I know now I could have lived with no more world than this. I now know that I made all the world into this house.
— José Luiz Peixoto.
I was born in a small town of 30 thousand inhabitants in the countryside of Santa Catarina, in the Iguazu Valley. My parents are not from there though: my mom was born nearby, in São João do Triunfo; as close as her town is, nobody in Porto União knows about it. São João do Triunfo has had about 15 thousand inhabitants since forever; when I was born, my dad was the mayor. He is from another tiny town, Paulista, from Martinópolis.
As it was with me, it went with my dad and his parents: they knew they would not live where they grew up. My dad left his parents home at the age of 14 to study at an agricultural school and never returned. During his holiday periods, not telling anyone, he pretended to be at school and hitchhiked along with Eugenio — a friend a year younger who plays guitar, whose name I know but never met.
Since I was little, I knew I would be leaving the town where I was born. My siblings knew that too.
My brother asked me one day if I ever felt at home when we were there. The answer must be a yes: whenever we were together, having coffee for hours, eating homemade bread with guava paste made by Giovani’s wife, a farmer that delivered organic products for us. Simultaneously, the answer must be a no as I haven’t always felt at ease or welcomed, and I don’t recall feeling that being spontaneous was something desirable or expected when we were not in the house.
The second time I moved was just after spending a year outside of school. I went to live for a year with my sister in the countryside of Paraná, in a city at least ten times more populous than where I grew up, which I found to just as many times more conservative.
When I was accepted into college, I thought I had unquestionably proven that I was nothing like the people of Paraná. I moved away to live in a huge city full of things to see and learn, things nobody in my circle understood.
I’d probably never make a good farmer anyway; I grew up living in an apartment.
My aunts and uncles loved to compare my cousins and me as I plaid with nine of them at my grandma’s farm. Deida, Ina, Manu, Mari, João, Fre, Gabi, Leo, Arnaldo — no more than three years apart. I was the one who couldn’t wash the terrace floor, make bread, climb a tree or mow the grass. They weren’t wrong about my lack of talent for such things; later, as an adult, in São Paulo, I have shown myself as a disaster at the community gardens. First-hand, I saw a farmer finish a job it’d take me three days in an hour and a half.
Having moved to São Paulo to go to college, I lived in a three-bedroom apartment with eleven people I’ve never met before. It was messy, dirty, and broken, full of strangers. I was scared, knew no one, and had no job.
Photography brought me solace. At the school lab, I found silence and control: every tray in its place, every chemical in its bottle, with clear rules on dilution and development technique. Spending my time alone there nourished my body; it gave me the calm smoking loads of weed to forget could not.
I spent every night at the lab, to the point that the security guard and I began to carefully, peculiarly avoid each other. I didn’t want to leave, and he didn’t want to lock up after me that late. Still, it was something to do for both of us.
The experience of developing a print for the first time was one of the best sensations I ever had. It felt like magic. Learning this craft was my redeeming sparkle, having skipped half of the classes during my first semester. I could’ve got discouraged by my badly-exposed first set of pinhole pictures, none of which were good enough to print. But despite my mishap, my professor complimented me on one of the photos, saying it looked like Koudelka’s work. I enjoyed his class.
As I spent my nights in the college darkroom, my days got filled with walks around São Paulo. I explored my new hometown with a camera, hoping to understand it as if I had always lived there. Particularly the downtown.
It was a relief to spend that time alone, just walking with no particular aim in mind. One of the pictures I used in my thesis, seven years later, was taken during these walks. A dove against the smeared buildings at the Patriarca’s Square; I thought I’d never print it — it seemed very corny at the time.
Looking back at my body of photographic work, I see a recurring theme of “home.” Grandma’s house, cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles. Weekend lunches I spent as a child with my family — so large that no matter how many tables and chairs we set, some of us would still have to sit on the floor.
I note all the times I’ve moved and the effort I’ve put into creating a new identity for myself; my different dressing style, how I talk, my accent, my new hobbies. This effort to change myself, I realize, is the source of my fear of self-expression, fear of writing, fear of being on video, or sharing my photographs. As if that would reveal the “secret” that I am a provincial child who’ve had experiences vastly different from what my new friends and colleagues may be expecting.
The college lab helped me to get away from the insane pace of my new life. Time at the lab seemed to flow slower, like it did when I was a child. The hours mattered, instead of vanishing as I dashed between my school and jobs. Eventually, this experience helped me find a balance between my two lives and resolve the conflicting desires to preserve vs. erase my past.