all images by Luís Branco and Sherry Wiggins
I am now in Holland at the Obras Artist Residency (the sister residency of Obras Portugal) I wrote this text in part before I left Portugal. It was a wonderful and productive time for me in the place I love so much, Herdade de Marmelaire near Evoramonte, but such a short time. I flew into Lisbon and as I crossed the Vasco da Gama Bridge I felt the joy! Driving into springtime in the Alentejo. I have never been in Portugal at this time of year – amazing skies and so green. As I approached Evoramonte I felt like I was coming home. Carolien and Ludger welcomed me at the Obras Artist Residency – my dear friends who I have not seen for a year and a half. I settled into the little Casa Miradouro that I love so much. It was a Friday that I arrived and Saturday morning I went to the market in Estremoz to find the chair I had been imagining for this new work. In my work over the last several years in Portugal with photographer Luis Branco, I always start with one or two objects that we will use in the images. I had imagined a more feminine chair, not as simple as the chairs we had used before, perhaps a little more throne like. I found it right away in the market, a chair with some curves and a red (encarnado) pillow. Over the weekend I settled into the land that I love so much and scouted some of my old locations from previous trips and previous photo-shoots.
I started shooting with photographer Luís Branco Monday morning. We have been in communication and talking about this new work, but we have not actually worked together on site for a year and a half. People often ask about our process and I have written about it on different blog posts – it is a very fluid process, a little bit of a dance, a little bit of torture and also a quite magnificent approach to space and time for me – almost like a meditation. Luís is such a pro too. We approach a site, we place me in the site (or does the site place itself in me?) sometimes with an object – the chair figured in this new work. I brought A LOT of different color fabrics with me this time, some dresses (or no dress sometimes just the fabric). I will show some of the images from our 5 days and nights of shooting in this post. These are very preliminary choices – more like a record of the 5 days – we have had no real time to edit or sort through the images together or separately. Luís likes to convert some (actually he likes to convert all) images to black and white, and this really changes the meaning of the images. He has not had time yet to do this yet. I have shown some initial selections to the other artists at Obras Portugal and to Carolien and Ludger and to Cydney Payton as well and gotten a little feedback. But they really need some time to breath …
But I am going to go through some of the days while it is still fresh. The first morning we started shooting on the path from Evoramonte near the castle. I had photographed this beautiful stone oak tree that arches over the path in 2015 and had this site in my mind ever since. We started with the red cloth, this is actually the very transparent cloth I had taken to Brazil and used in the waterfall with photographer Fernando Lima. The title we have been using for this series in nature we started in 2017 is “Encarnado / Incarnate.” Encarnado means the color red, it also refers to the flesh as well as to incarnation. Luís was using the flash on many of these first images. But I think this one above is kind of wonderfully strange, almost ecstatic.
Then we moved up to the area inside the old walls of Evoramonte. Luis shot me sitting in my new old chair in front of this stone wall. I love the scale of me seated in the chair -it is the same as the scale of the door on my right. I put on the black dress for these images.
Then this white wall was so beautiful, the sky a white grey blue. I love the minimalism of these with the black dress and the white wall. These images refer to some of our previous work as well.
The weather improved in the afternoon and we went down to the mouth of the Pego do Sino near the tall trees. I try the silver cloth, then the red again… The images below I call them “a prayer for Ludger,” it’s kind of a joke. I had brought these leather work gloves as a present for Ludger from Colorado (because he is always working). I like these images a lot.
It started raining again and we went back to residency. We decide to shoot around the small Casa Miradouro, where I am staying. I piled a piece of the nude or blush fabric that I had brought with me. Luis shoots from inside you see Evoramonte in the distance. Am I naked or nude or neither? This is an ongoing question…
Then I use the large piece, piling it around me, the cloth shields me, it is like a naked cloud on my body… so much green surrounding – primavera…I like the one with the chair… We have started a rhythm with the camera, with each other – there is a strange alchemy between us, of the camera the observer and the observed. The sound of the shutter is like a metronome, a reminder to pay attention to everything…. I think these might be interesting converted to black and white…
The whole landscape becomes a horizon.
Another day early in the morning – we decide to try something early in the morning with the white flowers, so many white flowers. Luís asks me who are you incarnating, what is it you want to convey? This is difficult for me; I don’t like to expose my face. Looking at yourself this much is difficult. He really likes these images under the cork tree; I can only bear to show this one image, to look at this one. This is hard to face your face.
It is Thursday now the 25th of April, I bought the red carnations / cravo vermelho at Pingo Doce – it is the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution / Revolução dos Cravos. April 25th 1974 is the day the Portuguese that led to the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo and the beginning of the new democracy. Even though this was just for fun I like this one quite a bit.
The rain stops and we go to the Pego do Sino in the late afternoon. The rocks can be quite slippery. They are pretty dry and we climb up to the beautiful rocks where we worked together for many hours in 2016. The light is good here only at the very end of the day. It is cold and windy but the birds are everywhere and the trees and rocks and the sky is magnificent. We are waiting for the light, I am swathed in the red cloth in a small cavern in the rocks. Waiting… Then the light gets good, the clouds are magnificent – I am up on top of the rocks with the red cloth protecting me in a way. Luís shoots a lot with the flash without the flash – again the shutter clicking is a reminder of each moment. I am freezing now the wind the cold rocks, enough of the red, chega (my new word in Portuguese).
Luís says he wants to shoot against the sun in my shadow. I swath myself in the nude cloth. It is warmer I feel protected…. then I say I will put the red on my face as a veil. He shoots against this last light with the flash….his camera is always moving calculating responding to the light, to the shadow to everything… These images turned out very classically…kind of divine?
Ok, chega. I am so cold and it is getting dark and we must get back to the car without falling. I get in the car and put my warm coat on and I am just exhausted spent… We start back to Obras, it is dusk Luís wants to shoot something on the road that we have been discussing. I don’t think I can do it, then we get to the place on the road and I say ok let’s do it…
Luís sets up the camera and tripod and I put the black dress on. Of course I never wear shoes in any of the images. The road is cold. He wants to do a long exposure in this beautiful dusk light, the white flowers surrounding the road. I comply – I move for the long exposure then dusk really happens and I take the pose and hold it. It seems like minutes I am holding the pose, but it is not. But again it is moment by long moment of awareness… These are really beautiful shots I think.
The last morning of shooting Evoramonte was shrouded in fog and clouds, eerily beautiful. We shot on the castle wall.
Then the last shots were on the platform of green next to the castle. Such a sense of spaciousness… Luís has converted these last two to black and white (but I don’t have them yet) I think they are better in black and white.
So now I am going to give the images (and myself) a chance to breath for a few weeks…
I am in the Netherlands at Obras Holland with a beautiful peaceful house. I am hoping to start a new project and also draw, but I wanted to get this down when it is still fresh.