Love, friends and photography

This last time I have been back in Portugal for holidays, I spent some time with a couple friend of mine, Ricardo and Margarida (Magui).
I have know them for many many years, and I treasure both of them very much. The kind of friends that I have always felt the most open, that I can let it out and have the most meaningful conversations. Always been happy to see them together. Year after year.

I always try to see them when I go back, and this time, they are expecting a baby girl.

As I passed by their house for an afternoon of catch up talk, they suggested going for a sea side walk at Carcavelos beach, just a mile from their home.

The conversations, the rugby passes, the cooling water in my feet, the sunset and the dreamy music of waves, people and seagulls mixed together all created this moment, that could have been so simple and normal, and became so mesmerising, idilic and scarred in my memory.

While taking the photos (and back home when I checked them) I could notice the raw and beautiful way my camera and the 50mm lens were capturing all that afternoon. My senses and feelings straight to the camera, no lens change or forced compositions. No posing or waiting. Just real life through the lens.

How photography ought to be. I feel blessed for having it in my life.

And for having such loving friends I can create such nice memories for.

Happy Birthday Magui!

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Manuel Guerra

16.07.2017

When one understands..

It is too hot to sleep.
The film ends and I realize the room is burning, computer and table lamp on, window closed. I get up and take the duvet out of the window. It is there to avoid the morning light in this room I am still settling in.
Open the window.
Sit at the end of the bed and slowly lay back, with my feet still flat on the ground.
The air starts coming in, slowly and steady. A breeze that wakes me up for the first time, in this hot summer day that as passed. Life that flows from my feet and legs all over my uncovered skin.

The good passages of the day run trough my head, like they were asleep from all the heat.
I remember the Ashmolean. That museum I floated and wandered this afternoon, alone.
What I have seen and what I have felt in those galleries and stairways, comes back again, like a mental conclusion of the day.

 

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Young girl and her mother sketching in one of the galleries. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
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Passages and colours take you from masterpiece to masterpiece. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
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Old couple takes rest. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
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Man walks down the main stairway. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

As I grew into my twenties, museum visiting became more and more introspective, enlightening somehow. These perfect buildings, accidental studios of photography, with perfect natural and artificial lighting. The sense of peace, of leaving all your thoughts and doubts, fears and struggles out in the door. The ethereal ambiance, beautiful glowing. Almost empty rooms, yet full of art and wandering thoughts of all the people that have been there before.

As all this slow vibration coupled with my body, emotion came, for my frustration.
It is beautiful this feeling of things, sadness and beauty all together in one. I admit it frustrates me initially, as I want to appreciate what is around me when it comes.
It seems to blind my senses, but at the end, it enhances them.
I accept it and let the thoughts flow. They lead to my father.

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Mesmerizing symmetry and etheral light at the National Galley. London.
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Imponent neoclassical architecture. National Gallery, London.
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‘Samson Slaying a Philistine’, by Giambologna, is a wonder of multiple perspective viewing. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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Curator silently walks the National portrait Gallery. London

As deep as they get, for a long time they have not taken me there.
But today, at the Ashmolean, they did.
More than ten years have gone by, and I can’t help to feel, this time more than others, that kind of sadness that it is not sad. That hurting that it seems to heal.
That deep emotion that combines it all, and brings me to a different understanding and acceptance of everything.
He was a very acculturated person, curious about everything and wise beyond is years, that turn out not to be so many. I quickly feel this experience of mine, many years after, it is just a reflection of him. Maybe that’s why it came to me.
To see all that beauty in those rooms.
A gathering of long lost beautiful thoughts. Glimpses of naked artistic minds that came alive, and forever ceased to be. A trail of paint, rock or something else remains and here rests suspended in time.
Gathering of human achievements, visions of the world that we struggle in, until we struggle no more.
And then all is lost, all is washed way.

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Stillness of the art overlooking the ever moving crowds. National Gallery, London.
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Man contemplates a painting. National Gallery, London.
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Detail of a full body armour. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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Group of students at the Soochi gallery. Sloane Square, London.
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Industrial interiors at the Imperial war Museum. London.
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Organic stairway ate the Fine Arts Museum. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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It seems as a religious experience, spiritual, one may call it. All of it addresses the same part of the human mind, of leaving all the natural and instinctive worries behind, as you enter a big and beautiful room of silence and wonder.
Like churches, mosques and temples.
Like a thousand years ago, today, and forever. Till human we are no more.
And even though all these spaces, and the meanings and thoughts that bring them to be, mutate and evolve, they all conspire to achieve the same.
Peace and understanding.
When one understands, one does not fear.

People should go more to museums.

Manuel Guerra

07.07.2017

Lost and Burnt / Perdidos e queimados

Yesterday I decided to spend the day going around the area affected by the wildfires of Pedrógão Grande and Figueiró dos Vinhos, with the intention of creating a photographic reportage of the aftermath caused by the passing flames. This personal mission of mine had the intention to help in two different ways. With a trunk full of water and fruit, I could give some direct help to the people that suffered the most from this tragedy.
But I intended, above all, to take photos. To sensitize. To spread a message, my way of screaming through images, to show the reflex of a system that does not work and that, throughout the last decades, lost interest in the hidden and isolated places of Portugal, often the most beautiful, the most genuinely portuguese. I do not want to point fingers or take sides. I will not enumerate the many factors that lead this tragedy to happen, human or natural.
But I want to express what I have felt walking this remote and burnt villages.
An abandoned Portugal.

Ontem decidi passar o dia a percorrer as zonas afectadas pelos incêndios florestais na zona de Pedrógão Grande e Figueiró dos Vinhos, com o objectivo de fazer uma reportagem fotográfica do “depois” das chamas passarem.
Esta minha missão pessoal teria como intuito ajudar de duas maneiras. Levando água e fruta no porta bagagens, sempre dava uma ajuda directa a pessoas afectadas pela tragédia. Mas pretendia, acima de tudo, fotografar. Para sensibilizar. Para espalhar uma mensagem, a minha maneira de gritar por imagens, mostrar o reflexo de um sistema que não funciona e que se desinteressou nas ultimas décadas pelos recantos mais escondidos e isolados de Portugal, muitas vezes os mais bonitos, os mais genuinamente portugueses.
Não quero de modo algum apontar dedos e tomar partidos. Não vou enumerar os diversos factores que levaram a uma tragédia destas a acontecer, tanto humanos como naturais. Mas quero expressar o que senti por estas aldeias remotas, ardidas.
Um Portugal abandonado.

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The President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, speaks to the media.

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Burnt road sign.
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Black trees and desolated land in every direction and every road.
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Melted aluminium from a truck destroyed by the flames.

People that already have little help and, when faced with calamity, no help at all.
Isolated in a sea of millions of threes, ready to burn, and isolated now again, after they have all burnt. Food and medical help are far, in fire stations and closer to ongoing wildfires.
The media follows, like an escort, the President, stoping here and there to shoot some flames or a crying face. The CMTV car constantly throws garbage off the windows. No better image to embody the detachment of the country and its policies towards rural areas. The press covering a human tragedy while doing something that enables it.

I try not to take this personally. I speak with the people that I find as a friend, lump in the throat, hugs and tears.
I take pictures and we change ideas about the bad politics and other causes of this tragedy.
I get descriptions of the moments they have passed, horror stories.
How the reality can always surpass fiction.
Multiple news teams, portuguese and foreign, ask to interview the same people. They constantly relive the horror they have gone trough.
All this commotion will go away, and the people, now poorer and less protected, will stay.

Pessoas que pouca ajuda têm, e que em situação de calamidade não têm ajuda possível.
Isoladas no meio de um mar de milhões de árvores, prontas a arder, e isoladas agora outra vez, quando já todas arderam. A comida e ajuda médica estão longe, nos quartéis de bombeiros e em locais fustigados agora pelas chamas.
Os meios de comunicação social seguem, em escolta, o senhor Presidente, parando aqui e ali, para filmar umas chamas ou uma cara chorosa. O carro da CMTV mandava lixo pela janela fora constantemente. Que melhor símbolo para descrever o desapego que falo do nosso Pais e suas políticas para com as zonas rurais, mais pobres e desprotegidas. Reportar uma tragédia humana fazendo algo que ajuda a provocá-la.

