People like to tell stories. Similarly, people like to have their story told. It isn't a case of ego, but we want to feel like our lives have meaning. It's a way to fight against everything that tells us that they don't.
This means there is a grey area, in between the teller and the told - it's an obscure place that is tasked with communicating the story of the significance of humans and all the intricacies of our lives.
In this place is Rui Pina, Instagram's @gothic_porto. His is a face that you won't see, a name that's taken the backseat as a means of allowing others to be heard and understood. If no one else cares, this photographer does.
That's not to say he doesn't tell stories, but they aren't his. He gives people a way to tell theirs. That's something he is clear about - his subjects come first. Their lives are the important ones. The stories that they tell amount to something much larger than either could individually comprehend.
Telling stories is one of the most human things to do - before we learn to read or write, we can listen and look. Rui's images of the people of Portugal, mainly of Porto, tell their tales in a silent poetry.
An overwhelming amount of his subjects are elderly. To Rui they are representations of cultures and manners, behaviours and beliefs, that are being eroded by globalisation's seek-and-destroy mission for homogeneity.
He tells me about an old lady he saw when he was riding in his friends car.
He jumped out and approached her. It's a sense that he has began to develop, a journalist's nose for a story is a photographer's eye for a picture. He tells her a bit about himself and about what he does, as an introduction. She has some photographs of her own. She shows him.
It's her elderly hands, deep-set with wrinkles, holding a photograph of her younger self, a past she cannot reclaim except from memory. Next to it is an even more painful photograph. It's her husband that had committed suicide, followed by her son.
These are grieving hands that forget about the grief, or at least turn it into something more positive under Rui's lens. For that moment he has become a therapist, someone that will listen and understand. He has to understand, that's his job. If he doesn't, the photograph will tell a lie.
Some stories like this tell themselves, at least in part. He could never have known what was in her possession. He could never have predicted what she has gone through. Still, he knew she was the right person to talk to - that she had to be heard.
Looking at the characters of Rui's work - it seems like he just has to point a camera and their energy is transmitted by their expression or their way of dressing. A friend of his observed this so set him a challenge: these 'underdogs' that inhibit so many of your pictures are eccentric people - they want their pictures to be taken and their lives are worn for all to see. Why don't you try it in a posh part of town where people aren't as approachable.
With trepidation, he accepted. He made his way into a more affluent neck of the woods and began talking to people and taking their pictures. They weren't just as willing as his usual subjects - they were even more so. Reasserting his idea that everyone can be related to, that everyone wants to feel like they are the centre of someone's attention. It also showed his friend that we shouldn't be so quick to judge others. At our core, we operate on more primal desires than material wealth.
Some of his photographs are staged, in that he will ask a certain person to walk in a precise location or to repeat a mannerism, other times Rui is busy taking photographs as he converses with the subject. This method means that a person, usually unknowing of the photograph at that exact moment, is unable to fein a certain action or reaction - they are behaving in an honest way. This truth comes out in the photograph. It can be seen as a successful shot if the audience experience what Rui did, or even better, what the subject themselves do.
It always comes back to the people. Regardless of where they're from, what they've got or what they want - to understand them means to take the time. It's beyond a few minutes, it takes as long as it takes. But only by understanding, or at least beginning to, can Rui faithfully depict the person.
As he moves through cities, the people change. There are characteristics that are fundamentally Portuguese, but there are also ones that define a person's hometown or region. From Lisbon to Alentejo - he spots as many similarities as differences. Larger cities tend to be filled with people that are more prone to individualism - refusing to be completely swallowed up by the concrete and glass. In smaller towns, people are more likely to show their hospitality. Everyone's life story differs, but the kind of life people have lived and want might vary.
It's this great variation that makes the photographs stand out. Think of every face that you pass day-to-day. Every single one of them has a story. Only some of those people will think that theirs is worthy of being told. In giving people a chance to be heard, Rui tells their story through a photograph - creating a visual notepad as he weaves through cars and runs down the street to get that perfect shot.
His work on the streets are limited only by the people that walk down them. Some of the faces might be regulars that walk the same route every day. Others might not walk it ever again. The photographs are personal and raw and the relationship between the photographer and subject gives the subject a freedom that they might not feel around people they know better. Both are vulnerable and exposed. Rui is protected by his camera and the subject by their stories. How much they choose to give away is up to them. Some stories should never be told.
It's this eternal mystery - the feeling that we only know something about the people in the picture, but not everything. That's what keeps us coming back for more.
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