Eurico Lino do Vale at Galeria Belard
Visiting Galeria Belard, I realise the sturdiness and white property of its interior. Eurico Lino do Vale’s photographs from the Volterra exhibition are actually well “stored”, I believe.
I catch a glimpse of a first group of images as my eyes wander around the venue and realise that the gallery’s floor plan is divided into four small rooms. There are precious surprises in store for me.
The first room is where I am “touched” by a photograph of a very old woman, snuggled up in a dark armchair. One foot is in front, protecting the other, which is hidden behind the first, shaping an x. The body remains defenceless, heavy regardless of its fragile complexion. Years of life stories rest on it, something that the gaze cannot hide. A gaze that simultaneously watches and waits for us.
The pattern of the dress, with its large flowers, and the neat shoes all harmonise in the photograph. The sweet shapes imprinted on the comfort of the cushion. Her hands, perched on her lap in a subdued manner, nestling into each other and following the line of her legs. Everything is set against a rough background of uneven stonework that suggests a landscape of rustic, rural houses found in the Italian province of Tuscany.
This is not contrived, the photographer is allowing chance to creep in, the ripples of the wind are welcome, as well as the fabric that stubbornly remains in disarray over the body.
Another portrait stands next to the old lady. A much younger man, seated on some steps and leaning against an equally stony wall, holding a cigarette in his hands. Standing three-quarters of the way up the wall, he looks sideways at the camera and bites his lips hard in an attempt to remain still. There is complicity, maybe some kind of conversation or empathy established between the young man and the photographer, even before the latter fires the shutter.
We meet the real people that Eurico Lino do Vale encountered along his wandering route. As we move around the gallery, we too almost conjure up that position of the traveller. We uncover each face, each pose, each individual, marked by time, marked by their life story, which is unique and inalienable.
Again, in the first room, a man is portrayed standing up. Relying on his walking stick, he also finds balance on the raw wall. He is confidently and serenely awaiting the impression that Eurico will leave on the photographic film.
The clothes, harder to control, fall loosely and untidily. They add lightness to the photographic landscape and a moving effect to the main characters. They bring them closer to life and the truth of being.
We have men with naked trunks, others in tank tops, asserting a degree of manhood and a life yet to be lived. Some souls are laid bare, others only show what they want to show.
The images in Volterra invite us to create stories. The ingredients are all there. Against the same stony and grainy backdrop, other elderly women wear standardised clothing: hands holding wrinkled aprons, profound looks hidden under the shadows of their scarred faces.
Men in baggy trousers stand out against backgrounds with horizontal stripes. Tired but still friendly faces.
Couples agreeing to be photographed in their intimacy, he in a shirt tied around his waist and flowery fabric covering his belly, she in an apron and short legs pressed together, extending the vertical lines emphasised by the gown.
A host of people appear in the photographs, piquing our curiosity about how they lived, what they did, what they felt and thought.
This exhibition presents them with the esteem and devotion they deserve. After all, these are (valuable) lives which the photographer has helped to encapsulate in time. We should revere them. We have an obligation to honour them. Beware, these images carry lives inside them, lives that have placed their trust in us.
Eurico Lino do Vale’s exhibition Volterra, curated by João Silvério, restores the notion of travel photography. As the curator says, the artist “pursues a methodology, at times unplanned and therefore random, of recording the different characters he encounters to the limit of the material and temporal possibilities available to him at the time“.
In the late 1990s, when Eurico Lino do Vale was studying in Dusseldorf, Germany, and during a school break, he visited Tuscany in Italy and roamed the alleys and hidden rural spots, getting away from his group of friends. This break made him embark on a truly solo journey of picture taking, confirming the work he was already doing at the time, using portraits of people and communities in his photographs, such as those developed in the projects carried out between 1999 and 2009, “Retratos de Alfama“, “Retratos e outras situações encenadas” and “Retrato(s) da Aldeia da Luz“. All of these include a certain allusion to neue sachlichkeit, or the New Objectivity, in which artists, especially German ones, revealed a commitment to the world and its practicality. Eurico Lino do Vale portrays local workers in the exhibition.
These figures also reveal the photographer’s instantaneity. “Photography provides instant history, instant sociology and instant participation,” Susan Sontag told us.
And finally, after looking at a photograph of a tree, challenging us to look closer and recognise what binds us together, nature, we are struck by a booklet on display at the end of the exhibition. We leaf through the tiny book and find thumbnails of the images of the workers we’ve seen throughout the exhibition. We find possible sequences and associations of images other than those displayed on the walls, and we glimpse the infinite number of connections that can exist between them. The same images emphasise Walter Benjamin’s idea that “the work of art has always been reproducible”.
The pages are embellished with small square photographs. There is a large empty space next to them where text could be written. Eurico Lino do Vale may have left his pages empty so that we could cover them with the stories we created while admiring the series on display in the gallery. An open book for us to make our own connections.
Eurico Lino do Vale’s Volterra exhibition is on show at Galeria Belard until 16 September.