Tento não levar isto pessoalmente. Falo com as pessoas como amigo, nós na garganta, abraços e lágrimas.
Tiro fotos e trocamos ideias das más políticas e das coisas que levam a esta tragédia.
Descrevem-me os momentos que passaram, histórias de horror.
Como a realidade consegue sempre superar a ficção.
Inúmeras equipas de reportagem, portuguesas e estrangeiras, pedem entrevistas sempre ás mesmas pessoas. Revivem constantemente agora o horror que passaram. Toda esta azáfama irá embora, e as pessoas, mais pobres e desprotegidas ainda, cá vão ficar.

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All is destroyed around Dolores and Antonio Santos house.
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“They were like fire balls falling down our house from the top of the trees” Dolores Santos explains.
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“We had no time to set the dogs free..” Tornado like winds during the fire were reported in affected areas.
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Three dogs, six chickens, six rabbits and twelve roosters were killed just in the Santos household.
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Conversations over the phone quickly break down in tears. .
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António poses in front of the burnt trees around his house. He was wounded fighting the fire in his attic.
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Manuel Costa’s (right) son is missing. Only his burnt car was found.
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João lost one cousin and one of his art students. She was four years old.
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Painter João Viola is interviewed by a french news team.
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Nodeirinho’s tank saved the life of 12 people that took shelter in its waters.
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Friends and family arrive at Nodeirinho to give support.

I drive through uncountable miles of burnt area, dark trees till where the eyes can see, like a black blanket laying on the hills. The constant burnt smell, houses, cars and farming equipment totally destroyed and still smoking, Here and there smoke columns raise from the darkened ground, and my steps lift clouds of ashes that, slowly and dramatically, go back to the ground.

The desolation, the silence, the sadness. They all scream to me and my camera.

Wildfire are natural and will always happen.
But the magnitude of this tragedy and its human loss are a symptom and a reflex of a country that mismanaged its priorities. Policies that slowly, isolated many portuguese across the country side.
I leave these images here, hoping they will raise awareness about this disease.

Percorro de carro incontáveis quilómetros de área ardida, árvores pretas a perder de vista no horizonte, como que um manto negro poisado nestas colinas. Cheiro constante a queimado, casas, carros e material agrícola completamente destruído e ainda a fumegar, pequenas colunas de fumo saem ainda da terra escura, aqui e ali, e os meus passos levantam nuvens de cinzas, que lenta e dramaticamente voltam ao chão.

A desolação, a tristeza, o silêncio. Todos gritam para mim e para a minha câmara.

Os fogos florestais são naturais e sempre acontecerão.
Mas a magnitude da tragédia e da perda humana são um sintoma e reflexo de um Portugal que não geriu bem as suas prioridades. De políticas que, aos poucos, isolaram portugueses por Portugal rural inteiro.
Deixo aqui este texto e imagens que captei, na esperança que ajudem a chamar a atenção desta doença.

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Of the 500 fire fighting teams promised by 2012, only 212 are operating in 2018.
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The region is filled with the invasive plantation of eucalyptus, highly flammable tree specie.
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Miles of roads surronded by a dark army of dead trees.
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IC8 had a road block during the fire.
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Bad Forest management has played a part in the disaster.
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64 people have died, in Portugal’s greatest recorded incident of this kind.
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Burnt truck lays by the road, near Casalinho.
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At the time of this post, 115.000 square miles have been raveged by the flames.
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Active fires can still be seen through the burned trees, in the horizon.
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Fire Station of Pedrógão Grande was the base of operations to fight the fire and give support to the population.
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Portuguese special forces (fuzileiros) take a meal break at the fire station.
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Woman is treated for burns by paramedics at Pedrógão Grande fire station.
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Fire fighting plane approachs the water to load.
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Fire fighting planes are having trouble operating under intense smoke from the wildfires.

