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Interview with Mauro Restiffe: "My participation in PHotoEspaña Involves the Largest Exhibition I have had to Date."
Mauro Restiffe, Mirador (Belvedere), 2003. Galeria Fortes Vilaca, Sao Paulo. © Mauro Restiffe.

MADRID.- Mauro Restiffe customarily produces black-and-white photographs, which he displays in large-format analog enlargements. Documentary in nature, his works deal with themes like urban life, space and architecture.

The distant point of view demonstrated in these panoramic images produces an effect that makes them highly unspecified.

The exhibition displays a selection of some 40 photographs from the artist’s most recent series, produced since 2003.

The exhibited photographs belong to works like Empossamento (Taking of Power) (2003), which shows the urban landscape of Brasilia at a key moment in Brazilian history, at the inauguration of president Lula da Silva; Red Light Portraits (2006), where he portrays motorcyclists waiting for the traffic light to turn green; and Vertigem (Vertigo) (2009), in which he works specifically with architecture.

Mauro Restiffe (Brazil, 1970) studied film at the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation in Sao Paulo. He has had solo exhibitions in art centers such as the Casa Triángulo Gallery in Sao Paulo and the Henry Urbach Gallery in New York, as well as at the Sao Paulo Cultural Center. In 2006 his work was included in the biennials at Taipei and Liege.

Mauro Restiffe customarily produces black-and-white photographs, which he displays in large-format analog enlargements. Documentary in nature, his works deal with themes like urban life, space and architecture. The distant point of view demonstrated in these panoramic images produces an effect that makes them highly unspecified. Within an artistic context in which digital touch-ups are commonly used, Restiffe prefers not to manipulate his images, making it possible to see details that can only be perceived through patient observation.

The exhibition displays a selection of some 40 photographs from the artist’s most recent series, produced since 2003. The exhibited photographs belong to works like Empossamento (Taking of Power) (2003), which shows the urban landscape of Brasilia at a key moment in Brazilian history, at the inauguration of president Lula da Silva; Red Light Portraits (2006), where he portrays motorcyclists waiting for the traffic light to turn green; and Vertigem (Vertigo) (2009), in which he works specifically with architecture.

PHE- How did you start out in the world of visual arts?

Mauro Restiffe-
I studied at film school, and after entering university I began to study photography at the same time. Then I came to work as a photographer’s assistant. When finishing my film studies, I traveled to New York where I studied at the International Center of Photography, and there I could delve deeper into my interests in fine art and the role photography plays in this sphere. After returning to Brazil, I started showing my photographs in a context for visual arts, and that’s how questions relating to this sector started to influence me much more than photography as a medium. My training in film deeply nurtured my artistic production in photography.

PHE- You usually take large-format photographs in black and white. Why do you choose this manner of displaying your work?

I’ve been using black and white since I began taking photographs. When I started to explore deeper into my studies in the mid-1990s, I noticed a certain prejudice in relation to black-and-white photography, which at that time was considered traditional and classic, while color photography had a more daring connotation of breaking with a photography tradition that was highly questioned in the 1980s and which was still predominant in the 90s. On my part, I decided to insist on black and white, lending greater emphasis to conceptual questions in photography, but maintaining the classic aspect that black and white had at that time. From that common denominator, I started creating a personal language in an attempt to support my artistic production within this context.

The representative characteristics of black and white are also fundamental in my choice of medium. For the very fact of appearing in black and white, this kind of photography establishes a distance from reality and approaches subjective and atemporal meanings and interpretations that denote a much more formal, fine art character while totally connected to reality. However, this representation of reality is entirely devoid of an authentic tone, since black and white itself already establishes a distortion of the real. But despite this distortion, it likewise functioned in the past as a tool for representing the real. The use of black and white in current photography, primarily in photography with documentary leanings, still works to verify and confirm the real; it highlights a certain ambiguity, since it forges a link to the classic historical notion of documentary photography and likewise involves all fine arts elements, conceptual and formalist characteristics into forms of contemporary representation.

PHE- Your exhibition Mirante reflects a great interest in urban life, space and architecture. Where does this interest come from?

