All images by Rui Pires. Used with permission.
“In Rural Moments…the word crisis is unknown, maybe because this is the last places where the word ‘humanity’ makes sense.” says photographer Rui Pires about his project. A Portuguese documentary photographer, Rui spent a long time documenting a disappearing way of life in the mountains. In small villages, people genuinely looked after one another in a community. It’s a stark contrast for Rui–especially compared to what’s going on in most of Europe right now.
Rui has had a passion for photography which began in 1983 when he was a student. He romanticizes many of the classics like Ansel Adams and Ted Grant. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s just like all the rest–he’s got awards to his name.
In 2013 Rui Pires won the “Documentary Award 2013” from UNESCO and CFPA and at 2014 Rui Pires was finalist in “Alfred Fried Award” with the Rural Moments documentary.
Oh yeah, and he loves film.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Rui: 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 6×9 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.
My motivation has always been humanistic photography. However I already had developed a large portfolio of landscape photography, which is another genre that has my particular interest. As Ansel Adams said in reference to this genre of photography, “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment”, given the difficulty in certain circumstances to reproduce the art of Nature.
Phoblographer: What made you want to do documentary work?
Rui: To capture unique moments, people, lifestyles, as an addition to my studies of history and social anthropology. The picture turns out to be one of the most important means of generating a historical record. Note the wealth of historical documentation since there is photography.
In the pre-photography period we had the drawing or painting which documented important moments, albeit in a more artistic way and subjective and more marginal in terms of quantity of records. So, now that we have a powerful tool to document people, it’s what I’m doing.
Phoblographer: So tell us about the people in the mountains in Portugal. You say that they’re very much about helping one another and less so about money; but what else makes them very unique and different from more modern cultures?
Rui: Rural Moments documentary show a very special people from Portuguese countryside. As I spent my childhood in rural areas, capturing the essence of the rural people has always been a challenge that has captivated me. The ease of communication between me and this rural people facilitated the process.
It all began in 2007 when I visited “Covas do Monte” and found one of the last places where the word humanity makes sense. Simple people, workers, people for whom the word “euro” or “political” means nothing.
I met Maria “Piqueirinha”, Maria do Martins, Antonio, Frances, Anne, Luciano and many other wonderful human beings living in absolute community and work in agriculture. They help each other like a big family.
In the course of time, I begun to be considered a true friend and like family for all these people, and since 2007 I becomes part of their lives, their joys, sorrows, and unfortunately, to attend the passing of almost all of them.
This way of life virtually extinct, where humanity, the word, mutual assistance, mutual help in good times and bad times still persist, so I decided to start this documentary in order to show future generations these ways of life endangered in opposite to lack of humanity that happens in big cities and in modern way of life.
In this sense, for some years I traveled the paths of the mountain to follow the life of rural people, establish relationships with them so that the camera was something that they would forget. And I used a huge camera.
Unfortunately, these ways of life are disappearing and during the production of this documentary I witnessed the death of most of my rural friends, the human elements that have been documented photographically. More than once, I spent very sad moments that almost led me to abandon the project, due to the strong friendship established with these people that finished in a sad way. Most of these people were very old, from 85 to 95 years old, these villages have few young people, most of them leave to big cities in order to study and get a job.
Maybe this way of life became to be the future again, with the lack of jobs, the fall of the industry in Europe and the crisis. In “Rural Moments” villages, the word crisis is unknown, maybe because this is the last places where the word “humanity” makes sense.
Phoblographer: When you were thinking about this project, what types of things did you have in mind when it came to sharing their ways of life with the rest of the world? Do you feel like you fulfilled that goal in your series?
Rui: I think yes. This documentary was already exhibited in many countries, was awarded by UNESCO, CFPA, Alfred Fried Award and many other awards and I have the best feedback from public.
Phoblographer: Besides the story of Maria, who was mentally ill and fed by the village every day, what other stories really touched you?
Rui: All the “Rural Moments” documentary photos are a big story that touched me strongly. I have many stories that I never forget. I can share with you one: when Joana ask me to take some pictures to her old mother, Maria, in order for her to use them in her mother’s grave when her mother dies. I took the pictures and one of them is now on Maria’s grave.
Phoblographer: What black and white? What does it do for this story that color can’t?
Rui: Ted Grant said once: “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”
I agree. Sometimes its important to reduce photography to the essential, the souls of people. But also to give this documentary a timeless looking. Last year I started to work in “Rural Moments – The second generation”, a documentary about the young people that stay in this villages working in agriculture, like their grandfathers, and I´m using color. Because is more or less the “future” of the old documentary “Rural Moments”, so, timelessness is not important.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you used to create this series.
Rui: I used a Mamiya RZ67 PRO II camera, some prime lenses from Mamiya and Kodak Tri-X 320 Pan and Tri-X 400 . I develop all the pictures my self in darkroom using HC110 with some old Ansel Adams developing formulas. One of the reasons I decided use film in this documentary is the timeless feeling and because for black and white work I still prefer film.
My other reason is because film, when well developed can last hundred of years and digital media can disappear with a hard disk crash. Remember Vivian Meyer? Would we have found her wonderful work if she used a digital camera in that time?