Books - Foam List No.9 06.October 2010
André Cepeda, “Ontem”
A striking book with the title “Ontem” (yesterday) has recently been released by the Belgian publishing house Le caillou bleu. André Cepeda is a young Portuguese photographer who for a number of years has photographed the inhabitants of a small district located on the outskirts of the city of Porto. Many people here eke out a living only through prostitution and petty crime. The book contains portraits, (drastic scenes), apartments, and landscapes, often in the colours of dusk or under a grey sky. Some portraits reminded me of Chauncey Hare or Jacob Holdt. These are interspersed with pictures of sex or trashed rooms. There are also portraits in which people have been photographed with great clarity and sobriety. (It takes time for these pictures to reveal their meaning). They seem to show a “bare life” (Agamben), one that is reduced to the absolute minimum. But they also show the full sympathy the photographer has for his sitters. In an interview at the end of the book, Cepeda mentions a couple who found one another only late in life and describes their love under these difficult circumstances. This allows us to understand small details, such as plant pots outside a closed door or a broken window, and we are more willing to accept nakedness and unadorned physicality in the images. This is an important book alongside “Messina” by Pieter Hugo and “Niagara” by Alec Soth. It too uses the means of a new documentary style (flash, reduction, the artistic use of colour) to confront viewers with the inhabitants of a small peripheral world that is more representative of ours than we wish to acknowledge.