Flare – Part 01_

“Revealing the look is the only transgression (suicide, perhaps) that remains when everything has been brought into view. It is breaking away from the blind passivity of being seen in order to be able to see again. “ – Bernardo Carvalho “Hungry to See” article for ZUM Magazine

C

inema can be taken as a temporary modern construction analogous to the model of existence that Plato described in The Allegory of the Cave over 2,400 years ago in attempt to warn us of the dangers and traps of the image and its beliefs. In movie theaters, we are led by the senses to other mental instances, transported to realities where our individuality pulls back, turning introspective and limiting our gestures and physiognomies to the essential. When watching a movie, isolated from the outside world, we enter stories in which we do not directly participate. There, we become calm animals, not sensing or fearing the predators that surround us. At the same time that we do not exist in that which we are watching, we consciously follow everything that happens and everything that is made known to us dialogues with our thoughts, let loose in a natural habitat. Focused on sound and image, we allow ourselves to be carried away by the darkness around us, with our face free of mirrors, since, presumedly, no one is looking at our faces or intending to decipher our expressions. In the darkness of the movie theater, we let down the guard on our countenances. We don't have to worry about our own image. It is precisely this moment of surrender that Marlos Bakker seeks to capture. On a kind of photographic safari, infiltrated in the gap that opens up in the supposed safety of the dark room, Bakker intends to document spectators as they dream while awake, sharpening the aim of his telephoto lens. Disguised as an image, the artist discovers the mimesis of the perfect predator. He positions himself behind the big screen, armed with a camera and tripod, to carefully select those who are looking directly at him and cannot see him. Their blindness leaves them virtually defenseless. The camera transforms the movie screen into a large net, whose mesh is thrown over the audience with each shot. This type of fishing, although accurate and fruitful, has a slow pace imposed by the darkness, the mortal enemy of photography, and the net ends up imprinting its indelible mark on the skin of the prey. Pulling the net back in takes minutes of effort and long exposure. The captured physiognomies reach the digital sensors in a blur, condensing the movement that the struggle during the hunt imprints on them, modifying and protecting their countenances. The fisherman has to conform. This is what can be documented in dreams. At any rate, the spectators' intuition was right. The room's darkness is their natural protection. Luish Moraes Coelho holds a master's degree in visual poetics from the University of São Paulo School of Communications and Arts and is a doctoral candidate in the arts at the Federal University of Minas Gerais School of Fine Arts.

I arrived at the first movie theater without the slightest idea of what would come out of there.  The initial thinking was the same as in the previous essay Do Not Disturb, in which I recorded people sleeping in their bedrooms. I wanted to photograph another one of the bubbles of privacy that are part of our daily lives, places where, theoretically, there is no space for us to be observed.

I started out shy, with the cameras placed at a good distance from the public who, despite being able to see them, seemed to ignore them and not care too much about the novelty. The first days were of experimentation, looking for some visual language that seemed minimally interesting. Little by little I gathered courage and got closer to the chairs. I even placed the cameras between the third and fourth rows in some empty afternoon screenings in the middle of the week, right in the face of the few who sat there, making sure to ask that the theater doors not be opened until I was sitting disguised as a spectator, letting the programmed cameras do their job automatically. People would come in, get thrown off by the solitary machines symmetrically set up in between the first rows, but soon get used to it and watch the movie, which, by the way, was about the artist Agnès Varda, and it made so that, in just over 15 minutes of projection, no kind of artistic experimentation in the world seemed any stranger. It was worth it all.

Three days, 12 screenings of the same movie and a lot of memorized dialogues later, my spirits got a second wind when a movie theater employee entered through a door next to the projection screen, almost camouflaged by the fabric on the wall and the darkness, and disappeared behind the screens. I asked permission to enter and was told that there was nothing there for me. I insisted a little, asking to try it at least once and there I went behind the screen.

Wires, scaffolding, anti-noise foam, speakers of all sizes, metal ladders that lead to the top of the screen, dust, a lot of dust, one or two more unpleasant insects, usually found dead probably thanks to some recent fumigation, anyway, it didn’t look promising but my curiosity for that unusual place persisted.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to get close enough to a movie screen to notice that they are reticulated, full of little round holes, and although I think this information was already somewhere in my subconscious, I never imagined that I could look through those little holes and observe the people on the other side. But could they see me behind there too? In doubt, at first I walked stealthily, almost crawling in slow motion in between the hardware. But despite my concern, it quickly dawned on me that if in all my movie-going life I had never seen that tangle of wires and equipment from my seat, then no one could see me there. There was too much light in their faces and not enough light back there. Just in case, I started coming every day dressed in black.

Finally understanding my camouflage, I spent time silently celebrating the conquest of a space where, cloaked by an image, I could be a spectator of the spectators or even a voyeur of the voyeurs, through an angle never before registered, where I could research and inform myself too.

At first there were some difficulties because the screen was too far from the audience and my lens would show the entire environment. To get closer, I went after telephoto lenses that I had never used before, the ones you see behind the goals at soccer games, and so I started to get to places I could have never imagined at the beginning: close-up portraits, facing the spectators, with the reticles of the screen overlapping their faces.

Over time I became more experienced in the photographic exposures that would get the best results and in sneaking around like a contortionist crouched silently between tripods and scaffolding. I started to take more advantage of the time I spent behind the screens and the essay began to take shape. In the more than 100 hours I spent back there (I went so far as to go 12 hours straight) I went from simple portraits, where people appeared to be entranced and connected with the movies they were watching, to small finds, like teenagers exchanging text messages on their phones, people sleeping soundly, couples kissing passionately, etc…

From that point, it became very clear that I would have to be extremely careful with the images used in order to preserve the privacy of the people photographed. Two great allies in keeping the spectators anonymous were the darkness and the screen. The darkness because it forced me to carry out long exposures that lasted several minutes (8, 10, 12, 15, 20, even 30 minutes…), so it was impossible for any of them to remain completely still, even if they were just breathing. And the screen for casting a latticed net over each person’s face. Still, I decided to take more precautions to prevent anyone from being recognized. First, I avoided using photos of couples as much as possible, since there was no way of knowing what their social relationship was: if they were married, boyfriend and girlfriend too young for their parents to know, or if they were simply lovers?! But, in exceptional cases, in which a photo seemed important to the work as a whole, despite there being only a minimal chance of recognition, I resorted to image treatment to protect the characters. Lengthening or thickening features, enlarging or removing hair, stretching or slanting eyes, changing the color of clothes, erasing fashion accessories, eliminating tattoos or telling marks– these were some of the resources used to protect identities. In this way, in the end material, documentation and fiction are mixed together randomly…

I was already quite satisfied with the result I was getting, when… Flare – Part 02

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