Without a doubt, some of it comes from my experience in large urban centers in my adult life and the fact of having spent my childhood and youth in a small city on the interior of Sao Paulo where there was enormous contact with nature. Urban life doesn’t exist without architecture, which likewise does not exist without human creation. I’m highly interested in these interrelations and am always trying to bring these associations into the field of representation for the role they can play in the photographic medium. Since I began to take photographs, I was especially interested in physical, architectural and interior spaces, and in the way in which space is represented through the photographic medium. From the moment a wall, a pillar, a mirror, a staircase or any other architectural or urban feature is photographed it ceases to be material and instead becomes a representation—a simple fact, practically irrelevant. Nevertheless, a wide universe of possibilities exists within this simple operation for artistic creation and exploration. And it is from this manner of transposing physical space onto representative space where my interest in photographing architecture arises.

That’s why I decided to choose the title for this exhibition from the title of a photograph where human figures socialize among themselves within a camping ground landscape, creating a counterpoint to the urban content figured in a majority of the exhibition’s images. The title Mirante parallels both the vantage point of observation that the photographer acquires to capture this scene and the very characteristics of photography as an instrument of observation and interpretation of reality. It is within this interpretive act, and within the condition of a mediating agent between reality and representation, that I attempt to establish my artistic practice. For this reason, it does not matter if the photographed scene has urban, architectural or spatial features, or if it investigates human relationships in an idyllic landscape, or even in people protesting. What matters is if the axis established between viewer, scene and representation offer sufficient features in order to produce enjoyment for this interpretive process. From there, I chose the title Mirante as a mediating agent in this process.

PHE- You prefer not to touch up your photographs with the use of a computer so all the original details in the image can be appreciated. Why have you decided against using new digital methods to touch up your work and instead continue working with analog photography?

While there continue to be enough products and existing means that allow me to work with analog photography, I don’t see any reason to switch to digital. With analog, I’m able to achieve all of the results I want in the photograph. Meanwhile, if a future project eventually requires me to move closer to digital, I would do it without the slightest problem.

I like the surprise element to it and the time demanded for things to solidify in the analog process. I find the speed of digital photo troubling. I really appreciate the act of taking my film to the lab and waiting to see the contact sheets so I can analyze what I photographed. I really like the ritual of looking at negatives, numbering them, editing the images with a magnifying glass, keeping a physical archive where the history of my photo works remain in a drawer and not on a hard drive or on a computer screen. The physicality of analog photography, with all its potential and weaknesses, captivates me a lot. The formal aspect I gain by using 35 mm negatives and enlarging them into large-format images to obtain a specific grain and language, which only analog processing allows me to do, also influences my decision to remain distant from digital processing.

PHE- How has your work evolved since you began until today?

I believe in a chain of events where a work opens up a space so another may come into existence, allowing movement between them as a whole. When I began to take photographs, my interests were only centered on interiors. Little by little, I started broadening my images to exterior scenes, then to people, crowds, and then came cities. However, I’ve always tried to link one work to another, or one series to the next, and at the same time I’ve always tried to add new elements to each new work so novel possibilities can emerge from them.

PHE- How has your work been received in Madrid within the PHotoEspaña Festival?

Without a doubt, my participation in PHE involves the largest exhibition I have had to date, both in terms of the number of works shown and the physical space hosting the works. An exhibit of this magnitude for an emerging artist like me always means a great opportunity—and also a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity to be able to observe the evolving process throughout my career concentrated into the same exhibition space. The challenge is exactly what to do afterwards, once the cycle has closed and new questions arise.

PHE- What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m tracing out the lines of a project I will begin to develop in the next few weeks, which will form part of the coming MERCOSUR Biennial to take place here in Brazil. It deals with a viral insertion of black-and-white analog photography within the press, where I attempt to analyze the status of documentary photography today and trace a parallel movement between analog and digital photography, and between documentary and artistic photography.

PHotoEspaña | Mauro Restiffe | Brasilia | Lula da Silva | Casa Triángulo Gallery | Sao Paulo | Henry Urbach Gallery |

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