THE INSPIRATION TALK
HI ALESSANDRA! SO TELL ME, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP? AND WHAT WERE YOU DREAMING OF BECOMING?
I grew up in São Paulo but since early as I can remember, I always wanted to travel. I get tired of staying at the same place very quickly so I always wanted to find a profession that would make me travel a lot. When I was 17, I told my mom I was leaving and went to Paris where I became a model. I ended up spending 10 years there on and off and eventually got tired of it (laughs). After my first year in Paris, I decided to travel to Indonesia for a month. At this point my mom asked me: “what are you going to do with your life?”. She told me that travelling around wasn’t going to pay the bills. I decided to stay and started social work with kids there, which I love to do and already did in São Paulo, and since I had a camera, I started taking pictures of them. I ended up staying a whole year. When I got back to Paris, I saw the pictures and was amazed of how powerful they were. I thought it was exactly what I wanted to do: travel the world and work with children. I just moved back to São Paulo as a base but I am travelling around as much as I can. It feels like I really grew up everywhere.
HOW COME YOU STAYED THAT LONG IN PARIS?
Mmmh because of a boyfriend to be honest! (Laughs). But it was also really fun! You know in São Paulo I had a very catholic education and Paris felt like such a great freedom. And all of my friends were there.
SO YOU DIDN’T PLAN ON BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER, IT WAS SOMETHING THAT YOU TRIED OUT AS MAYBE A WAY TO DOCUMENT YOUR JOURNEY IN INDONESIA?
Today I have this new kind of work, which is more related to Art. But in the beginning I saw it like anthropology: getting to know poor communities and adapting to their way of living until the kids allow me to take pictures of them. This whole process made me fell in love with photography. The picture captures a moment and to me it was very strong because it captured my whole relationship to the child. It is very powerful. But then again even if I liked taking pictures of kids, it didn’t pay any bills so I started thinking: what do I like the most? Kids and Nature. This is how I came up with a way to link both through photography.
YOUR MOM OWNS A GALLERY; DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE VENTURED INTO THE ART WORLD WITHOUT THESE CONNECTIONS?
I for sure got much more into the art world because of her. Before that, I was more into journalism and documentary. Living in Europe also helped: there are so many accesses to art in general and to the most amazing exhibitions. It helped me understanding it more. Through my camera I try to show something.
IN YOUR SERIES “TODOS OS OLHARES DO MUNDO” (“ALL EYES OF THE WORLD”) YOU SUBTRACT THINGS UNDERPRIVILEGED CHILDREN ARE NEEDING THE MOST FROM THE PICTURES TO EMPHASIZE THE PROBLEM. WHERE DID THAT IDEA COME FROM?
I started physically subtracting elements from my pictures because I hate computers and Photoshop (laughs). I first experimented that with my series about nature, printing pictures of trees and literally cutting the leaves out of them; suddenly the pictures seemed even more reel. Then I thought about the children I had spent so much time with. It may sound cliché but the camera is such a powerful tool to denounce social issues. The pictures were already powerful but adding this technique really made them even more interesting. Like when Sebastião Salgado takes a picture of something that is horrible but the way he takes it, its composition, calls attention. Composition is key to make people stop and actually look at a picture and therefore see what is going on around the world, especially here in Brazil where I feel people don’t want to watch the news. So I thought that maybe if I showed something nice, they would look at it. At some point I was trying to raise money for the community I was working with, where the biggest problem was school. I had the idea of withdrawing the school out of the picture as a way to show what society had taken away from them. It just evolved naturally from there.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS WHEN YOU START A NEW PROJECT?
I have a few projects going on at the same time: “All eyes of the world” where I question if the environments in which these children are raised really determine who they will become. I am fascinated by the importance of nature in a child’s life. I want to make a book about this at one point. The other project, involving nature, started as I moved to London. I was jobless and just spending my days at the park trying to take pictures of kids, which makes you pass for a weirdo there, therefore pretty impossible to lead with that idea (laughs). Instead, I started taking pictures of the trees. I thought it was beautiful. I tried to build a story around it. I genuienely don’t have any specific process. Right now for example I am working on another project: I use big wooden papers on which I print my leaves pictures and roll them around to look like a tree trunk. It is my representation of the deforestation happening in the Amazon rainforest: when the trees are cut they look like naked trunks. It is supposed to show something not beautiful, in a beautiful way.
