Industry muted, architecture diminished—Daisy Atterbury dips into the quietly dreamlike world of Brazilian Photographer Tuca Vieira’s nocturnal Berlin.
A wall bisects the frame, creating horizontal bands of color. This is Berlinscapes #1, a photograph by Brazilʼs award-winning artist Tuca Vieira. The scene is empty, but the photograph is anything but: no color is reproduced anywhere else in the frame, every pixel of blue is different from the next. The result is a pearly glow of sky and a rich, almost burnished, band of cobblestone street. I am enchanted, obsessed.
Vieiraʼs photographs recall those of the Düsseldorf School in that they depict industrial archetypes—water towers, coal bunkers and pitheads, streets and monuments. Looking over Vieiraʼs Berlinscapes, I consider the extent to which we treat these objects as metonyms for collective memory. The objects become extensions of a composite idea—not mere symbols, but representative augmentations—of what the city has meant to an inﬁnite number of people. Vieira captures these architectural features in a nocturnal setting, drawing out deep, sensual colors. He renders beautiful and mysterious the rigid formality of the German schools of photography. Where subscribers to Düsseldorf adhered to a documentary method and a kind of “objective capture,” Vieira swaths the same subjects in all of the enchantment of a nocturne, using light in place of music to evoke a quiet, visual harmony. His softening and romanticizing of city objects suggests ways in which memory blurs and redeﬁnes, makes sacred, destroys and beautiﬁes.
Tuca Vieira graduated in 1998 from the University of São Paulo with a degree in German Language and Literature. His Berlinscapes will be showing at the new 1500 Gallery starting March 30, 2011.
Daisy Atterbury In a recent interview, you said, “I’ve never understood why people study photography. A camera is just an instrument, not difficult to manage. I think if you want to be a good photographer, read books.” How does literature influence your collections?
Tuca Vieira Writers are the best image creators. When I read a book, my mind is full of images. When I read a play for example, I am the director, the actor, the scenographer, the costume, light and sound designer. I can stage the whole play in my mind. We can’t forget that image and imagination are almost the same word.
DA Why are you drawn to the urban setting as a subject for your photos? What is it about architectural structures that you find captivating?
TV I am from São Paulo and am comfortable in a big city; it’s my natural habitat. A city is perhaps the most complex achievement of humankind, with all its shapes and dramas. In this Berlin project I capture many structures while ignoring functionality—and I like that. Again, it’s about imagination more than documentation.
DA Do you think Brazilian photography coheres in a certain way? Is there something that defines photography in Brazil over that of other cultural traditions?
TV I don’t think so. The question of Brazilian identity goes much further than that of Brazilian photography. There are many books trying to create a definition. Being from São Paulo, I sometimes have more things in common with a New Yorker than with someone from the Amazon. That said some Brazilian tropes can be found in the photography: experimentalism, sensuality, indiscipline, tension and beauty, for example.
DA Are there one or two photographers that influenced you over others?
TV André Kertesz. I love the freedom of his eye. It seems that he is always shooting for himself, even when he is commissioned. Every picture is personal, sensitive, and captivating. In this time where art is very serialized, Kertesz is the master of the “single photography.” I would love to visit his apartment in Washington Square, from which he took so many wonderful pictures.
DA Why did you decide to shoot in Berlin?
TV Berlin is a great laboratory in terms of history, architecture, and urban design. I am interested in how much a city can reflect its history in the city shape. In Berlin, it looks like every building, every street, has traces of history. This is fascinating from a Brazilian (and American) perspective, where everything is comparatively new.
DA Do you ever feel intrusive as a photographer—do the pictures of monuments ever start to feel like conquests, themselves?
TV Yes. Photography is also possession and every picture is a kind of conquest. I feel that I only know a place after having a good picture of it. It’s like having the place for myself. Taking a picture is a great way (for everybody) to understand the place.
DA I understand you worked as a reporter and photojournalist for the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. Do you approach photojournalism differently from art photography?
TV I have never thought much about this. I think I have just one way to see things. But for sure, when you are working on a story the needs are different, information and responsibility come first and, basically, you are shooting for someone else. In Berlin, the main difference is that I was shooting for myself. I don’t want to decide between art and photojournalism—I am just a photographer.
DA Why did you choose the nocturnal setting for this series?
TV First, I was in Berlin from autumn to winter, when it is already dark at 4 o’clock. Second, I am a night person. I sleep and wake up late. But the main reason is that I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the city and its “ghosts.” I wanted people to feel, more than just see, the places. I also wanted to show my personal vision of the city. I believe that every person there has its own Berlin, each different from the other. My Berlin is quiet, lonely, and dark. Maybe because it’s an illusion that the city is entirely mine at late hours. It’s not exactly a documentary project. I have gone to all these places by bike. And riding in the city at night, stopping for beer, discovering these places, was all a great joy, and joy is the best ingredient for art.
Daisy Atterbury is a writer based in New York and Santa Fe.