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Nuno Moreira's Observable Universe

A Parallel Planets piece by Erin Nøir - old account

Hello, Nuno! It’s great to have you here on Parallel Planets. Tell us something about yourself as a photographer, a collage-maker, & a book cover designer, before you were doing these crafts, and if you weren’t doing them at all.

Hello, Erin! Thanks for having me on your website. Something that has always been present in my life is definitely music, books, and cinema. I was never a very outdoorsy person. Many things can change around me – the place where I live, friends, jobs, etc., but I’m always certain music will be there, something interesting to read beside me and new and old movies to discover. That gives me enormous comfort and represents a kind of pillar in my life. Having said this, it’s only natural that I began by wanting to write, photograph or design cultural objects: first just underground music zines then books for all kinds of publishers and authors, cds for bands or take a degree on cinema so I could understand better from an inside perspective. Everything just happened progressively and without much deep thought – I guess the best story I can tell is that what drove me initially to design book covers and has since then become one of my major activities was reading a book by Alejandro Jodorowsky and finding the cover just distasteful. I found myself looking at it and thought I could do much better than that, and that’s what I set out to do: design book covers that I would like to see and hold in my hands - that I was not ashamed to own. Objects that could enchance the texts and create some sort of communication with the viewer. With photography, collage or painting the scenario is a bit different because I use these primarly as ways for personal expression.

How long have you been doing these things? Compared to then and now, was there a significant change in your sense of style and/or the message that you’d like to communicate through your photographs, collages, and other visual designs?

I’ve been creating things since a very young age and I’ve started working to pay my bills also early in my life so the decision to get away from home and afterwards from a routine office-work to just have my own independence and manage my work for clients, and for myself, happened pretty soon. I always pursued individuality and independence, I think the best work can only come from having no ties, being critical about what you do, and delivering the best you can at a given moment and just being honest along the way. I learned a lot working as a freelancer on how to be resilient and focus on what’s important – my school of life has definitely been done at my own cost.
There certainly was a change in style and content and as time passes I understand much better what I intend on communicating or expressing. I also noticed clients nowadays contact me directly because they see a book cover or other work I did and want something along the same lines. The same goes for bigger comissioned projects: I find it much easier to deliver what the client seeks and adding something that can take the project to the next level. I think that’s what the client pays you for, to bring extra value into their project. Again, that’s why nourishing your own individual language or style is so important.

For as long as I can remember, I always felt the need to write, draw, or sketch things. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with drawing labyrinths and mazes, the curious thing was I would never actually do them, after drawing the layout I would leave them blank for someone else to complete them. Of course I could never predict later in my life I would be working as a graphic artist or art directing different projects.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact message about what I do, I don’t think I have a message, it’s more about seeing things from different points of view and translating them to images. I think that’s the job of any creative person: to be able to deliver a work that can spark more questions than answers. Imagination is a powerful thing. I also think things change according with the project and if it’s something personal or for a client. If we are talking about personal projects I see a style which is somehow falling into the same themes, but comissioned work is of course more restrictive and can bounce in difference directions.

You shoot both in colour and black & white. When do you prefer using one medium from the other? Do you have specific subjects that you only like to shoot in monochrome? Or does it just depend on what you feel like using for that particular moment?

I shoot much more in black and white because I simply prefer seeing images that way, it’s just easier and more comfortable for me. I prefer looking at the contrasts of things and admiring the light, shades, and tones. The geometry of shapes and objects and even textures seem more interesting to me in black and white. I prefer that reduction – or elimination of color in order to see things under a more bleak but for me more objective view. As you know, the same image might look very different if used in color or black and white, and when I’m going about in my life I just happen to spot very naturally what could make a good black and white image. I guess it’s just the way my brain is triggered.

I’ll give you a good example: recently I saw this beautiful painting by Caravaggio, “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist”, and I was just blown away by the beautiful lightning. The painting has very few colors but the rich shadows spoke to me in particular, they are absolutely astonishing and the rendering is so deep. Looking at that painting it’s evident Caravaggio opted to reduce the painting to the dramatism of light, composition and restrictive use of color.

