O Cerco de Lisboa at Lisboa Municipal Archive | Photography

John Tagg’s book The Burden of Representation describes the practice of photography as a “method for offering a new kind of knowledge” or, in other words, a practice leading to a path towards the “art of truth”. A practice serving science, “essential for replicating all the forms and structures that strive for enlightenment”, or a documentary support for topics as delicate as social or political issues, or even as a foundation for recording historical events.

Admittedly, photographic endeavours have always sought to free themselves from their representational purpose, but the documentary genesis and recording of reality is exactly where the exhibition O Cerco de Lisboa finds its highest form of expression, its charm, as well as its mission. Mindful that images and the photographer’s work can influence society, the images gathered, without any filters, reveal a city that we find hard to recognise and accept. Particularly in its more intricate contours, such as poverty, social exclusion, homelessness and gentrification.

The curator of the exhibition Alejandro Castellote is correct to emphasise the documentary nature of the set of photographs he selected, currently housed at Lisboa Municipal Archive. They show the representation of the “social and urban outskirts of Lisbon”, especially the area that falls inside what was once Lisbon’s old wall. This perfectly identified place shows a complexity of social mismatches, also extending to issues of colonialism. As Castellote puts it in the exhibition presentation essay: “O Cerco de Lisboa includes dissenting images that critically revisit the colonial iconographies or the urban memory of some neighbourhoods, those that were born around small industries, forming a social and iconographic microcosm where factories lived side by side with ancillary businesses and workers’ homes.”

Lisbon from the edges of society is presented in this exhibition. A Lisbon forgotten in time, neglected and supplanted by the city’s glamour elsewhere. These overlooked areas, sidelined, are also home to migrants from the former colonies, sharing their vulnerability with the unemployed and homeless groups. In Castellote’s words, the exhibition O Cerco de Lisboa is intended to show the most deprived, the least listened to, or the inhabitants who choose alternative forms of existence and subsistence (such as the young people who take to the streets to show off their circus skills).

The exhibition’s artists and photographers are Augusto Brázio, Mag Rodrigues, Paulo Catrica, Pedro Letria, São Trindade and Valter Vinagre. Brázio opens the exhibition with the subject of colonialism, and a suggestion to the agents who helped establish the imperialist model. Valter Vinagre directly and clearly reveals the plight of the homeless, using images of broken-down places, or furniture set out in the open, as if it were the inside of a house. Vinagre handles his story’s main characters with great care and utmost respect. He presents people in a socially vulnerable situation, portrayed in the foreground, as if the photographer felt the need to give them back the dignity and glory that had been denied them. Mag Rodrigues is presenting a set of images entitled A Cor da Luz, dealing with issues that the artist has been addressing in her work, such as social stigma. They feature two albino women, whom she followed in their daily routines, aiming to “normalise and dignify their presence in the city where they live”. São Trindade’s photos reveal a Lisbon built of spoils and fragments. Wandering around the city, they reveal abandoned places and objects, between Baudelairean wanderings and objets perdus. Pedro Letria captivates us with the magnetising precision and magic with which he portrays the youth of the street artist community, as they attempt to make a living through juggling and circus skills. Paulo Catrica reveals Benfica, a Lisbon borough that he knows well, particularly places where the past has made its mark. As she describes it, Lara Jacinto presents us with a Lisbon “from the edges”. A segregated Lisbon, one of the slums prevalent in her childhood memories, where she saw the accumulation of litter and poverty. It reminds us of “social stratification, the failure of social, employment, housing and integration policies”.

O Cerco de Lisboa is showing at Lisboa Municipal Archive | Photography until 2 March, 2024.

Carla Carbone was born in Lisbon, 1971. She studied Drawing in and Design of Equipment at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Completed his Masters in Visual Arts Teaching. She writes about Design since 1999, first in the newspaper O Independente, then in editions like Anuário de Design, arq.a magazine, DIF, Parq. She also participates in editions such as FRAME, Diário Digital, Wrongwrong, and in the collection of Portuguese designers, edited by the newspaper Público. She collaborated with illustrations for Fanzine Flanzine and Gerador magazine. (photo: Eurico Lino Vale)

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