Interview: Camila Cavalcante

Camila is a photographer from Brazil, based in Edinburgh. She is working on a project titled ‘Scar’ from an ongoing series of diptych photography, embroidery and installation. Hidden Door spoke to Camila about her practice, process and how she developed as an artist and some of these answers are also featured in our fanzines distributed around Edinburgh.

How did you get to where you are now?

It took me a very long time to see myself as an artist. I had a very formal education as a journalist, and being an artist was never an option; I didn’t know I could be one! In a way that gave me a solid social and humanitarian background that I very much treasure. When I started to photograph, however, it was as if I had found something very important that I had never even known I was looking for. Art for me is a visceral connection between myself and the world. It’s my guaranty of sanity, to quote Louise Bourgeois, and my responsibility; my way to give something back to other people, to the community.

In your proposal, you mentioned working with photographs as physical objects, when and why did you choose to do this?

I could never see myself, or my photography, as artistic. When I managed to overcome that constraint, everything started to make sense for me. That’s when I stopped seeing the limits of photography as an image and started to see it a medium, just like any other, that could be used to create a physical connection with other mediums. The imagery would be used in addition to, and in conjunction with, this material interchange. In addition to that, I very much like the idea that photography can escape two dimensions. When I am taking pictures, I do it with all my senses, not just with my vision, so I try to explore this when I am creating my work. Ideally, I would like people to always be able to touch my images, to see its texture, to experience it with different senses. It opens a lot of other possibilities both for me and for the people who are connecting with my work.

Can you say something about the thought process behind your work?

I tend to be interested in projects that find common ground among different people and cultures. I am fascinated by empathy, by how people can relate to each other, by how that can build bridges instead of walls. This way I project myself onto those things that I am trying to talk about. I try to live that sort of experience, to understand it and respect it. When I’m photographing, I am still a bit of a journalist: I like to talk to people and listen to their stories; I will research what’s behind these stories; and finally, I will start searching for materials that can connect with my photos. These materials come almost as consequences of the photographic process, as conscious decisions. For Scar, the project that I will exhibit at Hidden Door, for example, I used surgical sutures to create embroidery onto photographs. Even though I never used that material before, it felt like a natural extension of the project.

What is the starting point for a project? How do you find ideas for your work?

My ideas start very raw and quite subjective; I need time to develop them, to research that subject and to create connections with other mediums. The concept, the idea, is always more important than anything else, so I feel that I must give it justice. That is why I generally work with long term projects. Sometimes I will have an idea and might not do anything about it for years! When I have enough material to start a debate, or when I feel ready to expose myself in a particular way, only then will I start creating. When I get to that stage, I already know how I want the work to be aesthetically, so I start to experiment with how to make that idea look the way I want it to look.

Is there an artist or any creative work that is reflected in your work?

Literature is very important to me and some books resonate with me for a long time. I love Latin authors, but two Brazilian writers in particular have had a great impact on me – and my work: Clarice Lispector, for teaching me to look inside and experience the world to understand myself; and Graciliano Ramos, for teaching me to look outside and do not conform with the status quo. Additionally, even before I saw myself as an artist I already admired Sophie Calle’s work tremendously. Not just because she also uses documentary photography in her practice and does not have a formal education in fine arts, but mainly because her work has always intrigued me. She manages to jump from personal to public life effortlessly. Also, my first photography teacher in Brazil, Celso Brandão, who taught me to explore with my camera things that I couldn’t how to express otherwise.

Do you believe that your childhood and upbringing has had an influence on your work? If so, how?

Sebastião Salgado, a fellow Brazilian photographer, once said that “you don’t photograph with your camera. You photograph with your whole culture” and I couldn’t agree more. Brazil is such a warm, charming, tough and complex country and that certainly defines who I am. I grew up questioning why there was so much inequality and injustice in the world and I learnt, from a very young age, not to be oblivious to the feelings of other people. On the other hand, I come from a family and culture that sees beauty underlining daily life. I see poetry in images… When I manage to channel that into something that can provoke people and make them aware of how much they believe things, that’s when I think I’ve made a small contribution to our society.

Can you say a few words on what Hidden Door is about for you?

Hidden Door for me is about taking part in a big event that, in some ways, summarises what I believe art should be: critical, independent, thought-provoking and challenging. I’m very honoured to be part of it!

For more of Camila’s work check out her website.