Rui Pires: Master social documentary photographer
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Interview by Paulo Abrantes
Rui Pires's humanistic approach of documentary photography is always dignifying the people he portrays.
Rui, at this time, you will be one of the world references in matters of ethnographic and documentary photography. You did not start out having this recognition immediately. Do you still remember the time when you knew nothing about photography and you decided to start taking pictures? What was your drive, motivation and inspiration that guided this starting decision?
I started shooting through the influence of my grandmother. It was she who taught me the basics of photography and gave me a medium format 6x9 camera, which was a late 30´s camera model. My grandfather was a naval officer and traveled all over the world, my grandmother accompanied him and ended up becoming a passionate travel photographer . I remember being very young and spending hours looking through her photographs from Macau, Egypt, China, Africa and many other countries. The documentary / ethnographic photography interested me especially, because I have always had an enormous curiosity for people
And in the beginning, were you immediately drawn to the kind of photography that you do right now, or did you shoot at that time a little of everything?
Did someone during that time inspire you significantly?
Yes, I had an uncle, was amateur photographer, and in the 70s motivated me a lot for photography and for the film lab. To see him developing black and white photographs did leave a lasting impression.
Moreover, my source of inspiration were also my own memories, training, and how a great photographer once said, the books that I read, the movies I saw and all the culture I got to know. Rural Moments was inspired by those childhood memories of mine, in the village, and also by Eca de Queiros, Aquilino Ribeiro, Alves Redol, Ferreira de Castro and other Portuguese authors who I had read. The documentary "Lands of Allah" was inspired by the books of TE Lawrence, including the magnificent work "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and alsoby "The Land of an African Sultan" a magnificent work on the Berber people written in 1887 by Walter Burton Harris . In recent years I've been developing work in Asia inspired by the letters of the Portuguese Jesuit monks who explored the entire area in the sixteenth century. All this and my work with various NGOs for social welfare with whom I collaborate, providing medical and humanitarian aid, and that led me to several African and Asian countries.
When we look at your pictures, we see people engaged in their daily social environment and also private moments in their homes, in their villages. Consistently throughout the different settings, people are always portrayed with great dignity. As you choose the places where you're going to shoot, do you have a method of planning that you usually follow or is this all based on inspiration and the opportunity of the moment?
Your images are never staged and always show people and situations taking place in the real life of these characters. What is the relationship you usually establish with these persons?
Can you tell us about your learning experience in analog processing, when you could only see the images once printed on paper and many days after you took the photograph? What was the importance of this event on your evolution as a photographer and your way of seeing and composing?
What has been over time and what is now your relationship to camera equipment? How important is the equipment for your photography?
In analog processing there are the development techniques of the negative In digital we have the digital editing of the file. What is your relationship with these two realities and how do you view and use these techniques in your work?
Like almost all experienced photographers you must have a great photographic archive waiting to be discovered, also discovered by you. Do you think we will ever be able to see those photographs published? And what is your relationship with these images that are not published yet? Do you have a detached feeling about them or do you have a plan or already concrete project to publish them?
Is there anything you could have photographed and that you regret not to have photographed, or is there anything else related to photography you regret not to have done?
Has there been any photographer you had personally known, who has impressed or surprised you, either as a person or as a photographer, or both?
Are there any photographers you do not personally know, but you would like to have known?
Is there any photograph of another photographer who influenced you significantly,that you often recall, and that you would like to have hanging on a wall in your home?
About your photographs, which was the image that characterizes you most and that you remember most? Do you consider this one your best photograph or is it just another one among many?
In some kind of self-critical way, do you think that you have any weak point, as a photographer, you want to tell us about?I have many. One is the chronic lack of time to photograph. I wish that photography was for me a full-time activity , but unfortunately it is not. Another of my photographic weakness is my lack of focus/concentration. There are days that simply do “not work” in photographic terms, and these days are days “to forget”. And for me, as a person, I find it very hard “to work” on photographic themes in harsh environments with a lot of noise, confusion, and with others also shooting near me.
What qualities do you like to see in photographs of others? What do you think you unconsciously are looking for in those other people's images, which flaws do you search or qualities do you see and admire or are drawing your attention right away?
What qualities and / or characteristics do you think are important for a photographer?
I think in the world´s eyes you are of course a completely accomplished photographer. Do you see yourself like that? What can we expect from Rui Pires in the near future?
If you could give only one tip to someone who seeks to do street photography, what advice would you give?
You're an honorary member of 1X. Would you briefly tell us how far this site has been important to you, when it comes to know other photographers, and for the exposure of your photography?
Finally, I want to thank so many friends I have met through 1X, excellent photographers, that helped me a lot with exchanges of views and knowledge.
A thank you, also to all the members of 1X and curator colleagues who “endured” me over the years. And to Ralf and Jacob a very special thanks for creating this great project that captivated me right from the beginning and with which I still continue to cooperate and which I support, even though now in a different way.r t
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