude in chilly blues, swallowing us like fog, in the silence of the brown tones or in the nostalgia of the night lights reflected in the river. We are contemplating these images holding a glass of wine, but we want to get a cup of strong coffee and disconnect from the cacophony of the conversations around. The inauguration was made of friends, (re)meetings and laughter, but it is an exhibition that deserves to be seen alone. Just us and the limitless landscapes, beyond the frames and the gallery walls.