Senso Comum: Interview with Céu Guarda at The Cave Photography

About Céu Guarda’s individual exhibition Senso Comum, open until June 27 at The Cave Photography, we interviewed the photographer during the organization of her most recent exhibition, part of the 2nd edition of the Photography Biennial of Porto, with the theme What Happens with the World Happens with Us.


Ana Martins Senso Comum is based on the “appropriation of people and places through photography rethought according to the archival practice […], seeking to establish referential layers between images, in a process of connection and liberation of the photographic image as an interactive place”. How did the project come about and how did you reflect on the “archival practice” through photography?

Céu Guarda – When I was invited in December, during the pandemic, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do a new project, because we would be in lockdown. Three months wouldn’t be enough. I thought I would work from my archive quite freely and not retrospectively. I selected some photographic moments of mine over four decades, linking them to the theme of this Biennial. What Happens with the World Happens with Us was too strong for me to break free.

I’m a documentary photographer. My images are full of meaning. I never get stuck on a more formal side, so I went looking for meanings that could relate to the theme. This exhibition forced me to rethink my work, i.e., how I look at the world, how it looks at itself and how people look at it. Photography allows us to relate to many things, the way we think and reflect on the world through images. It’s about attempting to relate some of the people who have passed through my life to that world. I started by creating interactions between places and people, the fleeting and the permanent, as if it were a game.

AM – Regarding the exhibition, and also referring to the “archival practice” as a process of organization, documentation and conservation of memories, how did you think the photographic project for this venue, taking into account the design, the environment and the form?

CG – At the beginning, I thought about how I could intervene in this venue with three times as many images. But I had to select based on a relationship between them and the spectator, in a playful logic: connecting people to places and vice-versa. In one part of the route, I imagined that the visitors could create their own exhibition, more precisely on a table with several photos, as a place of material interaction, where we could change everything according to the desired order.

AM – The title Senso Comum (Common Sense) refers to a set of opinions or ideas commonly accepted in a time and geography. How did it come about and how was a parallel established with photography?

CG – Common sense is a term discussed since ancient times. It is something inherent, present in our education, so that later we achieve a critical sense towards life. When I chose this title, I was thinking about what defines people’s connection with the world and how difficult it is to get away from that common sense. We continue to live in islands, without understanding those of the other. After all, we live in common sense, which is determined by our culture. We grow up according to what we are told as a truth, and then we discover that there are several realities. Most people don’t want to have a thought, because it is very difficult to question and understand the point of view of others. This exhibition is a proposal for people to reflect on what is happening around them, through photography.

AM – What is your relationship with the photographs that will be part of the exhibition?

CG – These photographs are four decades of my connection with the image. My starting point was the archival process, looking and rethinking where and with whom I was, how I interpreted those moments of my life with others and the places I passed through. Some things are deeply present and others are no longer the same, or there are images that I don’t remember because I never saw them. I’m seeing them for the first time and that’s quite pleasurable. To realise how I looked at things and how I see them now allows me to think about how I will work in the future.

AM – What is the place of this photographic project in contemporary thought, bearing in mind that nowadays we are intuitively creating an extensive and global archive of digital images?

CG – The millions of images that are currently made will eventually be lost. I don’t know if it will be necessary to create an archive for the future and if contemporary movements are moving in that direction. In this beginning of the 21st century, there is a landscape work, which we call new topographics, with the description of places, but where people are absent. I think the importance of people in the image has been lost in contemporaneity and for that future archive. And there is also the digital archive, which I don’t know if it will be worse than the negatives, which have a physical presence. I don’t know what will happen, but they exist, and it is much easier to understand what happened thirty years ago than what will happen in the future with the digital. I work in the education system and high school students are much more interested in film, in the material process, in touching and seeing the materialisation of what they create. Curiously, it was said a few years ago that film would be obsolete. But, during these ten years that I’ve been in the education system, I see the opposite happening.

Ana Martins (Porto, 1990) PhD student at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, holds a master’s degree in Art Studies – Museum and Curatorial Studies at FBAUP, with the dissertation “O Cinema Exposto – Entre a Galeria e o Museu: Exposições de Realizadores Portugueses (2001-2020)” and graduated in Cinema from the ESTC of the IPL and in Heritage Management from the ESE of the IPP. She was a researcher at the Projeto CHIC – Cooperative Holistic view on Internet Content, supporting the integration of artist films into the National Cinema Plan and the creation of content for the FBAUP Online Catalog of Films and Videos by Portuguese Artists. She also received a scholarship from inED – Center for Research and Innovation in Education, providing support in the areas of production, communication and advice on cultural events. She collaborates in the field of Art Direction in cinema, television and advertising. She is one of the founders and curators of Coletivo Hera. She writes for Umbigo magazine.

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