Rui Palma tells the story about photography and the beautiful life of Lisbon’s progressive art scene.
Restless Youth, 2016
The 22 year old Portuguese photographer Rui Palma claims his artistry is based in theatre, yet, its executed through the lens. To Rui, photography functions both as weapon and armor as he gets close and personal with his subjects, staging and documenting the grand play called life of a sub-culture millennial.
Think NSFW portraits against a burning red sunset, sensitive old lady hands carefully caressing a pot of dried flowers – and a knocked down drag queen. All of this effortlessly blends together as you experience Palma’s work. Only by having a quick browse through, even if we recommend otherwise, you will instantly get what we mean by the mysterious and cinematic traits that flow through each image. Taking visual inspiration from artists like Francis Bacon, Warhol and Pierre et Gilles, his intensely colored and vivid photographs with stark compositions immediately set the scene. You cant help but wonder what went down before and after these moments were fixed. As if what we get to witness is only a layer of dust, or sparkle, that landed on Rui’s lens as life in Lisbon danced on.
Inspired by the languages of film, dance and poetry his work aims to formalize and materialize the inner world. With an anthropological eye for human behavior, his ideas are expressed through a variety of methods as Palma approaches his practice both as a creator and spectator. On one end, meticulously planned drawings works as a script to fully realize the photographs before they are even shot. On the other, Rui makes sure to keep a camera in his pocket to capture any given precious moment, resulting in an array of intimate and vibrant snap-shots. This combined way of working generates a collection of photos where it’s unclear what is staged and what is ’real’ – but through the lens of Rui it’s all just one mad, wonderful play.
Constantly on the lookout for new projects, Rui currently keeps himself busy with photography and film-making. He’s even co-directing the soon-to-be launched art magazine ”Retina”. Luckily, we’ve gotten a chance to go behind the scenes with the director himself, and here’s what he had to say.
Didi, Barcelona 2014
You studied theatre, how did the transition into photography come about?
Theatre made me see artistic means as ways of looking at human behavior. The transition happened naturally, unplanned, a friend offered me a camera and I started shooting. I believe that what really captivated me and still impresses me in photography, even in this digital era, is that we can fixate things in time and look at them again. I see photography as an anthropological tool, or way to map what is around me, it’s like a weapon and shield,that can get me close to unfamiliar things. The camera is an aquarium where things that interest me gracefully swim around.
The Human figure is very present in your work, even when it’s not actually in the photo, from what do you draw most of your inspiration?
I am fascinated by people. The human figure is very present even when there is only its absence or mark, objects or spaces, I’m interested in peoples dependence on objects, and how objets that we use can last longer than ourselves and then become reliquaries. But especially how people are dependent of symbolic behaviors, such as holding hands, blow candles or mourning. So I find inspiration in different things, newspapers, music and literature – anything that provides internal images and sensations. I guess when I create an image Im trying to find the shape of a certain sensation, it is a search to materialize the inside world, a place that is not disturbed by hysteria or apathy. I also feel inspired by watching dancers, they are the most beautiful things. They can speak without using words, photography does that as well. Watching shows is a moment when you dialogue with yourself. I also find inspiration in images that I see when I’m almost falling asleep. I really like to access that zone of subconsciousness, its full of beautiful images. Sometimes I try to wake up, write in my notebook, and go back to sleep.
What do you look for when you do more spontaneous shoots?
I look for honesty – and strangers are the best at being honest. Perhaps because photographing is very intimate, I get to be very close to someone when I shoot them, people get very intimate when the camera is present. Even though everyone has a camera phone, there is still something very sacred about being photographed – if you photograph something that means that thing is worth contemplation. When people are being photographed they want to look the way they idealize themselves as much as possible, so in a way they will play themselves. That makes a photograph an image that represents someone acting themselves. But most of the times in those situations, what happens is exactly the opposite, the lens denounce, there is always a crack from where honesty escapes.
Do you think the mass circulation of images online takes away or adds to the value of photography?
I think its very interesting. We live in a time where almost everybody has the means to make an image. I guess the act of creating an image is similar to the sexual act, since there is an urgency of perpetuation or looking for meaning, even since cave paintings, but now everybody has the means show and get immediate feedback on their images on social media. We are anesthetized viewers and automatic up-loaders. Recently for a cinema festival postcard project, I thought about social media and hookup apps and how they are such good examples of the long term relation between falsity and image and how we are automatically ready to like a beautiful sunset. I think that excess is a very interesting concept to be explored but it also creates apathy.
Deborah Kristal 2015
Being based in Lisbon, could you tell us more about the cultural scene is this up-and-coming creative hub?
Lisbon is a very special city. Its a place with special moments everyday. Until recently, a well kept secret. The gentrification and savage touristic exploitation is now threatening the city’s life quality and the government should give more support to culture and urgently create means to preserve not only the city´s identity but also affordability. However, the city has been confirming its conditions for a very interesting artistic production. There are collectives whom’s presence is crucial in the city, platforms and venues that give young artists space to experiment. There is also a growing cultural effervescence, young people are showing their work more. There are so many places I find interesting in Lisbon, but “Finalmente”, a bar the size of a room with a glitter curtain and drag-shows really is a capsule of beauty.
Describe the most perfect set you could imagine (you get to shoot literally anything and anyone)?
The perfect set, would be the one you see and don´t associate to anything, no aesthetic current, no silhouettes from the past. That would be an independent image. I believe, unfortunately, its very hard to create a free image since we are drowned in images. I don´t know if an image can be independent and still be an image, because it will always be a representation of something, so it that wouldn’t be an image – but something else. Trying to imagine that is a bit hard. ha. So I would ideally travel places that interest me. Although, I don´t really think we need to go very far to find the perfect set, what’s around us is very interesting.
Which of your photographs are you most proud of?
The ones I shot because I felt the need to. They’re research for myself and it wasn’t about pleasing a viewer.
What artists serve as your biggest role models or inspiration?
Nan Goldin, Francis Bacon, Nico, Visconti. I also admire Diane Von Furstenberg, Alexa Chung and Paris Hilton.
What are you working on currently and where can we expect to see more of you in the future?
I am working on a series of appropriated images where I search for Shakespeare characters on random internet videos and footage. In this project I have realized that Youtube can be a window to watch humanity. Because people film and upload everything, from births to funerals, and there is an inherent necessity of confirmation, registration and perpetuation. The project its called “My eyes your eyes” (a line from A Midsummer night’s dream). I am also co-directing a magazine coming out in June, Retina, that reunites more then forty collaborations featuring artists like Kostis Fokas, Brett Amory and Patrick Church. The Magazine gather works based in several practices and will run with a theme every time, that all will reinterpreted by artists featured.