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Currents

Nuno Moreira: In the Zone George Slade

(Disclaimer: This feature explores photographic work in a book, but it is not a photobook review. Nor is this a question-and-answer piece. It is an asynchronous but shared musing, or parallel observations, about a particular set of photographs. The author’s voice appears in roman type, while Nuno Moreira’s is in italic.)

I always felt an immense fascination to look into the abyss and the unknown. Above all, I accept the absurdity of life and I embody that in the work I do. Nuno Moreira’s project ZONA, carried out in 2014 and 2015, then published in late 2015, carries on the well-established practice of the artist’s book and demonstrates how that genre has been embraced and enhanced by photographers in the last decade. Self-published, independent titles have appeared in nearly overwhelming numbers in the post-millennial era; practically overwhelming for certain, as there are way too many books to keep track of, let alone acquire. The environment has been very fertile due to a number of factors. Self-publishing platforms like Blurb (founded 2005) have evolved just as major publishers have been radically cutting back on

investment in photographically illustrated books. Design programs and do-it-yourself (DIY) production software have evolved, as have specialty printers and binders, enabling individuals to create editions of two, ten or 100—numbers a traditional book publisher could never justify. Moreira joins the ranks of contemporary photographers who feel that the book, not necessarily the individual print or assembled exhibition, is the natural extension and most appropriate end point of their work.

The art that interests me is not clear, easy, fast or comfortable. I'm interested in what lies behind what I'm looking at, behind what I'm listening to, behind what lies in front of me. The thought behind doing something, the intention, is always as important as the thing itself. Moreira is a professional graphic designer; those skills have been beneficial to his personal work. An earlier project of his, titled Caindo depressa de um sonho (2010–2011), is a set of photographs realized during a performance enacted for the camera, a model reiterated in ZONA. That earlier effort was published, too, in 100 copies of a booklet, an edition that is now sold out.

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The design of the book followed the universe from where these pictures came from. I never know what’s going to happen before I shoot, I try to prepare myself, but I never know about the results since it’s very much a


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private. Sincerely, I dislike big coffee-table books because what happens in the long run is that they look really pretty, but then you don’t actually open them and revisit them much because they’re heavy and not easy to flip through in your lap or carry around. A book, in other words, that fits in the palm of (most) hands. And, a book that reflects an introspective take on life and imagery.

To draw the reader into the universe of the pictures by providing a smaller scale makes the experience more intimate, closer and personal. I’m interested in the ritualization of daily actions, and I like to transpose that into the art I do. One advantage to the book form is that it allows a specific, linear sequence to guide a reader’s experience. The sources for that sequence are infinite in number, though the most authentic come from the pictures themselves. Which, in the best-case scenarios, issue from a wellspring intrinsic to the photographer himself.

ZONA stream-of-thought experience.

“I‘m interested in what lies behind what I‘m looking at, behind what I‘m listening to, behind what lies in front of me.“

State of Mind, Moreira’s second major project of the past half-decade, was more conventional, like other monographs (although still self-published), in that it contained a variety of observations of the world, taken over months and years rather than within the space and time of a collaborative performance. State of Mind has been realized twice in print. The first time, in November 2011, it had 26 pages and was released in an edition of 100 copies of what Moreira called a booklet (again, as with Caindo depressa de um sonho). It grew, considerably and in numerous dimensions, in its second iteration. Released in December 2013, it became Moreira’s first “photobook.” It quadrupled its page count, quintupled its print run, added height and width to its pages. It is still available via his website. But ZONA took a path that led back to intimacy. I was very much concerned with making a little secret book. A discreet object that can easily pass unnoticed but with enough magic and mystery that you can hold in your hands and take everywhere you want to discover in

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The structure of the book follows a natural rhythm that comes directly from the pictures, or better said: from my unconscious and the dreams I was having at that particular time. The empty white pages and the negative space in the photos play a central role in the way the narrative is formed. What’s important to say is that these fragments bear an original meaning and there [are] subtle connections between the beginning, the middle and the end. Not that it has to follow this order of reading, of course. The meaning, however, is not really important per se because it lies in the eyes of the beholder. You could … see the book from end to start and I believe you could still piece together some sort of order or sense of narrative…. Just like in life I think we move in a sort of absurd dance with the elements and people around us. The building of the book as a sculptural, interactive, portable object assumes its own logic. One might say that Moreira’s ZONA photographs emerged from and continually represent a dream of a sequence of records of a performance. They live as litmus tests of a


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viewer’s state of mind and condition of heart. Art is supposed to be about stopping you in your tracks. Demanding your attention and making you think. Asking something from you and never giving you any right satisfactory answer. So, yes, ZONA is a unique and different object and demands something from the reader. Moreira works in a space that is less about meaning, or description, and more about evocation.

Just like doing a record, many songs are left out, or like in a movie some shots need to be cut for the sake of the whole. I don’t

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believe a good work of art provokes consensus. Usually a really good record or really good movie keeps resonating beneath your skin afterwards for reasons that are not apparent at first sight. Again, it seems that certain works succeed by inclusion, and others by omission. A producer can succeed by utilizing the absence of clarity.

The territory I work on with photography is very much about building a sense of space and working within those physical and spatial limitations. I’m understanding that the sense of intimacy and “interiority” that come out


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again. Now that I think about it, the Theater of the Shadows was the reason I first visited Japan, and perhaps one of the reasons I felt so connected with that land and their cultural traditions. In the final assessment, however, and as in filmmaking, the person whose name appears first on the final product is the auteur, the director, the artist.

ZONA

“The territory I work on with photography is very much about building a sense of space and working within those physical and spatial limitations.”

through the photos needs to be respected, and to do that via an exhibition space is for me still difficult to achieve, so the better way to give room for these pictures to come alive and breath on their own is through book format because it holds the right ingredients and enhances my work in the right direction. Photographic projects like ZONA present themselves as a new language. They reflect a hybrid approach to art-making. ZONA bundles images, composing, cinema, literature, design and choreography. Moreira is one—admittedly central—contributor to the final product. There are two performers in the photographs. The writer’s voice established specific chapters. And, pervading the entire undertaking, are three cultural norms. As the trilingual text pages indicate, Moreira and author José Luis Peixoto are Portuguese; they included English as “lingua franca” and added Japanese because of the photographer’s having been immersed in that country (including its theatrical traditions).

A theater of the shadows. That’s the only theater I’m interested in and the one I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to work on again and

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With ZONA, it was a very solid process because I knew before shooting I wanted to make a book in a certain way: intimate, small, silent, with enough “negative space” and emptiness, using the body as the conductor and shooting in one single space during one single day. These were all limitations I imposed on myself. I wanted to have a distinguished rhythm for this book, to create a compass that is similar to breathing, stopping and advancing slowly in the dark. To have a dense compass and at the same time feel like it’s a silent march forward (or backwards). Honestly, I don’t want the reader to just frivolously flip through the pages and go about their way. I think that’s disgusting and if I find myself doing that in a bookstore it’s certainly not the kind of book I want to bring home with me. The images, as you see them in these pages, offer only a hint of their full import. They are, nonetheless, compelling fragments. ZONA is irreducible from this point. But do try to see it in its fully realized form. It’s a good read, an eloquent performance, an object of great tactile pleasure and an intriguing film. Fact File You can explore Moreira’s work in greater depth at www.nmphotos.org.


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