Accidentally, and perhaps even unknowingly, Eufália Cristina Paz de Almeida may have found her method. A largely conceptual artist that has worked in paint, drawing and mixed media, the Brazilian-born Paz de Almeida recently began combining personal experience, photographic image and text to construct effecting and sometimes deeply personal narratives.
Paz de Almeida, who holds a Master of Fine Art Photography from the Istituto Europeo di Design in addition to a Masters in Public Health, came to photography by accident.
“Photography for me was one… out of the blue,” the artist said. “I studied visual arts in Australia, and when I finished I decided to go backpacking in Southeast Asia looking for inspiration. I was really into paintings and drawings [and] I was photographing everything because I wanted to paint everything.”
But it was the response she received after sharing her work that encouraged Paz de Almeida to seriously pursue photography. “I realized that photography was different,” she said. “It was something that I was sharing; I was on my own, but at the same time I wasn’t.”
The freedom the medium allows her would also serve to convince Paz de Almeida. “I can really express myself. It’s something that happens out of your physical existence. It’s magic.”
Appropriately, the Brazilian’s approach to making photographs is anything but commonplace. As with her many contemporaries, such as Martha Rosler, Lorna Simpson and Jeff Wolin, Paz de Almeida follows a long history of combining written text with images.
But similar to French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, her work probes the private lives of others: from her father’s, mother’s and stepmother’s in The Destiny of a Heart to that of a total stranger in her 2011 piece, A Man in the Park. And, again like Calle’s, while the photographs may serve as catalyst, it is the text that matters most, the work more performance than exhibition.
In The Destiny of a Heart, Paz de Almeida borrows from the romanticism of early Brazilian literature and the melodrama of the Latin-American telenovela to tell the story of her father, Sebastião Paz de Almeida, and of his marriage, divorce and remarriage to two “Marlis”—two individual women, both born in 1957, the very same year that the artist finds him—then thirty-five years their senior, captured in an unflattering photograph at a carnival.
Born in 1924 during the “coronelismo” period in Brazil, the senior Paz de Almeida marries Marli Terezinha Gomes, who she met as a child aged six, and whom, as her aunt later reminded her, she had casually announced she would marry.
After divorcing, Paz de Almeida remarries, marrying his wife’s namesake, Marli Prato de Matos, and building a house next door to his previous one, “such was his love for his family as well as his desire to control it.”
And it is from this point that the narrative begins. Unfolding like memory, sequential, non-sequential, jarring and scattered, Paz de Almeida literally takes on the role of her father, moving forward and backward through his life.
We learn of his political power, an authoritarian, domineering man, who presumed his authority in his home life as much as he did his professional one.
And, ultimately, we learn of his death, his heart failing as he’s being flown to hospital to receive medical attention:
A heart that loved so much it couldn’t handle the way it grew up. Too big to function, it stopped beating on the 15th of February, Nine Thousand Meters up in the sky”.
Paz de Almeida’s series is not the photographic narrative we have become accustomed to seeing. It does not fit comfortably within the framework of the well-made project nor do the photographs: the primary subjects (here alone breaking formula, there is more than one) do not receive central placement within the frame.
They are not the largest element, they are not addressed frontally or head-on, and they aren’t always in sharpest focus. For some, arguably, the photographs might even be considered banal or boring.
And initially, the photographs of Campos Novos, of Paz de Almeida’s side-by-side homes, or of the screened partition offer the viewer little in the way of clues. For some, the texts and images that follow appear, at first glance, out of place and disjointed.
Like a memory that has begun to fade, we are left feeling uncertain. As actor, Paz de Almeida appears both foreground and background in the photographs, participant and voyeur. Is he really present here? How present was he when he was alive? And as he stands behind his first wife and her new partner, are we to assume the senior Paz de Almeida’s presence survived his passing?
Yet contrary to their apparent supporting role, it is in fact the images that make the work complete. Much like vignettes in a film, the photographs in The Destiny of a Heart are meant to settle in the viewer’s memory, image and text to be considered and reconsidered for later review.
To be sure, Paz de Almeida’s work is about a daughter resolving the life of man who, even in death, continues to hold sway over her and her family. But The Destiny of a Heart is also a tale about choices: the decisions we make—or choose not to—that can alter the course of our lives. And in this way Sebastião Paz de Almeida’s life serves as metaphor; a story at once personal and universal, a fable about what is as well as about what might have been.