Maria Oliveira – I am more interested in the suggestion than in the explanation
Interview in english and greek by Ifigeneia Sakkou
«I am more interested in the suggestion than in the explanation.
I think that I have always felt more attraction for what is unknown, what generates doubt.»
Maria Oliveira grew up and lives in Portugal and is a distinguished photographer who systematically exhibits her unique work in international fora and galleries since 2011. Her work is also part of private collections and museums
She is an accomplished artist who, with her images and texts, works on themes that examine the personal memories, the relationship and connection of living beings with the environment, the fluidity of life cycles and the transience of situations, current challenges at an environmental, social and economic level.
She approaches her subjects in a poetic and symbolic way. Her photographic work, consisting of seven monographs, moves between the visible and the implied. Between reality, memories and fantasy.
Ms Oliveira, sincere thanks for the acceptance of our invitation. We welcome you to Photologio.gr for a presentation of your interesting work, to the greek audience. You were born and raised in Ponte de Lima, one of the oldest picturesque cities of Portugal and you live in Porto, one of the largest cities and urban areas of the country. How and in what extend these omphalic, for you, places, have affected your work?
Thank you very much for the invitation. I think having grown up in a rural environment, surrounded by mountains, fields, fog, animals, had a strong impact in defining who I am and later in my work.
I have been interested in working on themes related to a holistic and integrated coexistence among all living beings, the fluidity of cycles and transition of states.
I believe that having this familiar connection to a non-urban, quieter, emptier, and slower environment definitely affects my work and the topics I want to explore.
Your series “Under the Surveillance of Ancient Animal” which consists of sixteen monochromatic analog negatives, is a return journey to your home town, where along with your personal memories, you document in a poetic way, a rural life that tends to extinct. Please share with us your approach to this particular project. How difficult and challenging is it when dealing with subjects with personal references? Except from personal annotations is this series also a comment of a lifestyle change that leads man away from its primordial connection to nature?
The idea behind this work is just a personal need to process the return to this place and how it changed for me. It was a personal reason, there was no priority intention to create a project. But, of course, despite this personal imprint, the project ends up having a universal dimension, this place is just an example of a depopulated village that becomes silent. As anywhere else, if people leave, the rest of nature spreads. What becomes evident is everything that is not human. This is not specific of this territory.
Your second chronological series is called “Saving fire for darker days”. Please share with us the idea behind this series. How did you come up with this title?
In 2016 I participated in a creative lab in which I developed this work. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do I started bringing images about my mother and her daily life. Naturally, it became the theme of the project. It was a very important and transformative work; besides the project, it changed the relationship between us. The project was a kind of instrument that served to reposition us as mother and daughter.
This is not important to who sees the work, but it is present somehow in the images.
About the title, normally I write during I’m photographing, it is an important part of my creative process. The title came from a text I wrote at the time I was developing this project. I was interested in the idea of saving resources, preparing and anticipating something to come, and the cathartic potential of fire. It’s all part of this environment.
In 2019 you have developed “It’s still morning” for the first Ci. CLO Bienal de Fotografia do Porto, which is a project alluding to the theme “Adaptation and Transition”. The theme refers to the drastical changes in our planet, forced by the constructive and destructive power of human beings to the environment and the need to accept and adapt to this transitional period by developing new sustainable perceptions and practices. I noticed that the series consists of 18 remarkable digital coloured photographs, glimpses of a fragile changing life which indeed leave you with the feeling of the transition. How were you inspired for the development of this project and what are the ideas that you want to pass on, to the viewers with your shots? Do you think that it is still morning, for the planet?
The purpose of this invitation was to reflect on the challenges we are currently facing in environmental, social, and economic terms.
As I thought about it, the idea that became very present was that we live in a constant duality of a need to control and the fragility of the world. A constant tension between our need of interfere in the planet and the natural and eternal state of the things that is the transition.
We see the world in our way, under dominion, adjusted to our hands. Attentive to what we can control. But life belongs to us to the same extent as death. We always watch that which ends.
This work is a reflection about our position in the world, how we interact and affectthe environment, the other living being.
I think we live in a period of great change and no one can say when or how it will end. In this sense, it’s still morning, it’s just the beginning.
Do you think that an artist, must take a stand with its work on the critical issues of his time?
No, I think artists should be free. We can’t charge that to art.
It is natural that these issues come to art, because concern to everyone, but I don’t think artists have an obligation to guide their work by this.
What is your opinion about AI photography? Do you think that it is a short of “adaptation and transition” for the photographic mean? What are your thoughts about it?
I don’t know. I think it takes time to know what will happen. The world is in deep change, photography too. I don’t know what will happen to it. It will have to reinvent itself, but I don’t think it will be an end. Humans, at least as we know them, will always need art. But things circulate, move, some die, others emerge. “Adaptation and transition”, yes, probably.
