With love and squalor
Three months roaming the city, tripod and camera on his back, exhausted from the weight of looking, in that maze of all mazes: São Paulo, which nobody dares say they know, an abstract idea even for those who are born and live there, for the taxi drivers, who daren’t venture into some areas of the city or only venture out escorted by their printed or digital guides: street maps or GPS – their objective, laconic tones concealing the ignorance of the details in this monstrous, magnificent construction made of details.
Different from those European cities with which André Cepeda, from Portugal, is so familiar, São Paulo is a composite – of materials, time and space. Plans do not prevail, nor logic or architectural intent. Nothing but scraps, overlapping, each contributing to the white noise of confusion, the non-stop sounds of lavish machinery that builds and destroys, with awkward prodigality as with the image of a gable end, blind and dirty, the brutal back-end of some building linking the unplanned geometry of three decrepit makeshift constructions with tarry waterproofing, slopped on. His images are not only concerned with the sordid matter of the city: they are striking for their refined colouring, the delicate composition, the subtly graded tones of the blue-gray walls, the asbestos roofing, the aluminium gutters, their sober fluxes interrupted by subtle red streaks: a colour then becoming emphatic in a brick wall.
The artist records with care these almost invisible details, discovering a magnificent São Paulo, like rotting fruit on a table. The yellow light pulsing from the ulcerated skin of this tiny, strident world in two shades of gold: the lighter belonging to the remaining, ripe surface, the darker, the sheen of antique gold, oozing from the scabs covering the cracking surface. Here and there, white, delicately embroidered outbreaks of mould.
From the intimate to the majestic, from death to celebration of power, the artist captures Banespa’s old head office, pride of local engineering prowess and São Paulo’s citizens, for almost 20 years the tallest building in the city. In his obsessive study, which includes new viewpoints, Cepeda scaled a neighboring building to take his image of a skyscraper, limitless, effective as it dominates the Lilliputian backdrop. Yellows acquire the stridency of Merthiolate. The urban landscape is reduced to an ensemble covered with a rusty patina, exuding a cloud of dust, as beautiful as the atmosphere of uninhabitable planets.
This same city shelters a tiny nest of owls, scratched into the ground. A surprise, intensified by the owls’ distinctive unwavering stare at the photographer. Even more startling are the six eyes: three owls, one a fledgling. Proof that life runs its course, albeit restrained, silent, like the tree, its roots covered by a layer of cement, unable to drink from the rain, even when it runs rampant and abundant through the impermeable streets, or when it overflows the rivers and channels that awake during the fearsome summer storms. This systematic imprisoning of nature is matched by an iridescent variety of blind facades, fences, gatehouses, railings, fences and walls. São Paulo has been most inventive as it seeks ways to protect and increase security – that only increases the sense of insecurity.
Sometimes life makes its own allegories: the leafy canopy of a palm tree overhanging a pink facade shading into blue. In another image, the palm tree, this time natural, establishes an unexpected dialogue with a lazy bunch of copper-colored fruits reverberating with the dark pink and grey of the stone slabs that cover the facade of a building, breaking with light and shadow the regular lines of the design.
São Paulo is its inhabitants, each one as unknown as these views and fragments of the city, of crumbling bricks in quiet courtyards, the church that survives sandwiched between tall buildings. With his aura of mystery, this thoughtful, grave man fixes us with one eye while the other is submersed in darkness. The dark purple of his shirt and the side lighting emphasise his compact presence while reinforcing the details of his face, thick, wiry gray hair, illuminating the walls of the room, hinting at the mutual magnetic attraction between him and the environment. As with the city outside.///
Agnaldo Farias is a curator and art critic. He is a Professor in the Architecture and Urbanism Faculty, University of São Paulo, Brazil.
André Cepeda (1976), photographer, was born in Coimbra, Portugal. He lives and works in O Porto.
///Tags: Artigos online, cidade, São Paulo, urbanismo