Anna Silveira uses photography to document and preserve the events and emotions that arise in the course of her subjects’ daily life experiences, or as she eloquently puts it, “to document the routine in a natural way without adornment or artifice.” Based in São Paulo, Brazil, she graduated from SENAC in photography, attended Panamericana School of Art and Design in São Paulo for photography design, earned degrees in hotel management and literature and traveled extensively. She began her photographic career in 2006 as an assistant to photographer Ding Musa, subsequently had an internship as assistant in photography at SENAC Lapa Scipião University and was the principal assistant for still and fashion photographer Ivan Sayeg. Silveira currently works at Marinho Comercio (a company that represents Leica in Brazil) and as a freelancer in different areas of photography and digital treatment/processing. She also runs a travel and culture website. Here is the story of her amazing Icelandic project and how she used the opportunity it presented to fulfill her aged grandmother’s lifelong dream.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: I photograph my experience, my point of view, my feelings, what calls my attention, what I don’t want to forget. I attempt to document the very routine, caught without adornment or artifice. In the search for naturalness, my images reflect the will to perpetuate a moment and postpone its inevitable end. I feel that sometimes it’s better to say something with images than words.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: Photography is my diary, my notebook, my way of interacting with the world and my source of inspiration. When I say photography I don’t mean just the images I produce, but the images I like, whether made by someone I admire or anonymously.
Q: The portfolio you submitted was taken in Iceland and follows an Icelandic family. Can you provide us with some background information on your project following an Icelandic family? When did you shoot it? What inspired the idea?
A: It’s a long story, but I’ll start from the beginning. I have a really strong connection with my grandmother who is now 89 years old. Two years ago, she gave me as a birthday gift, an envelope on which was written “A trip to the North Pole.” I didn’t get the message and when I asked her she explained that her dream was to visit Iceland but my grandfather never wanted to go to cold places. Since she can’t travel anymore, she wanted me to go on this trip and show her the photos.
A few months later, Mary Ellen Mark came to Brazil to teach in a workshop and it was my job to take her everywhere and help her with whatever she needed during her stay in São Paulo. As a huge fan, I also had the chance to talk to her about her future projects and one of them was a workshop in Iceland. At that moment I had just finished my postgraduate degree in photography and my final essay was about my grandmother. I showed Mary Ellen some of my portraits of her and told her about the present she gave me that I hadn’t used yet. I had no more excuses not to use my birthday voucher. The workshop was in August and it lasted two weeks. It was an amazing experience to meet all the students from many different parts of the globe and to focus completely on my photographic work. I was warmly welcomed and met special subjects to develop the essay.
My main reason for being there was to capture these images. Everywhere I went, especially tourist sites, I just took photographs, leaving a space to insert my grandma into the image in postproduction, as though she had actually been there, and making a real travel album. Today, my grandmother is living in a nursing home and was diagnosed with a disease that affects memory. Maybe by showing her this album, I could actually make her believe she had been there and finally make her dream come true.
Q: What camera and equipment do you use primarily?
A: The Leica M9 with Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 lens.
Q: What are some of the features and characteristics of your Leica M9 and 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux lens you find especially conducive to your work?
A: Mainly the compact size of the body that makes the camera more accepted among the people I portrayed, and its relatively light weight that helps me carry the camera on my shoulder as an extension of myself. The 35 mm wide-angle brings me closer to the subject while still giving me a full view of the environment that I found equally important to include in the image. I most often shoot at the widest maximum aperture of f/1.4 because the shallow depth of field lets me focus the viewer’s attention on one particular detail. This minimal depth of field was challenging in the beginning. I’m proud to say that I don’t have problems with it anymore. I learned to calculate the distance and be fast using the knob (extremely helpful) on the focusing ring.
Q: All the images in your Iceland portfolio are presented in black-and-white but the M9 captures images in full color. What is it that draws you to the black-and-white medium, and why did you choose it for this portfolio? Do you ever present your work in color, and if so, what kind of subjects do you think work best in color?
A: Since I was in Iceland attending a workshop given by Mary Ellen Mark, I was clearly influenced by her amazing work and I really liked the way it looked in B&W. I could concentrate on the shapes and curves and didn’t miss the colors at all. As Cartier-Bresson said once “We already have enough trouble getting it right in black-and-white. Once you add color, it becomes impossible.” Indeed, adding colors gives the photographer a lot of extra work, demands more time, and requires a greater sensibility (that I need to improve a lot!) in searching for the best combination. In fact, this was the first time I ever created an entire project in black-and-white and I confess I really enjoyed it. It’s hard to say what fits better in color. It depends on many factors, including my mood, what I pretend to register, and the relevance of color in terms of the project.
Q: Your amazing story about receiving a “trip to the North Pole” from your grandmother and your desire to give her the gift, albeit vicariously, of living her lifelong dream of visiting Iceland is very touching and emotionally compelling. It is also emblematic of how art can transcend the physical world and alter our perceptions of reality. Can you share some of your thoughts and emotions and tell us what it felt like to capture these images as documents, as personal expression, but also knowing they were for her?
A: The possibilities that photography can offer are indeed fascinating. The idea just happened naturally. When I decided to go, I just knew I was going to do what she would do if she had been there too. So I just did exactly what she as a tourist would have done, except that I always paid attention to leaving an empty space for her in the pictures. So, in a sense, I am not changing anything with my postproduction (inserting an old image of her); she was actually there with me the whole time.
