Photographs copyright 2010 Andre Cepeda published by Le caillou bleu
Andre Cepeda in his photobook titled Ontem (English translation: Yesterday) provides an interesting investigation of a specific set of places that abound around Porto, called islands. Apparently these are areas that were previously built as working class neighborhoods which over time have seemed to have outlived their intended function. As structural shells, these buildings can still provide a place of habitation, even a sense of community, for those who have little or no alternatives.
Even under the bright sunshine of Portugal, Cepeda reveals an undercurrent of grayness and melancholy that seems to pervade these neighborhoods. The sad structures are surrounded by looming high-rise building and flanked by vacant and razed lots, foretelling of a dismal future for these places. The reader can sense that the economics of development will eventually prevail, providing yet another layer of gloom over those who attempt to call this home.
Nevertheless, I found the inclusion of the photograph of the bird in the small, dingy cage to be an excellent metaphor for those indivuals who are living in these harsh conditions. Regretfully, it appears that most of those who live in these islands, they are like this bird, trapped by their circumstances.
What is unsettling for me is the inclusion of the nude couples, who are caught explicitly in the act of having sex. I am just not sure how this helps with the narrative and creates unevenness to the flow of photographs. I suspect that this is an attempt to show a sense of “normality” to these dismal conditions that even in the face of adversity and misery, individuals continue to function. There is still rawness to these nudes that creates a not so subtle tension, which for me transfers to the entire work. Perhaps this added tension is the author’s intent.
As a book object, the cover has a tipped-in image on a broad cloth hard cover book. There are no captions accompanying the photographic plates. The introductory essay is by Miguel von Hafe Perez and Afterword interview of Andre Cepeda is provided by Jean-Louis Gedefroid, with the text provided in three languages, Portuguese, French and English. As an English speaking reader, the translation from Portuguese to English is a little rough.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook