In this work, the city and the river formed a kind of frontier. The constant point of reference was the relationship between the new construction and Alfama on one hand and the Tagus on the other. It was within this territory and over this area of the city, with its two very visually strong parallel landscapes, that I moved for three and a half years. The very characteristics of the river made it into a poetic, metaphorical reality. As for the hill, dealing as I was with one of the most characteristic and emblematic areas of Lisbon, I did not try to sidestep it; it is present in the images, but not in such a way that it imposes or dazzles.
The things I sought in this work were very precise: the different phases of construction of the building, the activity of the work, and the involvement of the landscape (the laying of paving and the planting of trees). The photographs taken of the raw materials of cement and the processing of granulated cork are an autonomous block of the book, a pause amid the chronology of the construction. I tried to make the images a fair reflection of the different phases of the work, to let them be an impartial look at the process – when I say impartial I do not mean to imply a belittlement or apology for the work, but a neutral gaze. To achieve this, the photographs were always taken on a level with the construction. I think that photographs of works have to be impartial, because they are a report, a description. They are a descriptive account of a process, and that is the value they must have.
I used my usual medium-format camera with a square crop, which these days is a very unusual format for photographing architecture. The decision to do it this way made this work challenging because the design of the cruise terminal building is horizontal, following the river bank and almost parallel to the hill. The format contradicts the horizontal nature of the building, which makes the images concentric.
I almost always chose the same time of day to shoot. I avoided the obvious times of the beautiful light of Lisbon: dawn and dusk. Both provide seductive lighting anywhere, and even more so in Lisbon, by the river. I took many of the photographs of the work at the time when the sun was at its zenith. I did not want the light to soften the violence of the work – always a violent process of transformation. I did not want to try to beautify this process whereby a wound is temporarily opened in the city.
This essay was a new challenge. I had never been asked to think about what constructing a building is like, so I wanted something new to come into my work. What was new in this project was probably the number of rules that I created while photographing; maybe in another register I would not have adopted them.
António Júlio Duarte
Lisbon, 10 December 2019