Furthermore, I feel black and white photography represents better what I wish to convey, it adds the dramatism I just mentioned and a kind of classic aesthetic close to poetry that I cannot achieve with color film unless I use digital post-production, and I’m not so interested in using the computer so much when it comes to photography – I use it enough for design purposes so when I’m shooting I just want to be physical, spontaneous, and act as natural as possible. What comes out has to speak for itself without artifice in the way.

Tell us more about your ongoing photo project, ZONA. Based on your old works, what should we expect or look forward to with it?

ZONA derives from an attempt to represent the unconscious through photography. It is a project I’m still finishing and will probably come out as a photobook. It emerged from a dream-diary and a lot of study on CG Jung and thus turned into an exploration on representing simple concepts we all know but hardly can explain with just a few words. I wanted to use the human body and in a very controlled theatrical performance give significance to an array of inward feelings and concepts – to bring the unknown into visual terms and in a short session address fears, wishes and dreams we all have in common. ZONA is stylistically very different from my previous project, “State of Mind”, but in a way it represents a natural evolution, it’s a straight dive into what we all think or feel but fear to express verbally. It’s very much connected with what I’ve been doing with collage but using a different medium.

I lived in Tokyo for a while and as a photographer myself, everything is eye candy. How long have you been living there and how does the Japanese culture influence your works? To you, what are the things in Japan that would always be worthy of your analogue films?

It’s been two years now that I’ve been living here and I must say it has been an extremely enjoyable experience so far. The best aspect is not exactly being in Japan but being so far away from what my life used to be previously. That distance has hopefully helped me make better decisions and focus on what I wish to do both professionally and personally.

Japan has, of course, many interesting things to offer for people working with image or creative fields in general, people have a refined aesthetic taste and there’s a lot of niche markets and even though society is pretty square people have this need for different things and that’s why a lot of crazy stuff can be seen in Japan.

What particularly interests me about Japan is the traditional cultural heritage and the rituals behind everyday situations such as the tea ceremony, the different forms of theater, or simply the really good cinema and literature of people, such as Ozu, Kurosawa, and Mizoguchi.

The nature here is also quite beautiful and I can’t deny the surroundings affect the work I do but to be honest I’m always so isolated and living inside my studio that it becomes difficult to identify on what level has living in Japan affected the work I do so far. Probably it will be easier to understand that in some years from now.

How does film photography relate to your personality and your personal stories? Why do you prefer it more than digital?

I really must say the important aspect of this question lies not in using film or digital but rather in the idea and what the person behind the camera is thinking or wishes to do.

I really think we’re debating the wrong aspect and both mediums work pretty well, just for different purposes. Fortunately nowadays we have choices, we can opt, so that gives us enormous freedom to address projects in different ways. I’ll give you a pratical example: if I’m designing a book cover that needs to be finished within a week or two, I don’t have pratical time to read the manuscript, sketch ideas, and work on an original artwork or photo using plain analogue photography or manual tools. It’s just a shoot in the foot, it’s not intelligent or productive. I can do much more with digital and that will open much more possibilities and paths to get the work done on time and well done. So it really goes down to what one has to do and use the medium to serve your purpose.

I’m not advocating the use of digital tools either, on the contrary, nowadays I sit much more on the other chair of my table and do collage or watercolor work that is slowly getting across to my digital design work. It’s just that we have to understand that the tools are there to help us reach something, to help the creator communicate a story or a message, and the tools by themselves are not interesting at all.

The talk about analogue vs digital or about equipment is to me a bit tedious, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to know the tools you’re using but I’m certainly not falling in love with objects when I can fall in love with concepts and ideas.

To you, what makes a photograph powerful?

