i’m not me

a photographer's blog by Carlos Loret de Mola

My Top 11: André Cepeda’s Ontem

The end-of-year Top 10 photography book lists are cropping up like mushrooms all over the internet forest. Speaking of which, Little Brown Mushroom’s list has been an early favorite this year, having been published two weeks ago. Soth is an astute observer of the photobook publishing world and his 2010 list doesn’t disappoint.

Actually it does. All the lists do. Obviously the top 10 are going to be “the Best”. Truth is, if you just go down one more layer you’ll leave the best and encounter the raw.

I would like to celebrate a book that, for no good reason whatsoever, just couldn’t break into the top-single-digits. I have no idea why.

Maybe because it’s a real book with real photographs about a real place done over many years by a native photographer without much fanfare. André Cepeda photographs his hometown of Porto, Portugal. The downtrodden structures, interiors and portraits could tell a story about poor and misbegotten lifes, but Cepeda is not a journalist. He is documenting his own soul through the faces and bodies of the inhabitants and the melancholic decay they call home. The title Ontem means Yesterday in Portuguese.

The book itself is superbly produced by Le caillou bleu éditions with a nice large tipped-in print embossed onto its elegant linen hardcover, not unlike the third edition of Sleeping By The Mississippi. Is that the problem? Too Sothy? Alec has moved on and I guess we have, too. The trajectory from Sleeping By The Mississippi through Niagara to Broken Manual is that of an artist descending deeper and deeper into his own emotional inner core. The cumulative effect of the three projects in sequence is riveting (a great reason to have checked out From Here To There at the Walker). Soth always seems restless for the next step inward. Or is it downward?

Cepeda is working on a much more intimate level. You can palpably feel his very personal connection with the people and places he photographs. There is a sense of loyalty that has been nurtured through years of living there and being one with his subjects. This is the kind of authenticity that I aspire to with my own work and that often eludes me. To see someone doing it so clearly and intensely makes me want to reach for this book again and again, to feel it once more. He does owe a lot to the amazing legacy of American Color Photography that Eggleston and Soth are the reigning champions of. So many of us do. But that’s a superficial assessment. Don’t let that get in the way of appreciating a truly great photobook experience. Anyone who’s familiar with my work can understand why Ontem is my pick for book-of-the-year. A personal choice, sort of like The Mushroom Collector on the top of LBM’s list. That’s a great book, too, but because of its powerfully intimate emotional tone and the sheer beauty of its color photographs, this year’s coveted 11th place goes to André Cepeda’s Ontem.