Nuno Moriera is a photographer and visual artist from Portugal. His project ZONA is a black and white photographic exploration of the human form. His images are like vivid dreams, which explore the invisible space between the body and the mind.

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Describe your photographic journey so far – how did you get to the stage you are at now?

I’m a very visual person – the kind that memorises images and places over names and numbers – from very early age I started working with image and graphic arts to assemble music fanzines. Everything was done on a very DIY basis, street-style, very underground. That led me to design my own artworks and take my first photographs. Music was my gateway and motivation growing up and that helped enormously to find out what I liked doing and what I was best at.

At 18 I left home and went to study Cinema and audiovisuals for about 4 years. During this time I was working for several design companies until I finally quit my day-job some years after and started working independently by myself. In many ways this period of my life reinforced my individual character and the way I see the world – of course it also shaped my approach to photography and visual arts in general. I’ve started using photography out of a need to document my own life and my thoughts – also my trips to different places around the world: Norway, Brazil, Russia… To travel and see the world changes a person.

I would use photography as a dialogue with myself and situations around me, sometimes posing questions others looking for answers. These photography projects appeared naturally and grew into exhibitions throughout the years. For all this time I continued working with graphics arts and mainly books: I design book covers.

Recently, in 2012 my life took a different route (again) and I went to live in Japan for three and a half years. This was a good moment to organise years of photography and put things in perspective. Some of those photos turned into my first monograph entitled State of Mind, and before I left Japan this year I completed another book-project entitled ZONA.

Tell us about ZONA.

It’s hard for me to talk straightly about ZONA for two reasons; firstly because it’s a very personal project and secondly because it’s fundamentally about “non-matter”. It’s paradox to say this, because I’m taking photographs, which is something very palpable and real. Let me see if I can explain, by doing this book and coming up with these pictures my wish was to address a realm of the immaterial and through images talk about symbolic aspects of the human psyche. Our inner world is vast and I’ve come to understand there are elementary concepts – archetypes – that we all share even though we might have completely different associations in terms of how we perceive and use these concepts. 

If I present a random concept to you, for instance, the concept of “separation”, what springs in your head related with “separation”? Can you imagine something? Is it about love? Is it about death? How does that make you feel? Do you think the images you hold in your mind are the same I will have?… You see, from thinking to feeling to talking there are enormous gaps and I’m interested in that cognitive and semi-conscious process we go through. There’s a big grey area here. Furthermore, the mysteries that an image can retain are richer and broader if that same image is very simple and straightforward in terms of form and content. Why that is is also easy to understand: the viewer can project more of their own thoughts into it. If one takes a closer look the images that spring in our minds are not too spectacular or modern. We might think we are a very intelligent species, making use of rational and scientific knowledge but my strong believe is that the inner-world, the world of dreams, thoughts, wishes and traumas is far more effective and ruling the way we go about our lives. I feel deeply that this invisible characteristics and inward life rules much more than what we like to admit, and to me that’s fascinating and intriguing and makes me want to address it in terms of photography because that’s what I feel comfortable doing.

Now lets go back, if I repeat the same word “separation” 20 times: separation, separation, separation, separation, separation, separation, separation…. After repeating the same word numerous times you’ll notice a linguistic and cognitive abstraction starting to happen… The word will shatter. Your concept will loose it’s “original” meaning. And the images that you had in your mind will perhaps also go away or loose their ties with reality.

Now imagine a place where there are no ground-concepts. Where language doesn’t make sense and you don’t control your own thoughts… That was my intent with making ZONA – to create a stage for all these ideas to live and have free reign. I felt an artist book was the ideal object to give to all of this.

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What draws you to the human form?

The human form is the most natural shape with which we can easily identify; if we look at a body in agony or pleasure we clearly feel something – we are hit by a nervous stimulation. It’s a gateway to emotions and the door between what is inside and outside. 

The body is only interesting because of its own limitations. We can’t go beyond the body – we are stuck, but our thoughts and mind is as vast as our capacity to extend it. Our bodies are always a confinement of some sort, a border-line between what we conceive in our minds and the exteriorisation of our emotions. Camus said “the revolt of the flesh is the absurd”, and by this he meant that the body can be trigger to feeling disembodied. I always felt the body to be a gigantic burden because it seems out of proportion with our minds and emotions which can be monumental. How can we travel so far in our thoughts and have this heavy anchor gripping us to reality. Perhaps for our own safety?

The body poses many questions, for instance, we get used to having a body and moving about before acquiring the habit of thinking. Therefore, just like being alive is an unquestionable realisation the same goes for this shell in which we inhabit. We never question the reason why we are alive and have a body in the first place.

Throughout the history of art the human form has always been dancing with death in one way or another, that distant region of absurdity and emptiness was the one I chose to evoke in an open dialogue, and that can help reconcile or antagonise the viewer, I think the possibilities are really endless and fascinating.

I am especially interested in the use of the body as a vessel for emotions, it has been proven by science that we store emotions and that morphologically speaking our bodies are a result of our emotional states. Particularly with ZONA I was interested in touching some of these aspects: the body as a sculptural tree, a frozen tree.

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How did your time in Japan affect the way you work?

During time I was living in Japan (which was for about 3 years) I allowed myself to cut strings with any possible routines I previously had. I decided to envision and indulge in what I considered to be the perfect scenario: which was to create and breath as much art as possible everyday. I have never read, travelled or seen so many art exhibitions in my life. I also never created and wrote as much. That changed my approach and commitment to the way I worked, it changed also my natural rhythm – I had time in my hands, so I had to do what was more honest and close to my vision, and that was to work.

