Paulo Monteiro Reveals the Rituals and Soul of Azores on Kodak Tri-X

All images by Paulo Monteiro. Used with permission.

Wherever people settled and built towns and cities, they also crafted their collective spirit on myths, stories, and rituals. We can say that many street and documentary photographers have made it their mission to uncover these elements through their work. One of them is self-taught photographer Paulo Monteiro, who has been documenting his town, the autonomous region of Azores in Portugal.

He shared with us some images from his ongoing project called Profound Azores and gave us a glimpse of the soul of his people. These images reveal the religious practices and rituals that are both ancient and modern, and manifest in different forms in each of the islands comprising the Azorean archipelago. This variations, according to Paulo, resulted from the centuries of isolation that each island was subjected to.

Paulo, who still holds preference for film photography and always shoots in black and white, couldn’t have picked a better medium to capture the scenes around his hometown. Drawing inspiration from iconic photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and Cristina García Rodero, his work mirrors the classic look that only black and white film can deliver. All the grain and imperfection of the medium seem to merge with and strengthen the mythology — both ancient and modern — that he wanted to immortalize in his work.

My name is Paulo Monteiro. I was born June 1963, in San Miguel, Azores. I am a self-taught photographer.

I have developed long-term projects about various subjects, such as popular religiosity, profane festivities, architecture, landscape, nature, or the world of work.

My inspiration sources are the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and Cristina García Rodero, among others.

This work is part of my project “Profound Azores”. The first inhabitants of these islands brought with them ancient religious practices, whose rituals are still practiced in a more or less pure manner. Those rituals take very different forms in each of the islands. These differences are a result of the isolation that each island was voted to for centuries. Historically, the islands have been affected by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and storms. They have also been attacked by pirates and privateers. Isolated from the world and often abandoned by their king, the Azoreans always sought protection in the divine, by practicing rituals that still exist today.

Of more recent origin, other rituals take on a more urban context. Of a non-religious origin, but no less valid or less characteristic, Carnival rituals are mostly practiced by a youth who are irreverent and who find in these forms of expression a way of affirming their character. As an Azorean and a photographer, it seems important to document these rituals, before they are tainted by globalization, mass tourism, or power-seeking politicians who often appropriate popular culture, as a way to get the support of the people. There are worrying signs of the decline of a culture that, if not documented in time, will disappear without leaving any traces. This series portrays all that it is real and authentic in the culture of the archipelago of the Azores, because these black and white Azores that, over the centuries, have existed as a soap bubble, are about to burst and disappear.

My photos are taken on 35 mm film cameras. My favorite films are Ilford HP5+ and Kodak Tri-X. I usually work with two Leica bodies: an R5 and an R6, fitted with a Summilux 50 mm and an Elmarit 35 mm. The 35 mm allows me to keep the correct distance for the subjects, while the 50 mm is my choice to capture details. Also, its large aperture is very useful in order to take photos in available light. My favorite paper is the Adox Multicontrast Classic. I always shoot in black and white: when I am taking photos, I can’t remember that color exists.

I develop the negatives myself and I make the prints. I use raw chemicals in order to prepare the developers. This gives me a full control on all the process. I think I’ll never move to digital.

Visit Paulo Monteiro’s website to see more of his work.