Meet this month’s OpenWalls Editor’s Pick photographer, Gustavo Tavares

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Gustavo Tavares has spent many years exploring the arctic, photographing the landscapes as a way to understand the climate’s harshness, and the relationship between man and nature. For Gustavo, the arctic embodies a fractured sense of home. It is not where he lives, but where he finds his spiritual and emotional balance, calling into question what actually defines our notion of home. His OpenWalls Editor’s Pick photograph is an image taken in Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet coal mining city, with a population of just six people.

Gustavo is based in Aveiro, Portugal, a colourful town set along the Ria de Aveiro lagoon, often described as the Venice of Portugal – a far cry from the sparseness, and coldness, of Pyramiden. But these deserted, freezing landscapes are where Gustavo finds his sense of belonging. We spoke to Gustavo about his father’s photographic influence, protecting himself from polar bears, and his series ‘La Camera du Flaneur’, a project inspired by the words of Susan Sontag.

© Gustavo Tavares

Can you tell me about your background as a photographer? How and when did you first get into photography?

Carrying my father´s photo equipment was my first introduction to photography. He was a true photography enthusiast, and he taught me how to use a camera, along with the basic rules of photography. But photography is not purely technical, nor is it about managing a camera in the best way possible. It’s about seeing and discovering what is before your eyes. My mother´s bookshelf, full of art books, was also part of developing my eye, and was an excellent opportunity to discover classic art, which led to a degree on seeing beyond the picture.

Can you tell me about the photograph you entered into OpenWalls? What is the story behind it?

The photo I submitted to OpenWalls was taken in Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet coal mining city, located in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. The photograph portrays the city´s airport.

Pyramiden can be reached by boat in the summer, when the waters bordering the city are free of sea ice, and the low clouds hide the top of the mountains. You must always carry a loaded gun, or be guided by someone with a rifle, because you never know when you are going to face a wandering polar bear.

Most of the elements of the Svalbard landscape are present in the photograph; the absence of trees, the clouded covered top of the mountains, and the rare presence of men. Like other photos in my project ‘La Camera du Flaneur’, the shot was taken with no specific preparation, as if I was on a crowded street and had no time to take it.

© Gustavo Tavares

Why did you decide to enter OpenWalls?

I saw OpenWalls as an opportunity to show my work at an international level, and I wanted the challenge of getting feedback from a renowned judging panel.

What would it mean to you to exhibit your work in Arles?

Rencontres d’Arles is a photographic mecca, known for its surroundings, the atmosphere, and the work displayed there. I had the opportunity to go in 2009, and what I saw, including the diversity of the artwork, had a major influence on my work. It would be amazing for me to have the opportunity to exhibit part of my work in this photographic showcase.

© Gustavo Tavares

The image you entered is part of your series ‘La Camera du Flaneur’. What were the aims for that series?

‘La Camera du Flaneur’ is an attempt to apply street photography standards to landscapes. The term flâneur comes from the French and means vagabond, or tramp, which in turn comes from the French verb flâner, meaning ‘to walk’.

The idea of the project was inspired by a phrase by Susan Sontag: “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque’.”

How does your photograph respond to the theme, Home & Away?

Over the past 5 years, I´ve been exploring the Arctic regions; focusing on the climate’s harshness and the simplicity of the lines draw by nature and man. I visited Norway, Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland, and each functioned as a place of silence and calm that I was unable to find at home, where social media is absurdly important in our lives and we have strict schedules for work and leisure. So, the question is what is our home? Where is it? Is our home where we live or is it where we find our inner balance?

© Gustavo Tavares

Do you have any advice for people entering single image contests? What should they think about when selecting a photograph to submit?

It’s very hard to select a single photograph to enter into a contest like this, because in normal conditions, a photograph is part of a project, and it´s difficult to look at it and absorb its message without the rest of the work present. It´s almost like looking at a section of a painting, not at the whole canvas.

Nevertheless, if you don´t have an obvious title for your photo that could be a starting point, the image stands for itself, with no explanations needed.

This is your last chance to apply to OpenWalls Arles 2020! Submit your work responding to the theme ‘growth’, and you could be part of a group show at Galerie Huit Arles alongside Les Rencontres d’Arles 2020. Deadline: 25 July 2019 23:59 (UK time)

© Gustavo Tavares
© Gustavo Tavares