“I felt like I was always playing the same cards. With this project, I wanted to collect the cards and reshuffle them,” says José Pedro Cortes, whose latest book, A Necessary Realism, proposes new ways of seeing old images, gathered from almost 15 years of work and presented in his favourite medium, the photobook.
“The book is always an important moment for me,” says the Portuguese photographer, who is co-founder of the publishing Pierre von Kleist. “They are a mirror into the time I am living in, where I looked for a while in the same area.
“I wanted to fill in the gaps,” he adds. “By trying to break from this idea that images have a connection to a specific geography, and also a specific time, I wanted to take a different look at my archive, as if it were something new.”
A Necessary Realism is Cortes’ fifth photobook, and the title has multiple meanings. It’s partly personal, alluding to the necessity that Cortes feels to have one foot in his reality, and the other on the reality that he presents. But it also relates to how the images are loosely organised into sequences and events, but are in no way chronological. “Reality is made of disjointed episodes that happen parallel to one another. It’s the way that you piece them together that makes the reading of reality something complex and specific,” Cortes explains. “On the whole, [the book] is a subjective and non-judgmental reading of the world.”
The images he chose are not necessarily what he conceives as his best shots, but rather the ones that never found a place to be published, or which he felt were important in the wider context of his work. In the process of looking back, Cortes not only found old images he’d neglected, but also themes he’d unconsciously sought out as a young photographer.
“It’s funny to see what things I was trying to find, which I did later on in my career,” he says. “These things sometimes come in a more rational way, and sometimes from the depths of your mind.”
Cortes also found that his earlier work was more spontaneous, something which gave him pause for thought. “I think that’s a question to address, not only as an artist but as a person, whether the more you grow in your practice, the more you became aware of your own tricks,” he says. “It’s difficult to be naive, impulsive, and react to things.
“This notion of being in between chance and control, in a way, they come out of the same movement,” he adds. “If on one hand we have a totally spontaneous image, and on the other we have total control, I try to move down this axis, and find myself somewhere in the middle. As long as I’m progressing in life, I’m being surprised at the world and at what the world gives me. You need to be positive and open to discovery. The idea of discovery is something that is important and which I try to keep open.”
www.josepedrocortes.com A Necessary Realism by José Pedro Cortes is co-published by Pierre von Kleist editions and MNAC-Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, Lisbon, Portugal, available to purchase for £23 www.pierrevonkleist.com