my home is where you are
my home is where you are by Francisco Feio
It’s not easy to photograph intimacy. Hovering around someone else, staking out an intimate space with the eye, mapping it through the viewfinder and clicking the shutter, sometimes once, sometimes repeatedly, the mechanical noise of the photographic act cutting through space. Photography is a solitary vocation, and from that perspective, photographing intimacy is an apparent contradiction.
Bodies of work that explore intimacy over an extended period of time are rare and far between, and only rarely do flashes of this theme appear in the work of other photographers in any systematic mode. A few isolated photographs may appear over time, but they are rarely put together into a body of this nature.
In “my home is where you are” (a minha casa é onde estás), nothing is forced or contrived – from the poses to the framing, to the available lighting that was present at the moment the images were captured. There is a blatant refusal to use flash which forces the work to reveal itself as it really is, slowly, bringing bodies into the light, molded from the blackness of the dense shadows, as if a sculpture, a mass of light extruded from the darkness. There is a synthesis of experiences and world views that first encounter physicality in its tactile dimension and now dedicate themselves to other masses and other shadows. Filipe Casaca’s work already has a history of treating light as if it had mass and it is no surprise that all of these photographs were originally recorded on film. There is a deliberateness and density inherent to the process that is transmitted to the print and the final image. Those who are familiar with the process know what is at stake, from the physical presence of the negative to the final chemical processing. The effort in making the image appear is akin to the effort of photographing the subject.
It is also important to stress the nature of the photographic act itself. The presence of the photographer’s body is necessarily and obviously purposeful in many of the images. It is evident both in the immediate presence of his body, and also more subjectively in a presence inherent to the point of view of the images, the author’s body touching the body revealed in the image. It is in touching this body that matter and texture are brought to our attention, to the density we feel in the touch of skin on skin and in approaching this body revealed by his gaze.
It is only natural that in a body of work of this nature some of the images would possess a strong sexual energy. But it is no less interesting to note that this energy is most intense precisely in those images that don’t feature a figure, reinforcing the idea that intimacy is not only the domain of sex and that energy is a personal construction made up of the traces we imbue with symbolic significance.
This notion of intimacy is reinforced by the format of the prints, a size more at home on the pages of book than on the walls of a museum. This format forces the viewer to approach the surface of the images in order to read them. It’s a scale that imparts a notion of intimacy that transcends the content of the photos. Filipe Casaca presents us with an interior vision focused on the domestic space, and shares with us an intimate moment with the object of his affection.
A conversation between Mingyu Wu and Filipe Casaca
MW: The title you choose — my home is where you are (a minha casa é onde estás) — sounds like, above all else, a declaration of love.
FC: Yes, yes... it is. It’s always difficult to choose a title. It’s a body of work about an individual. There might be more obvious titles, it could have simply been named after the subject... That was the most difficult part, and it brought up a few issues. How do I want to exhibit this person? I had to consider these issues both when selecting the images and when choosing a title. This title has the same softness as the images. And there is an obvious attempt at a sort of protection. The idea is there, but it’s written in between the lines. And at the same time it states openly what it is. This all has to do with time, the time spent creating, the time spent editing, to get to these final images, to make sense of it all. And its all this time, and the size of the images, that gets us there, but we have to take as much time as is needed. The title had to immediately communicate what the work was all about beyond the shadow of a doubt. I’ve been asked if the photographs are all of the same person. It’s very important for me that it be obvious that they are of the same woman, otherwise it would make no sense and would be a totally different body of work. The title eliminates any other interpretations: it is one person in one space. And it is dedicated to her.
MW: Is that why you want to publish a book of these photographs? Do you see this show as an exhibition of the book?
FC: It never occurred to me to hang these images on a wall. There isn’t enough time to really see these photographs at a show. An exhibition is essentially a social event. The book will remain and can be seen repeatedly, always.
MW: Many of the photographs remind dance movements, the stage, and even the dressing room. They have a marked element of performance. How do you relate that with such an intimate theme?
FC: The images are exactly that, a performance. But they are my performance. They are of Teresa as performed by my mind’s eye, which is different from anyone else’s. Her body has always been very important to me, the way she moves… It is very difficult to photograph someone you know. The fact that I know her doesn’t make it easier. It actually makes it much more difficult. There is a tendency to bring our opinions of somebody to bear on the photographs we take of them, projecting on them that image we’ve created, which doesn’t always correspond with their own self-image. That’s what’s most interesting: showing her an image that she hasn’t seen before. And that’s what these images are about, about the way her body is, the movements she might not even be aware of. Yes, she is a person who is very conscious of her own image, but all those poses: are they actually intentional? It’s a project that takes time. A person might be aware of being photographed, but after a while it doesn’t matter. There are unconscious, natural poses. That doesn’t mean they’re the result of habit and training, but the body itself is aware of the fact and reacts naturally.
MW: Who needs to show these images, the photographer or the lover? Is it even possible to separate the two?
FC: I think it’s more of a selfish act. Photographing the person I live with and love is a great challenge which requires psychological and emotional distance in order to evaluate things with cold objectivity. To select one image and not the other, when they all seem to look right… Maybe it was an exercise in suffering: how much of a photographer am I, how far can I go and still give Teresa something useful. It has a very emotional side too.
MG: It’s curious to note that in the photographs you’ve taken far from home, especially in East Asia, your presence is much more obvious, there seems to be a stronger intimacy than in those photographs taken in your home. It might be because of the effort to distance yourself that you mentioned. The relationship between intimacy and distance seems to be inverted. Would you say that the home is a sort of counterpoint to those distant places in terms of photographic attitude?
FC: It might seem strange, but when I’m shooting in a new place, given that I don’t know it, I feel the need for my subjects to be aware of me, react and accept me — that acceptance is very important to me. I feel the need to be part of the place where I find myself: I’m not interested in being an outsider who happened to pass by. With people I know it’s the opposite, I need to distance myself in order to reject prejudices and existing images, to introduce some strangeness and counteract forces of habit. I don’t want to play it safe.
MG: And now the inevitable question: Given that they are dedicated to her, how has Teresa reacted to the photographs?
FC: I don’t know... I think at first she liked the experience. She wasn’t aware that the images could become a project, an object that would be available to many people, that would assume it’s own destiny and reach a dimension that eclipses the life of two people. Society is squeamish about everything that’s related to private life, the body, both sexual and not. And as it’s Teresa’s body, how will she react, how will she expect others to react? — all of this makes me somewhat tense, and it’s difficult to overcome. People’s prejudices might make them feel uncomfortable when they see certain images. I try to put myself in Teresa’s shoes, and it can all seem really weird. I don’t know... time will tell if I did the right thing.
MG: And does she identify herself with the photographs?
FC: Not always, and that’s what makes it interesting. It can be an enriching experience for her.