Shadows and Layers: Talking with Photographer João Santos

Art’s a funny thing. A spiraling series of doors, many opening to cul-de-sacs, a myriad of hallways through which artists walk, bringing themselves, only themselves, into each room. Doors open. Images are created. Questions are asked.

“I try to see things differently (this might sound like a cliché) but when looking at things I try to see what really strikes me the most. If I am working on an abstract subject, then I will go deeper to the layers, shadows, and textures,” says Portuguese artist/photographer João Santos. “On the other hand and if I am dealing with something more figurative (culture, street photography or photojournalism) then I will keep my eyes wide open to catch the whole of it (unusual situations, tension, questions and dialogues) — all details that make us think about a specific situation. You kind of drag someone into your world.”

Santos’s photography has drawn in viewers from all over the world and seen his work displayed at the Naples Museum of Art, Muse Gallery in London, Art Raw Gallery in New York, and many other prestigious venues, garnering several awards and acclaim along the way. His work takes as its departure point a documentary look at the world, reflecting back questions of the status quo, the values, culture and traditions, of the world and life itself, and sees a variety of influences come together from design, to minimalism, to abstraction, and reflects his background which includes study in cinema, and a 2015 Artist-in-residence with Taliesin at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

“Since there is nothing new under the sun, all we can do is kind of recycle all the information and play it back in order to pose some relevant questions regarding our present status. Creativity is recreating things,” Santos explains. “Creativity to me means putting different things for a new purpose.”

There’s the artwork SIGNS. Composed of hundreds of digital photos taken of fractals (computer-generated images) the work is intended to be assembled in groups creating large panels — currently ArtBase selection at at the New Museum (NY, USA). “It gave me so much pleasure and fun, and it is still one of my favorite and most creative works.”

There’s the Water Series: night photos taken of water surfaces with traces and reflections of lights and colors. “This work was produced back in 2010 (when I was settled in Doha, Qatar), and back in those days after the heat was gone, I would go walking down the Corniche (the waterfront promenade) and take all these photos. I used to have vivid dreams with colors and strong flashes of light dancing around my eyes, somehow I ended up trying to capture these symptoms with my camera.”


An artist or a photographer? That’s a tricky question.

“Well, when I was a toddler I could draw quite well (even before I could read) but that doesn’t make you an artist,” Santos admits. “I also wrote a few things too. I wanted to be a painter or illustrator, but due to my globetrotter status I opted for photography. I also think that when you feel that you have an artistic soul, somehow the idea of creating things becomes part of it. You cannot dissociate both—they’re part of the same process: artist—creativity—art. Photography is my real passion. It is a constant challenge to bring all my sensitivity and to draw the attention to whatever I am trying to communicate with others. I think I always felt the call, this thing inside that tells you that you want to say something differently, to show it in a unique way. Photography is my world, whether in a more abstract or surrealistic way (patterns, textures, shadows and layers), or in a more figurative expression (people, street photography, some photojournalism), it is always like a revelation, like the first time. It is a creative process, it is you and your eye, and the world outside.”

The process of the art meets the artist.

“The process of Art is an intimate dialogue with our soul and the world outside,” Santos says. “We never, ever see, say, represent things the same way twice (no matter how obvious the objects might look to our eyes). Let’s put it like this: The Eiffel tower has its own shape and structure, nevertheless no one will be able to portrait it the same way twice (this happens with everything). When you say: I am going home” (no matter how linear it might be) no one will be able to express it the same way like you (phonetically, emphasis, diction, etc.), the meaning might be the same, the subject and the object too; but the expression and the way you convey it, is something from your real you. There is an unseen world within all things around us, and this is to say that every single object has an infinite number of possible representations (every single sight, every gaze, will re-enact the object).”

Does this gaze free the artist, from the notion that there have now been enough humans alive, that surely every idea has been thought? Every book written? Every painting painted?

“It is a very intimate dialogue, extremely complex, you cannot disassociate yourself from this dialectic process, you will never look at things in a flat hollow way, you will always be part of the new representation. Even with the best photographers of the 20th century (some of them much into photojournalism and street photography), you can always trace in their iconic works their unique sensitivities, emotional intelligence, personal views and ways of interaction with the so called reality.”

What does the future of this reality hold for João Santos? Where does the next inspiration spring?

“Everywhere (literally), there is no rule. Whatever happens, it is a matter of a stimulus, to feel the right click, and then you know that you want to do something. Obviously, sometimes I feel like doing something more objective (figurative) especially when I visit different lands and cultures. I have done some interesting works about Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Greece, London, Portugal (just to name a few). I consider myself very flexible and always thinking out of the box. I have no limits, and nor is the camera the most important thing in this process. The camera is just a means to an end, with some technical knowledge and basic training you will guide it according to your needs. The camera only helps me express what I am looking for. I always carry the camera with me, so at any point, any moment, for no specific reason, suddenly I might feel the call to take photos > to speak, to interact myself with the world. It is pure alchemy, you really don’t want to show what you are looking at, or better saying, you might want to do it, but always with a part of you, your inner self. This is Art… I guess.”


João’s portfolio can be viewed here

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