This project about portraits in movement was probably conceived a while ago, during the making of “A Audiência”, a documentary about the new religious life of the gypsy community in Portugal. I was filming with some families in Castelo Branco, and Ti João, the patriarch, an old man with a flowing white beard, a point of reference in the community, who had formerly been a bodyguard of President Ramalho Eanes. Whenever I looked at him through the camera, Ti João tried to remain as still as possible. He would stop and concentrate on maintaining a pose. He explained to his granddaughter that I was taking a portrait of him.
Although he was aware that it was a documentary film, the references to photography and all the family portraits that he had organised in a beautiful composition on the wall of his room were superimposed over the experience to be filmed. A new relationship was forged around this gaze.
The fundamental questions that constantly emerged during the act of filming, which determined the stance of my gaze - the long hours spent behind the camera, to assume the presence of this gaze as an intervention in reality or not, time that slipped away in perceiving the world and small gestures - surprised me on that occasion in new ways. What happened in that time, in the unusual way in which Ti João posed for the camara?
A portrait, a closed field of forces, as Roland Barthes defined it in his essay about photography. I felt the need to concentrate my work around this: to enter into this field of forces and to do so by using filmic images.
Contrasting the “this happened” of photography with the “this is happening” of filmic images, reframing questions around portraits.
The long exposure times date back to the beginning of photographic techniques, to Nadar’s portraits, when subjects were obliged to remain immobile for long periods of time, or to the ritual of long and generous poses in a painter’s studio.
I am interested in portraits as a perceptive practice, as a means of working with time and gaze. The experience of the subject being portrayed and that of the subject who is gazing at him merge together to constitute a filmic image, which assumes the responsibility of capturing them over the course of time. In the process of filming and in the choice of the filmic medium the suspension of time that is characteristic of traditional portraits disappears, giving birth to a work about the matter of time itself. As for faces, they interest me in the terms theorised by Emmanuel Lévinas. Faces are “language even before they are captured in representations, an appeal to the devotion that I owe to others. While realising an encounter with other people’s faces the self suspends its persistence in being, its conatus essendi...”. An obligation to responsibility in Lévinas’ terms, the impossibility of subtracting oneself is not servitude but choice.
In the beginning it is just a frontal encounter, nothing more.