HOW DO YOU CONNECT NATURE AND HUMAN IN YOUR ART?
All the things I denounce with the trees project basically represent an issue for the future we are leaving to the next generation, the children. They are the ones who will be dealing with it. For my next project I am going to the great barrier reef in Australia where I will be taking pictures of the corals. I am going to small islands to meet with all the fishing communities which are slowly disappearing as a consequence of coral bleaching. My idea is to take pictures of the children of these fishermen as they are the next generation who, in 15-20 years, if the problem is not solved, will have to move from their island to cities. This is the kind of connection I make between Human and Nature.
TELL ME ABOUT WORLD WIDE WOMEN, THE PROJECT YOU CREATED TO GIVE YOUNG FEMALE ARTISTS A PLATFORM: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED AND WHAT IS IT TRYING TO DO?
Unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore. Me and the other girls from the project started it when I moved to Paris. We wanted to empower women. Back then we were super close with Waris Dirie, a famous supermodel who had suffered genital mutilation. It took a group of eight girls from different parts of the world to come together and create two photos exhibitions creating awareness for different causes where women are the victims. We wanted for women to have a platform to showcase their art, since this world is still highly dominated by men. The money we earned from the sales was reverted to different organizations fighting for these causes. It was a great project but unfortunately it didn’t work out on the long run.
IT WAS PRETTY MUCH FORECASTING WHAT IS FINALLY HAPPENING NOW FOR WOMEN’S CAUSE!
Yes, and it was beautiful that so many different girls were participating, one was from Russia, one from Brazil, France, etc… Connecting all these women and fighting for the same cause was really strong. It doesn’t matter where you come from, all women want the same thing at the end of the da: to feel they can do anything.
I LOVE THIS IDEA OF A GLOBAL SISTERHOOD!
Yes but it is still hard to work with artists! Men or women. Some of them can really have strong egos. But what I learned from this experience is that when women have the same goal, they’ll make it happen and never let go. You feel so powerful when you are surrounded by so many brilliant women working together in the same direction.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT THE FIRST PIECE YOU SOLD WAS? AND THE FEELING?
It was actually during one of our World Wide Women exhibition, but to be honest it was sold to someone I knew. I started thinking: how many friends do I have? I mean, they could buy one photo but they wouldn’t buy my pieces forever, you know? (Laughs). I remember the first piece I sold to a stranger: it was during an exhibition that I did in Brazil five years ago. This guy just came in, saw the children’s portraits and said he wanted all of them. I remember it so fondly not because of that, but because I could finally revert the money to the Asian organization I went to work with two years before that! When I called them to announce the news, I got the feeling that it all finally made sense.
DON’T YOU GET SO ATTACHED TO YOUR PIECES THAT YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING AWAY A CHILD WHEN YOU SELL THEM?
It is so much work that at some point I cannot even see the piece anymore, you know? (Laughs). I mean, I keep the digital archive of the photographs in my computer but for the pieces that I cut out like the leaves, I can get really attached and kind of want to keep them for myself, for sure!
HAVE YOU EVER REFUSED TO SELL ONE OF THESE CHERISHED PIECES TO A PERSON YOU DIDN’T LIKE?
Hopefully one day I will! (Laughs).
DO YOU EVER ACCEPT COMMISSIONED WORK?
Yes, but more in terms of adapting to a specific size or choosing from what I have in my archive of colors like when a client sometimes prefers fall colors to match a specific room in his house. I always create a bond with my buyers and I love when they send me pictures of my art in their home. And you know actually I think that is the reason why I don’t get sad when I sell my art: I always know exactly where it is going. This makes me happy.
HOW DOES AN ARTIST CONVINCE A GALLERY TO PICK HIM OVER OTHER OPTIONS?
At the beginning I tried to get into galleries but I am very bad at selling my work. Lately people have been seeing more and more of my work and started calling me to get me into their spaces. You know when you come to them, they never want you. The art world is really like that. I heard so many “NO” at the beginning… Funny enough, some of these persons came back to me years later asking me to exhibit my work but then I refused! (Laughs). I mean, they had the opportunity before!
