Let me be straight, it wasn’t the work on show that got me wobbling, rather the sets of eyes through which I was trying to observe: 10 pairs to be exact; belonging to the group of young photographers I was accompanying.
The exhibition itself – selected works from a long-term collaboration between young Brazilians living on the streets of Belo Horizonte and artists Julian Germain, Patricia Azeredo and Murilo Gudoy – offers candid views that are tender, unexpected, playful and heart-wrenching in equal measure.
Having stepped into this exhibition not having done my homework I found myself scanning rapidly to equip myself for potential questions. And it was at this point The Beautiful Horizon upended me.
I watched the group circulate. Conscientious 15-17 year olds showing independence and curiosity (not to mention a respectful silence worthy of a former church) with prize DSLR’s snapping away, they were physically engaged, yet the sense of ‘detachedness’ was still tangible. In Belo Horizonte, disposable cameras had been handed to participating youths and subsequently were snatched, fought over, traded and treasured. The work before us – a tiny sample from a vast archive of thousands of photographs and posters produced over seventeen years – offered unprecedented viewpoints from the streets of Brazil. These images taken worlds away from our own, presented insights from parallel, young lives. This was not a time for photographing photographs. These were images as visual prompts – invitations to feel, to hear, to see and smell new streets. I couldn’t shove the students through the frames but admittedly the desire was there – for them to land in Belo Horizonte with some dirt on grazed knees; to be affected in some way. And then the Beautiful Horizon dawned on me: It wasn’t the distance or ‘otherworldliness’ of the imagery that generated what I mistook for apathy; it was it’s very familiarity. The snapshots on show will never be posted on Facebook, at least not by those that took them, but it was their sense of energy and spirit, their mischievous immediacy and sheer ‘randomness’. It’s the unmistakable voice of youth the world over.
The exhibition brought to mind a previous school photography project (inspired by Stephen Gill’s Unseen UK collaboration with Royal Mail in which disposable cameras were distributed to Postmen and women across the UK). Over 100 students were challenged to take a photo every 30 minutes across a whole day. The responses were once again unexpected, playful; spirited. Unsurprisingly, for participating students the fun factor was in the doing: Using disposable cameras and anticipating the results. When we eventually sat in class – surrounded by hundreds of prints – my excitement to read into the results – to categorise and theorise; to draw parallels with movements and genres – were picked up by some but for most the moment had passed. Banal? Vernacular?…Snapshot Aesthetic? Whatever. The physical act of photography wins every time.
Our visit to Fabrica was insightful. Absolutely. But of course the value of this remarkable body of work lies in the doing; the moment a camera is given to a child in Brazil. It never was produced for us – as exhibition visitors. Having a camera is a licence to explore; to be inquisitive. It represents the hope of something to come. At that particular moment I was in a new town with enthusiastic photography students – a quick look at The Beautiful Horizon was a prompt to act. We will revisit this fascinating project again, but for us it was time to take to the streets.
Published on 8 November 2012
Submitted by Chris Francis
Edited by Photoworks