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Valdir Cruz – touching souls with a camera lens

— November 2014

Associated media

VALDIR CRUZ Camp Children _ 19 - QUILOMBO CAMPINA DOS MORENOS I -1994 pigment on paper 40x27 3 of 25

Roy Clark and Sue Ward of Cassone talked to Valdir Cruz, the noted Brazilian photographer, during his recent show at Throckmorton Fine Art, New York

Cassone: When did you first pick up a camera?

Valdir Cruz: That was back in about 1981. When George Stone gave me my first 35mm camera – a Nikkormat FT 3.

C: Can you tell our readers how you got into photography rather than some other career?

VC: I could say that actually it was the opposite. It was photography getting into my life. At that time – back in 1981 – photography was a remote thought for a machine shop operator in Newark, New Jersey. So it was an accident question – and later a suggestion from my dear friend George Stone – the man who showed me how to use a 35mm camera. And after he saw my first contact sheet he said  ‘You have to do photography – as you have a good eye. The technical part of it anybody can learn’. 

C: What interests you, visually, about the relationship between people and their environments?

VC: Portraits are always a challenge. Because it's not about photography. Mostly it's about the relationship – photographer and subject. If there's no relationship, there's no portrait.  It really doesn't matter how many rolls or sheets of film you use. There has to be a spiritual connection, a moment when the subject ‘allows’ the click, opens up to you. And if you get the synchronicity, you get a portrait that will make people ‘see’ – and touch their souls. Environmental subjects require the same.  Your feelings, about the nature – respect – and understanding the moment, the light, the energy. It's just another form of portrait. 

C: Are your images originally taken on film, or digitally?

VC: I still love film. Even though the digital technology keeps advancing, I believe there's something about the use of film that makes it more real. 

C: What is involved in your 'pigment-on-paper' process? What effects does it enable you to achieve  that could not be arrived at by other means?

VC: Well – on that we could now write a book. But all I can say right now is, that after 12 years trying to get away from the commercial use of pigment on paper process, we have achieved a unique quality with my partner Leonard Bergson. By using basically the ‘skeleton' of an Epson printer. We modified it and made use of our own pigment – to come up with this unique quality. We are now using seven pigments: four grays, two blacks and a simulation of selenium. The results can be seen in our exhibition at Throckmorton Fine Art.

C: You studied printing under George Tice but now prefer to work with specialist printer Leonard Bergson. Is this form of collaboration central to your current work, or does working with a trusted printing master free you to concentrate on composition and capture?

VC: I learnt silver print with photographer and master printer George Tice. And later developed with my partner – Leonard Bergson – together a new method on pigment. Both collaborations have their finalities. On both – silver or pigment – I do have the final control. On both,I bring the image to where I think it should represent the moment. The collaboration with Mr Bergson is essential for me, as he has great knowledge on how to manipulate the new technology. But I still can make good use of my eye and sensibilities on final judgements. It's this combination that brings the news. 

C: We are intrigued by your use of Tolstoy’s adage: ‘to be universal one only needs to talk about his own village’. Do you feel as well as the universalism of human experience that there are specific  internal characteristics related to the indigenous people of South America that your work engages with?

VC: Perhaps a misunderstanding here? I never made use of the great Tolstoy adage. It has been used by somebody else and related to my work.  I guess due to the fact of my spending 30 years photographing my hometown of Guarapuava – the subject of my latest publication and exhibition now at Throckmorton Fine Art. [The show closed on 1 November.] What I believe is that good photography has no boundaries. One can develop it anywhere. Now to make it well known – that’s another matter. One that I try to master. Because this no longer has to do with photography – but with curators, critics, etc. So I guess I can say only for my part.

C: Do you see your work as having a political element?

VC: Always – social and environmental. For example, take my book on the Yanomami (PowerHouse). If you look carefully you will notice the real book is central to the health issues. My book on the waterfall – O caminho das águas ( Cosac and Naify), as well as Raízes, the book on trees (Impresa Oficial) and Guarapuava (Terra Virgem Edições).

This is central to one of the main economic and tragic situations of the world – water. My book Raizes – is central to the beauty of trees– what’s left, resulting from tremendous devastations of the forests in Latin America. My latest printed book project – Guarapuava – has both social and environmental issues. At this particular moment I'm developing a project on cancer, in association with a unique hospital in Brazil. 

C:Your work shows the influence of great artists of the past such as Edward Steichen  and even Julia Margaret Cameron. Do you consciously see yourself as a practitioner in this lineage or simply a respecter of traditional methods of producing photographic images?

VC: No – not consciously. But when working with Mr Tice I printed, for two years, originals of the great Steichen. And of course that stays with you.

C: There is an acute sensibility and directness of gaze in your work. The use of‘finish’ in your prints is clearly a key element of your vision. Can you tell us some more about this relationship?

VC: Lately, quite a few photographers make their own prints. But there was a time in photography when that was a very important part of the media. Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Eugene Smith – and my dear friend George Tice, to mention a few.

I don't think they would consider giving their work to somebody else to print. Ansel Adams said something like ‘We don’t take a photograph – we make it’ – and that’s in the darkroom. It's a great part of the interpretation of what you have seen, and what the intention of your message is through your photograph.

Therefore for me, it's very important to wet my hands – or in the case of the digital era, be there, to make sure I can achieve a great print.

C: Valdir Cruz, thank you very much for talking to Cassone.


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