If I define powerful as an image that I want to look at for as long as possible, I would say that a powerful image, or rather a good image, is the one that can be appreciated by as many people as possible and at the same time not be too descriptive or restricted to a certain time. I like to look at simple or complex images that transport me somewhere – if an image can push my imagination or feelings somewhere else far from reality I would say it is on the path to being considered good. A certain inexplicability is also something very fascinating, don’t you think so?

Aside from your creative pursuits, what other things are you interested in?

I’m interested in analysing how perception changes. I like the optical universe and observing things around me. Seeing how things change or constantly stay the same and if these shifts are just internal and happening within the mind of the viewer, or if reality is really shifting and there’s more aspects to consider. I was always intrigued by the way we as humans see the world around us. I remember reading Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” one night when I was really young and that stroke a deep chord on me. I felt I had found someone speaking the same language as me. What is reality? What is really the limit of our body and mind? This stream of consciousness analysis of what’s happening while you are deep in thought, it’s a kind of here-and-now moment that really interests me and that I like to analyse not only through vision but also through language – like when you repeat the same word over and over again until it looses all trace of it’s original meaning. Burroughs of course talked about this immensely, about the idea of language being a virus. I always liked these crossroads areas between the mind, in psychology, and the word in philosophy, and there’s a whole area of study called Phenomenology which studies these kind of subjects. Naturally, observing the world takes me back to a kind of existencial mood and in that field there’s brilliant writing by all the great existentialists… And that brings us back to books and cinema.

To be honest my creative pursuits are pretty much connected with everything that goes on in my life – if I’m not creating, I’m travelling, or seeing exhibitions or watching movies or reading, or writing, or sipping some wine while cooking a late meal. Those things just reflect who I am and I feel good while I keep doing them and exercising those muscles.

If you were to pick 3 for each, what are your all-time favorite books, films (cinema), and songs?

This changes all the time, but here we go. I’ll try to give examples of what I’ve been reading, seeing and listening lately and that will make it easier for me.

Books: there’s always classics to read so right now I’m reading “Lolita” by Nobokov and finding it outrageously funny. Before that I read “Pulp” by Bukowski, it’s always easy and enjoyable to read good old Bukowski every now and then. Another book I enjoyed reading recently was “Journey to the End of the Night” by Céline, I’m curious to read “Death on Credit” now.

Cinema: I’ll have to cheat on this answer and mention directors instead of films – Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman are always enjoyable.

Songs: I recently have been listening to “Love this Giant”, a wonderful record done by David Byrne & St. Vincent, I really like the orchestration and arrangements. It’s pop but done in a good way. Swans latest album “To Be Kind” has also been on heavy rotation around here and it is such an amazing album! If I want to get on a good mood I always go back to Sixousie and the Banshees cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”, that song has a weird exhilarating effect on me all the time.

What’s the weirdest habit and strangest desires that you have?

I’m a pretty down to earth guy, I can get fairly satisfied with just a glass of red wine (preferably from Alentejo region in Portugal) and a good chat with a friend. Of course one can’t say not to a cheap night of pizza and really bad B-movies!

In this planet that we're thriving in—
What is your power animal? Why?

I like to think it’s a raven. No mysticism involved but I always felt attracted to these creatures in some unexplainable way – and I had some strange encounters with a few always in very decisive moments in my life.

Who is your alternate ego? Why?

Can I just opt to be egoless? That would be a far superior condition than having another ego, one is already difficult to manage.

In an alternate universe where photography does not exist—
What would your name be? Why?

I would be called Dostoyevsky so people could always pronounce it differently and make mistakes when writing it. I’m sure my mother could never pronounce it right and possibly it would turn some people into reading classics, which is something much needed.

What would you be doing instead? Why?

I would probably be a forest guard somewhere. I actually think that is a pretty decent job, to be payed to be in nature all by yourself.

book cover by Nuno Moreira
book cover by Nuno Moreira
collage by Nuno Moreira
collage by Nuno Moreira
film photo by Nuno Moreira
film photo by Nuno Moreira
studio work by Nuno Moreira
studio work by Nuno Moreira

View more of Nuno Moreira's works on his design and photography website.

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