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Words and photos by Manuel Guerra

20 de Junho de 2017

The King is dead. Long live his people!

The following text is a transcript of the diary I wrote while solo travelling through South-east Asia. On this last day I found myself back in Bangkok to catch my flight to London on the next day. My DSLR camera had broken down in the jungles of Vietnam, but I still had my precious Olympus film camera, and I was able to make this 35mm reportage, which I now share with you!

Hope you enjoy, and please.. travel more 🙂

“Bangkok, 28th of October 2016

Went out at around 9am to get some breakfast and for one last walk through Khao San Road and the Sanam Luang field nearby, bringing my Olympus film camera and a couple of lenses. Little did I knew what waited me in this last day of my trip.
Approaching Sanam Luang from Khao San Road, one can find at the opposite end of the massive and flat public square, both the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand.
But instead of being presented with an empty green field, framed with the golden and red roofs of the Palace and temple at the end, I found a massive crowd of people. Half a million or so, mostly in black, in a gigantic and epic event that a will do my best to describe.

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Military personnel supervise the moving crowds at Sanam Luang.

I was yet to mention it in this diary because it was irrelevant for my journey and experience so far. But a couple of weeks ago, while I was in Cambodia, the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) had passed away, leaving a whole nation to mourn and making headlines across the world.

I think he was a nice guy. The images and footage that I have seen show a good, kind and smart individual. Psychedelic painting, shooting with a film camera, socialising with his people and meditating in his monk years, sun glasses on. All of it revealing a sensitive, intelligent and open minded person, at least for someone of his conservative status.

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Mourners take selfies and pictures next to the late King Rama IX mural.
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Thai women holds a King’s portrait while queuing for the Grand Palace visit.

He helped unifying Thailand in his 70 year (!) reign in such a troubled century has the twentieth was.
And all this event and commotion that I now see, completely matches such a charismatic and transversal figure of Thai culture.
Something like I have never seen before!..
Hundreds of thousand of people coming from all over Thailand to pay their respects and spend (what it looked like) more than one day honouring their dead King.
And the flow and efficiency that all of it was happening before me, left me speechless.
All kind of government entities and institutions volunteers worked together to offer everything to the massive crowd, that I quickly became part of.

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Colourful umbrellas protect the black dressed mourners from the sun

Dozens of stands offering freshly cooked food, water, juices and sweets to the mob that was passing by, state of the art toilets all around, the royal Thai army itself giving informations, smiling, greeting and guiding the people. Hundreds of volunteers giving water, small medical kits, massages and hair cuts. Some would just stand by the recycling bins, to make sure they did their purpose and change them when needed. Some would even walk through the crowds with bin bags themselves.

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Volunteers perform free haircuts.

More military personnel with mobile water sprinklers, others with megaphones guiding and coordinating the gigantic queue to the Temple and Palace visit.
I simply wouldn’t stop writing if I was to describe all that I saw that day!..
And all this huge crowd and bustle flowed with incredible lightness, reflecting a way of event management that would put to shame any event I have witness in the western world. Public or private.

I know, the King died. For sure millions were thrown to this month of mourning. But a King does not die every year, and the machine-like efficiency this massive event was playing out made me wonder. Wonder about a Human trait that I find sublime.
When an individual, a group or even a whole nation of people want to do something, and they deeply believe in that goal and it’s beauty and purpose from the depths of their being, something magical happens, something wonderful unfolds.
It is inevitable, this power of the human will. This pure drive of really believing in something and put it in to practice.
The unexplainable happens.
When the driving force of his action is based upon such a true feeling, the human being aligns himself with the order of all things. And when it happens, the whole Universe conspires in his favour.
That inevitability it’s beautiful, makes sense. And one can see it all around and explain why great achievements happens and things worked, while others didn’t, were forced and not meant to be.

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Young people take a group photo with the late King’s portrait.

