entry: General Conditions

O Fardo das Imagens (1945-1953)

Adelino Lyon de Castro

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“It is, for the untrained, as hard to read an image as any hieroglyphics”. So stated Ruth Berlau, a close colleague of Bertolt Brecht’s, in her note to the latter’s War Primer (1955). Educating people to read images formed part of every programme for social change since culture was essential, as consciousness of the manipulative and deceptive power of images could be used to develop literacy with respect to the whole paradigm of exploitation and domination practised by the social and political system. This point is pivotal to the analysis and interpretation of the photographic oeuvre of Adelino Lyon de Castro, above all in combination with the historical debates conducted by the neorealist movement with the aim of creating an aesthetic that would be accessible to the uneducated populace. Making workers and the marginalised the main subject matter across the art forms would not in itself create a revolution: what was needed was to develop a complete process of raising consciousness of social inequality, thus making the “hardships and drudgery of labour” clear and understandable. This is why it is significant that in Lyon de Castro’s images there is a constant focus on figures that yield and “sway under a load”, in the sense of that state of poverty which becomes abject since “it subjects man to the absolute tyranny of his body, that is, to the absolute tyranny of necessity” (Hannah Arendt). The Portuguese neorealist movement assimilated photography’s power of representing the real in a fragmented, superficial and insufficient fashion. Some attention was paid to it by Mário Dionisio, who saw in photography a way of acting on, interpreting and transforming reality, making it thus possible to defend even its most naturalist manifestation, in the tradition of Henri Lefebvre and his “revolutionary romanticism”. Lyon de Castro’s photographs achieve, therefore, that eternal and hybrid goal of representing reality, at the same time as they reaffirm that: “there is no critical realism without a prior critique of realism”. (Georges Didi-Huberman).

Emília Tavares

As a result of their social and realist representation of society, Adelino Lyon de Castro’s photographs also encourage a critical reflection on the role of photography and its repercussions for the representation of reality and its relationship with truth. Photography established a new level of engagement with reality, due to its ontological nature of mimetic reproduction of the same and thus its guardianship of values and indicators of “truth”, impossible through any other form of artistic expression. Thus, this extensive and synthetic exhibition of work sets out some of the limits, possibilities and paradoxes of representing the real, as well as the aesthetic and ideological contingencies to which art and photography, in particular, have had to conform. On one hand, the inclusion, since the nineteenth century, of ordinary people and the less fortunate as subject matter, corresponds to one of realism’s prime concerns which were to be fleshed out ideologically by the stirrings of social revolution but eroded by the voracity of bourgeois taste for the exotic. In turn, the politicisation of some of the principal artistic movements, such as neorealism, introduced new dilemmas, such as which aesthetic technique was most suited to representing reality and how to create and increase social consciousness through art. Between the beggars depicted by Carlos Relvas and the picturesque typification of peasants by the Estado Novo, a form of representation was established which displaced the individual and positioned him within social archetypes which were sufficiently generalised as to reduce him to a global image, a brand. Portuguese modernism also strove continually for resolution, between the less than harmonious reality of Mário Eloy and the composed reality of Abel Salazar, a hybridism which photography took for its own when it found resolution through a sweeping gaze which encompassed poetic realism and revolutionary naturalism. In any case, from its “marginal” position, Portuguese photography understood how to express the ideological “burden” of the image. Even though, given that “social reality is dual, multiple, plural. How does this confirm a reality?” (Henri Lefebvre), the question remains as to what the image can hope to represent.

Emília Tavares