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ARTIST?
I think everyone is an artist in his own way. But, yes I do. Now I do.
WHAT WAS THE TIPPING POINT?
When people started paying for the art that I made! (Laughs).
IS THAT WHAT DEFINES AN ARTIST?
Haha no of course, not. It is a very tricky question. To me what defines an artist is their creativity. Nowadays, you can call so many people an artist: a musician is an artist, an art director in advertising is an artist, writing is an art… Now, in a museum kind of way, an artist is someone that makes you stop and look at what he created. Someone that can capture your attention.
WHO DO YOU GO TO FOR MENTORSHIP?
I actually do a lot of online courses and master classes. There are amazing things out there if you manage to use internet as a tool for real knowledge! And of course my special person is my mom. But I have always been very curious; I read a lot, it helps me to find inspiration.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE PACE OF LIFE IN GENERAL, URGING US TO PRODUCE QUICKER AND MORE WHEN YOUR PIECES TAKE YOU SO LONG TO MAKE?
It is actually the reason why I started getting into these long by-hand producing processes. It acts like a mindfulness for me. Nowadays we live in a constant state of “FOMO”. Just being present is rare. When I am cutting the leaves, I’m there you know. I would go crazy in a city like São Paulo without my three hours of meditation per day, cutting my leaves. My mind goes quiet. I put my phone away, sometimes I listen to some podcasts and the whole process renews me.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR CAREER?
My dream is to keep on trying to raise awareness the best I can for causes that matter to me and never feel I am actually working doing it. I would like to keep being able to travel around, while taking pictures of nature and children and these communities I am so fond of, and being able to pay the bills with it. This would make me the happiest! I bought that world map where you scratch away the places you have been to and I would like to clean the map! I remember when I told my dad I was moving to Paris and not going to university, he was against it because he wanted me to go to college. Of course it is important to learn, but look what I’ve learned in the last 10 years travelling around! Nothing that a school can actually teach. It is hard to make a life out of that but if it works, it is so worth it. I am so blessed for this. It is about what you teach yourself. Being able to adapt to any place you go to and absorb the culture even when you are not speaking the language. And also I am afraid of routine. I hope I’ll always be able to do different things and meet new people and create. I hope.
WHAT WAS THE WORST ADVICE SOMEONE GAVE YOU?
To be very honest I think it was my dad when he told me to stay in São Paulo and study (laughs). But also I think the worst advice someone gave me was society. The “plan” was always to get to school, work, marry, have kids. Today we don’t need to marry anymore. The world is so big, there is so much to do. It is easy to fall into a routine but when you are there everyday repeating the same things I feel you’re not really learning anymore. Sometimes you cannot do otherwise though.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO STILL MOVE TO PARIS AT 17 WHEN YOUR DAD WAS AGAINST IT AND I GUESS NOT WILLING TO SPONSOR YOUR DECISION?
Well I lost a few kilos, got myself a model agency, shared an apartment with six other girls and it kind of worked out. My dad was freaking out; he had no control over me anymore.
WHEN A GIRL HAS SOMETHING ON HER MIND…
Yeah (laughs). But at the same time I think he took pride to see I was determined and tried to make it happen anyway. He eventually came to Paris to visit me and when he saw the hole I was living in and the fact that I had no money for nothing, he eventually told me that I made my point and didn’t need to be a model anymore if staying in Paris was really what I wanted. He offered to help me with the rent of a decent apartment and sponsored my photography studies. But then I realized what I loved the most about being Paris was actually the freedom it got me. I loved to study there but it is not the same way of when you are committed to a 9 to 5 schedule.
I GUESS YOU TOOK A SHORTCUT ON LIFE NOT WANTING TO FOLLOW “THE PLAN” IN SÃO PAULO. IT TAKES GUTS TO TAKE THESE KINDS OF DECISIONS.
