A ZONA, by Diogo Simões
A ZONA is Diogo Simões’ first photography book. The Almada-based photographer has participated in several exhibitions, including mOstra’20 (Lisbon, 2020), XVIII Cerveira Biennial (Vila Nova da Cerveira, 2015), Levante-12 mai (Paris, 2015) and Ciclo Fotografia Portuguesa – MuMA (Curitiba, 2013). In 2014 he made his first solo exhibition, NOCT, at Museu do Neo-Realismo, Vila Franca de Xira. The geographical location of these photographs is Miratejo, Almada, Monte da Caparica, Costa, Barreiro, Setúbal, Azóia and Lisbon. In the words of the publisher Pierre Von Kleist, it is «a hallucinatory humanist, poetic and politically engaged account of a territory with a strong industrial and post-colonial past.» This book portrays the Margem Sul, a term which, for those from the Lisbon area, designates land and housing projects from the southern bank of the Tagus as far as Setúbal. Resorting again to the words of André Príncipe, «a land of mountains, white sandy beaches, dolphins and ghettos.»
A ZONA is a dense photo book, which steadily uses colour and black and white images. This set of photographs shows us people, architecture and landscape. These people are portraits of themselves, doors opened by intimacy that stimulate the viewer’s imagination and interpretation. Sometimes architecture is the background of A ZONA’s portraits. However, the domestic environment is dominant in many instances. House interiors, bedrooms and social living spaces are examples. In these intimate areas (houses and bedrooms), nudity takes over the image. Nudity is portrayed in a raw way, somehow associating itself with the concrete of the architecture of social housing estates. The aesthetics of these districts is cold and almost non-existent, functionality is the priority. The crudeness of the nudity portrayed is reflected in this architecture’s coldness and concreteness. In Seixal, the towers of Bairro da Jamaica remind us that there is still much poverty in Portugal, mostly on the periphery of the country’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan areas. In my view, the portraits in this book communicate with each other. There is a dramatic side, a common tension, and an introspective state in almost all of them. The presence of the gaze is relevant and a direct communication or relational channel with the observer.
The landscape is another evident element in the book. Natural and urban landscapes are displayed, as well as their fauna and flora. In some photographs, we see images of these two environments simultaneously. For example, the area of the supply market of Monte da Caparica, next to the Garcia de Orta Hospital. Here, nature is represented not only as a place of beauty, but also as an ambivalent and complex site (for example, the photograph of the dead dolphin, portrayed in a somewhat glorious fashion). In A ZONA we also find photographs of political demonstrations. They were taken during the Troika period, a political era where practically one protest took place every week. In one of these photos, we see a banner with the words “We Neither Forget Nor Forgive”, words that reflect a feeling that is strongly felt in the peripheral communities, in the people who suffer every day and who know that this is the result of political machinations.
A ZONA won the first edition of the Photography Book Award of Associação Arte deste Século. The aim of this prize is to support young artists who have never published a book through a photography book publisher.