I look at myself now. What I am, and what I truly want to be.
Wanting to believe in something this deeply, wishing to want something this hard.
I want to have all the strength of the world unleashed in me, in a goal, a destiny that I know awaits me.
This day was another sign. To see all this event unfolding before my eyes. To exchange smiles and bows with hundreds of people, to be one with all those people and with this feeling of doing something that you truly, deeply believe in, from which only something beautiful and right can come out.
It was the last day in South-east Asia and I am happy, somewhat enlightened, completely full filled  by all the experiences of this amazing journey.”

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Tenerife, what if.. what if..

When my girlfriend bought some cheap flights to Tenerife, I couldn’t stop thinking that we were heading to a typical resort/beach boring and shallow destination.

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But this geological wonder, rising dramatically out of the Atlantic (like other paradises as Madeira and Azores) completely blew my mind!
Long story short, these 7 days in the biggest of the Canary Islands, ended up being the best travel surprise that I ever had!..

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I don’t feel that there’s any point describing what we did and saw at this incredible volcanic island , because, besides avoiding those “travel blog” descriptive posts (hope the images will speak for themselves), I think it’s more relevant to pass another point across.

Traveling is traveling, screw the destination and how exotic or trendy it might be.
Throw away any kind of pre conceived idea you might have about a place you don’t know..!
As I did about Tenerife.

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Because at the end, you make the places in your own mind, at your own way.
If your are in a happy and humble mindset, places come alive, with such beauty and charisma, in front of you.
If you worry and have a lot of expectations, it is very hard to appreciate what lays before your eyes.
You make the place in your head, it doesn’t really exist until you do so.
Only an illusive idea about it.

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So go see it and feel it, instead of laying on the beach, shopping or getting drunk.
And if that is your kind of holidays, stop reading this!.. I don’t want to annoy you with my sensitive thoughts about the world and with that great feeling wanderlust is.
Well too late, I am done..

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Manuel Guerra, 1 February 2016

Check out these and more photos at MaguImagery.com!

In the centre of it all

Going down to Brixton for David Bowie’s memorial just the night after the legend passed away, was quite a mesmerising experience.
Instead of sad faces and people crying, I was surprised to find the exact opposite!

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Happy people, singing his tunes, beer in hand, hugging kissing, celebrating David Bowie not mourning him. Yes! Sure he would love it, attached or not to this charismatic part of London he was born in.

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I could go on and talk about David Bowie amazing career and unique influence in industries such as music, film and fashion, but i won’t.

Appeared to me, Bowie accepted his death in, what I find, a beautiful way.
It is now known that it was a farewell album, since he was giving 18 months when diagnosed liver cancer. And man… good luck figuring out what he meant, in all the allegorical and metaphorical lyrics of this last album!..

But, from what I picked up, he talks (of course) of death.
As a passage.
The most important event in a living thing’s life.
When you become one with everything again, as you were before ever being.
When the illusion of animal consciousness fades away, and once those shackles are gone you are truly home, truly free, with only one sense : the whole universe.

“(…)stands a solitary candle, in the centre of it all, in centre of it all, your eyes.”

Maybe I am way off of what he was trying to express.
But such a great artist, knowing he had one or two years to live, surely would try to pass a great empathic and entropic message like this.
During his life he “tried” several religions but inevitably slid to atheism as he grew older and wiser. But one can not argue, he definitely was an immensely spiritual person.

Can one find peace in this belief? That you will become everything, and that is actually a step up from life?..
Surely. I have that though constantly about to be alive and not to be alive.
Then again, I just wish to hold on to it, if faced by death. Like Bowie did.

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I can only think this is what he tried to express in his last work of art.
The empathy with the universe, that everything is one. That all matters, and all does’t matter at all. So we are all black stars. Came from the stars and to the stars we will go back.
Its beautiful.

I felt it in Brixton. This energy of togetherness, if only for the common interest in the same musician. Celebrate the dead for the life they had. And not mourn them because we lost that person. This is an acceptance of death that follows Bowie’s final message to us.

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Manuel Guerra, 12 January 2015