I don’t know if today I would make the same decisions. I was very adventurous: moving to Paris at 17 to become a model without speaking a word of French, going to Indonesia just because someone I had just met told me about the children’s community there… Today I would definitively think twice before embarking onto these things. But I am also so thankful that back then it was a no brainer. It is the best experience of life I have. Things always ended up right. The biggest lesson I learned was when I was on that island with very little electricity and I saw a kid playing with a coconut ball. I remember thinking that he looked much happier than my brothers and all their Playstation things. These kids have nothing and look more happy than those who have everything. That’s when you start questioning: what is “everything”?. I realized we rarely live as a community anymore, we want everything for ourselves. I learned about sharing in those communities. I started questioning things from a very young age and I had to see the answers through my own eyes. I guess my curiosity took me to where I am today.
FAVORITE THING TO DO WHEN YOU WANT TO PROCRASTINATE?
WHAT IS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
I’ve been reading weird Ken Follett books, like the “column of fire” inquisition. I also like romances and I’d like to read historical books to learn more. A book I loved reading was “sustainable lightness of being” by Milan Kundera. What else? I am actually embarrassed to share the other things I am reading, you know romances like Jojo Moyes’ s books (laughs). But it really calms me down.
WHAT IS THE COOLEST THING YOU’VE LEARNED RECENTLY?
To put my pride aside, sometimes. It makes you loose so many good things in life when you’re too stubborn with your ego. It is a sacrifice that you do for a greater outcome. Sometimes of course someone is wrong, but if that person cannot see she is wrong, it is okay too. Being at peace with that person is more important. Obviously you have to be careful to feel respected. I am a pacifist person and I think that is the reason why I have so many people in my life. It all got much easier after I learned to say sorry.
BRAZILIAN WOMEN ARE KNOWN TO BE “PASSIONATE” IN THEIR RELATIONSHIPS. DO YOU THINK IT IS SOMETHING CULTURAL?
I think yes. Our country is catholic and sexist. And I guess deep inside we are too. It is the heritage of our parents and grand parents’ education where women were supposed to get married and be obedient to their husband. And it’s funny because although I am fully aware of that, that I disagree with it and that I dedicate myself to my career for the moment, sometimes I stop and start panicking thinking that I might never get married as if this was going to bring me happiness.
I THINK IT IS COMPLICATED TO IGNORE THAT SOCIETY PRESSURE WHICH STILL EXISTS…
It is a fight for all the women here. We were raised like this but then we are also reading the news and understand it is not supposed to be like that. You feel some way and you think another way and I am sure all girls fight the same battle inside. In Europe it seems different, but here 80% of my friends are already married. And I am only 28 years old. When I see their “adult” homes I sometimes think to myself: why can’t I have everything?
BUT THEN MAYBE THEY DON’T HAVE WHAT YOU HAVE…
True. And they look at me and tell me :”dude, you don’t want to be married” (laughs). I guess it is not the priority anymore. Mine is to build my independence and sometimes getting married too early can interfere with that. Personally, I think not depending on anyone is one of the keys for a relationship to work out. So I think I am building something in the optic of having a good marriage one day.
DO YOU THINK IN BRAZIL A WOMAN CAN BE WHATEVER SHE WANTS TO BE?
No... I mean, you can but I think that what people want you to be affects your evolution in becoming who you wanted to be. Sometimes you don’t even know what you want yourself and people’s opinion still gets a lot to you.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT?
I want so many things! I don’t know if I am going to be able to conciliate. I want to have a family and tons of kids, but I also want to travel 6 months a year (laughs). I think what I want is to be able to conciliate every thing that I want.
I THINK THAT IS NOW EXACTLY WHAT WOMEN SHOW THEY ARE ABLE TO DO. HAVE IT ALL. NOT HAVING TO CHOOSE.
WHAT IS THE SONG THAT WILL ALWAYS MAKE YOU WANT TO DANCE?
Neil Young’s Harvest moon or Elvis Presley’s Suspicious minds. These are songs I have been listening to since I was a kid and it gets me so nostalgic. It can bring me back to so many different places from a small island in Indonesia to crazy model parties in Paris. I have always been an Elvis fan.
This portrait is part of a curated series of 4 portraits of artists representing free, feminine and inspiring women that OuiSimone imagined with Cris Barros.