Q: I assume that this image “Nonnina In Iceland” is an example of a composite image that places your grandmother in a self-assertive pose next to what looks like a glacier. Is this accurate?
A: Yes, that’s one of the images in this project “Nonnina in Iceland”. That lady is my grandma when she was on a trip to Tuscany, in Italy. I don’t know exactly who took the picture of her but I do know that one of my grandfather’s cousins was a photographer and I found amazing pictures of a trip they had made together to Tuscany. The landscapes and poses were so beautiful. I just kept that photo in my mind and it fit perfectly with my idea for Iceland.
Q: Several images in this portfolio show beautiful blonde girls being very natural, and you shot several images of one particular girl in a striped dress. All these images are charming since they’re natural images of kids just being kids, and they have a warm and tender feeling. Do you agree, and how do these images make you feel?
A: That little girl was Freyja, the shyest daughter of an eight-month pregnant mother and an Icelandic psychiatrist father. They were the family I was presented to photograph for the workshop project. Every student had to choose a theme to develop during the course. Mine was to follow a typical Icelandic family. Inga Dora, the mother, was the daughter of one of the teachers that works at the art school at which the classes were given. I had almost 10 days with them, going everywhere from the supermarket to the school and having Sunday lunch with the whole family, even going to a seven-year-old’s birthday party. They were all so kind and I felt so comfortable with everyone. But Freyja was concerned with my presence at the beginning. She was always grabbing Inga’s leg and hiding her face when I talked (she didn’t speak English). Then, little by little she got used to me until one day she asked me to play in her room and also wanted to show me one of her favorite things, a lamp that moved in a circle illuminating and making patterns on the wall. She took me by the hand, and with the lights off, she showed me lamp. It was a magic scene and I was so touched by that, but also very frustrated at not getting the picture in such a difficult lighting situation. I made some pictures of that lamp but stopped trying because I didn’t want to lose the moment with her. Then she felt the urge to pee after which and I made one of my favorite pictures of her, washing her hands with the mirror reflection. The day I arrived back in Brazil, I received a photo of Freyja and Tina (the youngest one) making funny faces with a message: “Hello dear Anna, we miss you too. Freyja asked me yesterday if you would pick her up with me from school. Hope you have had a good sleep after your travelling. XX” It was so lovely and special!
Q: This image of the pregnant mother carrying a wide eyed toddler and holding up a bunch of flowers that obscure her head and face, has a spontaneous, joyful, and slightly surreal quality that makes you smile. What were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release, and why do you think this image is so successful?
A: That bunch of flowers was a gift I gave them on my last day in Iceland. The scene happened very fast. I saw the flowers covering Inga’s face and wanted to show only the children (including the belly), so I asked Inga to stop and called Freyja to get her to look at me. She was tired from school and refused my wish, looking down in the corner instead. I was happy with the result and found it worked visually better than if Freyja had been in an accommodating mood.
Q: There’s one image that was shot through a car window and shows a girl or woman waving at a man on horseback leading two other horses with hilly terrain and a lowering sky in the background. It certainly captures a moment in time and has an iconic quality that says “Iceland.” Do you concur, and can you tell us something about where and why you shot this picture?
A: In the very first day of the workshop Mary Ellen Mark talked with every student in order to gain an understanding of what they wanted to photograph and all their interests so she could lead them in a specific direction in developing their projects during the two weeks in Iceland. As I had already talked with her in Brazil about my work with my grandmother she had planned to put me in some elderly houses and present me to some Icelandic seniors. I explained that I didn’t want to make the same kind of images, that I wanted to explore the routine, beliefs, musical tastes, and typical food from that exotic country. The idea of photographing tourist places and putting my grandma in the frame something I would do anyway, but that would demand more time and I didn’t have the images of my grandmother already scanned. So, Mary Ellen and Effi (the other amazing teacher at the workshop) got me in touch with that family in this picture. They were horse breeders who live in a small house near one of the most famous tourist attractions in Iceland: the geyser. I spent two whole days with them, including a one-night stay at their house, located about 2-1/2 hours away from the capital Reykjavik where the classes were held. I wish I could have stayed longer; they were amazing, very kind and interested in getting to know me and show everything.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years or so, and do you have any other documentary projects on your agenda for 2014.
A: I would love to continue focusing on documentary work. I never stop photographing. I take my camera everywhere I go; it’s like my notebook. Sometimes I just go the whole month without taking a single picture, but sometimes, I shoot so many that I can create a whole essay in one day. It’s just natural. I plan to go back to Iceland and keep photographing both families, especially because the pregnant woman, Inga, has had the baby! I want to go during the winter next time. I have some plans to go to Salvador in Bahia where one of my best friends from school will get married in November and to Rio, since I have family and many friends there. I can’t wait to see what I will find.
Q: Do you plan to explore any other genres going forward, such as classic portraiture, street photography, or maybe Rio in color?
A: Definitely Rio in color! I just love and feel so at home when I am in Rio. This year the city will have a different energy with the World Cup, and it will be fun to participate and to record some memories. Actually, I’ve already started a project about the Christ statue in Rio. I’ll continue that for sure.
Thank you for your time, Anna!
– Leica Internet Team
Visit Anna’s website here.