In terms of narrative I have noticed that the four elements of nature are a constant inspiration for you. How do you incorporate them in the series “To wander the Sea” and the “Leakage”
Both projects resulted from artistic residencies in a specific place. ‘To Wander the Sea’ resulted from a proposal to develop a project about some salt fields in Portugal. It is an interesting challenge to approach a strange place. It can constrain but also provoke us and that is very good because we can discover something new, it makes us more attentive and alert.
Yes, I have always worked on the theme of the human being in relation to the natural elements. I’m not saying it will always be like this, but so far this is where I feel I want to be with my artistic work.
Although your photographic work is all about humans, and the environment they live in, work, and interact, their actual presence in your pictures is more suggestive. What is the reasoning behind it?
I am more interested in the suggestion than in the explanation. I think that I have always felt more attraction for what is unknown, what generates doubt. I don’t know where this comes from. Maybe in the fact that I grew up in an environment with a strong spiritual and mystical charge.
Besides, reality always has many layers, angles. We can’t really define it, so I don’t feel the need to reveal anything. I think it is in between things or in the whole that the greatest interest lies.
In your website one can read your thoughts unfolded in beautiful poetic essays. Do these texts precede the shooting or they are thoughts after the completion of a project? Do they work as a verbal road map, activating your imagination and inspiration and helping you in the formation of the project?
Yes, it is during the project. I’m not sure what they are for, but I always need to write. Since it’s a pretty lonely process, I often say that writing keeps me company. And it’s good company, it doesn’t get in the way 😊
Your work is a wonderful poetic, contemporary photographic look, fresh and nostalgic at the same time. What is it that you want to communicate with it and how do you wish to be perceived by the viewers?
Honestly, I’ve never thought much about it. I don’t rationalize what I want to transmit. I photograph because I have fun and it helps me to process the tensions of being alive. The reason is selfish. Of course, if my work can mean something to someone else it’s wonderful. And this may happen because, deep down, we all share the same fears, the same doubts, we all need the same things. What separates us is very little. We are animals, members of a planet, of an incredibly complex and interconnected system. Even if our daily life is disconnected from nature this is, somehow, inscribed in us. But I may be wrong 🙂
Please share with us your future plans. Are there any upcoming exhibitions where someone can admire your work and are there any plans for future projects?
I’m will be participating in The Kranj Foto Fest, in August, and I’m working in a new project for a new book that I hope will exist in a near future. Apart from that, some small side projects.
Ms Oliveira, we are so glad having you in our e-magazine and we thank you for this enlightening and interesting conversation.
– Thank you very much Ifigeneia!
Born in Ponte de Lima (1982) and currently living in Porto, Portugal. Based on her personal experiences, she has been interested in work about these physical and mental umbilical places. About its mutation, and the relations between people and nature, in a close coexistence. She is interested not in its documentation but in a poetic approach, working between the visible and the occult. Between reality, memory and imagination.
Exhibits regularly since 2011, in Portugal and abroad. In 2022 she takes part in the exhibition “NATURE FUTURE – Young European photography”, organized by the French presidency of the EU Council, in Prague and Berlin.
In 2021, as part of the Porto Photography Biennial, has participated in the exhibition ‘Sustentar’ with the work ‘To Wander the Sea, shown, among others, at Fotofestiwal, Lodz, Poland and at Cooperativa Árvore, in Porto.
In 2020 wins the grant ‘Sustentar’, from Ci.clo and participates in the ‘Recomeçar- 30º Edição dos Encontros da Imagem’ exhition, The Cave Photography, Porto.
In 2019 she participated in the Photography Biennial of Porto and in the exhibition “Now, for the future” at Open Eye Gallery, in Liverpool, UK. In the same year she won the award Novos Talentos FNAC (PT), Scopio Magazine International Photobook Contest (PT), was finalist of the ESPY 2019 photography award (UK) and won an honorable mention in the 14th Julia Margaret Cameron Award (UK).
In 2016 and 2017 she was a resident artist of Ci.clo Plataform of Photography, where she developed the project “Saving fire for darker days”, part of the itinerant collective exhibition “Unit & Division” that has been held in diferent places, such as Centro Português de Fotografia, in Porto, Portugal; Fotofestiwal, Lodz, Poland and School of Visual Arts, in New York, U.S.A.
In 2017 she produced the exhibition “Sedimento” for Colégio das Artes, in Coimbra, Portugal and Centro Interpretativo do Mundo Rural, in Arraiolos, Portugal (in 2018).
The project “Under the surveillance of ancient animals” was exhibited in FotoRio (Rio de Janeiro), Festival Outono Fotográfico (Ourense) and More Than a Gallery (Paris).
In 2011 the exhibition of the project “seed|sap” was held in Casa de Portugal (Macao), A Esmorga (Ourense) and Casa do Professor (Braga).
She has participated in several publications and online platforms such as Lenscratch, Scopio Network, Prism Photo Magazine, Le Journal de la Photographie, Phases Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, Photographic Museum of Humanity, Urbanautica, LensCulture, P3, among others.
Her work is part of the collection of MAR-Rio Art Museum and of private collections.