Most of my days were spent going to exhibitions, drawing, studying Japanese, writing or assembling collages. I would did a bit of graphic work to pay the bills and the rest of the time would be to think and research about my own body of work. Once you give yourself this chance: of being isolated and with the things you love, you understand and discover a kind of truth that resonates, and that affects your life and everything around. The biggest change was definitely shifting from doing art as a side activity to being just my life and who I am; I’m only disappointed to have waited so long to finally jump into this decision.

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How did you turn art into your career?

As I said, I wouldn’t call it a career, it’s my life. And like everything, it’s a gradual progress. My daily activities shift constantly from design-orientated projects with clients – mostly publishers – where I art direct book jackets to more personal projects related with photography, exhibitions and promotion. Both areas are always dealing with image and ideas in a general sense, but design should serve some function or purpose while art doesn’t have to please or serve anything, it should just be art. The good thing about alternating between these two universes is that I feel one contaminates the other and amounts value – for instance, since I’m a designer I can design my own photography publications and since I’m a photographer I can sometimes use my photos in book covers or other graphic projects.

I don’t come from a family of artists nor did I ever had art around me while growing up so I feel compelled to compensate for that through my own self-education. I guess I’m also more curious and hungry for that reason, which perhaps is a benefit.

I also think that there’s a moment in one’s life where you raise the question “what really matters to me today… and what about in 20 years?” and surrounding myself with things like books, music or culture in general is certainly something that was always present so it’s just became natural to want to invest in what I care and understand about. I’ve been designing book covers and doing my art projects for at least 10 years now, one area reinforces the other. I work with design and photography because ultimately I’m a constant researcher and try to understand how images work and how I can apply that in the projects I do. 

What was the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome in your creative journey?

There’s too many barriers to be an artist, I’m afraid there always was. I don’t know any rich artist alive either… Which is rather sad. Once one understands the limitations one is working with it gets easier to focus on what really matters and what’s your language and the elements you want to work with in the future. Before that realisation one is just stumbling in the dark and shooting in every direction – it’s a waste of energy but a necessary road to cross. To accept one has a limited array of skills and capacities and to choose the ones more in tune with who you are, that can only produce value and increase in quality.

I’m remembering this thing that Japanese designer Kenya Hara said about the way we are going through a change from having to create products to having to create value – I can really understand where that idea comes from.

Sincerely, I rather be a very good artist in what I do then a medium one offering a lot of creative services and not knowing what I’m talking about. I’m complete advocate of producing work for niche. Niche is certainly the future of every area because it opposes the idea of standardization and uniformity, no-one with their head between their shoulders wants standard ideas, products, let alone artworks.

Getting back to your question, I feel writing helps me a lot to keep my head above the water and filtering my way as I go. The moments when I’m not actually working are really the moments of clarity. When I go for a walk, or when I’m just in transit to go somewhere else, those are most of the times the key-moments I find myself processing a big part of the creative pursuits and sometimes finding solutions that would take me longer if I just stayed in the studio struggling. I know this sounds romantic, but a big part of creativity and coming up with solutions comes from literally stepping away from the problem at hands and letting dust settle.

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What drew you to working in black and white?

I believe thoughts and dreams have no colour. The unknown has no colour. Rarely do I wake up and remember the colours in a dream. I do remember what happens though, the atmosphere and the basic plot-points so to say. Mostly I don’t wake up thinking about colour so much, it’s a non important aspect (most of the times). The same goes with memories, I can’t see much colour when I try to think deeply about something from the past. What I mean to say is that colourless is of course a more timeless aesthetic, and I feel more in-tune with having no colour and focusing on what’s going on with the subject matter or outside the frame, that is inside the viewer’s eye. Working with black and white brings me closer to real sensations without the colour interrupting or being an artifice in the way.

After all, the important thing has to be the bouncing of inner sensations from the image to the viewer – the ability to see what is behind the image – and not break that dialogue by just focusing on the image alone.

The importance of working with black and white is deeply connected with my interest in the shadow and the unknown. If I’m faced with framing reality, I always go for the double – for the reflection, or shadow of an object instead of the real thing. This preference for the shadow or silhouette are constant in my work.

During a recent presentation I was discussing this topic and a person came out with a really good explanation: shadows have no colour, that’s why these pictures are in black and white. I think I cannot put it any better than that.

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Tell us a little about the above image.

As I explained earlier, when I set to photograph ZONA I had decided I wanted to base the performance on specific key-concepts – archetypes. These concepts were all pretty difficult to put into words but I wanted to seek for a way of representing them anyhow. This image in particular was part of a set of images entitled “The Cut”. The reason being… Well, lets just leave that unexplained.

I was told that many of my photos tend to portray this sensation of being “suspended” in time. Somewhere in a limbo between what’s currently happening and what’s bound to happen next. I think I like that description… The moment before an action leaves space for imagination…  Or perhaps for just silence and emptiness.

Where do you see your work going next?

It’s hard to foresee and make any big plans about it – my only compromise is keep working freely and having no compromises with anything or anyone when it comes to self-expression. That being said, I’m interested in exploring further the relations between what I’ve addressing as “the I and the other” and let these ideas can gain shape through pictures while keeping a certain sense of narrative. Or perhaps I should say “suggestion” of narrative. To give the sensation without the boredom of apparent explanations.

It’s hard to say how the next project will evolve because I’m still trying to catch “the big picture” and get intrigued by it. To produce something new I need to be positively convinced of what I’m doing and right now I’m still just researching and giving space for thoughts to come together. When the raw material are instincts and relying on an ongoing communication with the unconscious you’re never really capable of knowing – fortunately – how things will turn out. Lets leave that door open for chance to come when the time is right.

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You can see more of Nuno’s photographs at nmphotos.org/