Picturing Stories in the City

It was the summer of 1981. Every evening, Miguel Frazão and Joaquim Fernandes would invariably meet under the window of no. 1 Combatentes Street, behind the Courthouse.

Frazão was a 21 year-old architect who had just arrived in Guimarães, while Fernandes was already a well-known librarian and photographer in the city. Both were members of the recently formed Muralha (or Wall), the Guimarães Heritage Association. Amílcar Lopes, a photographer, had managed Foto Moderna from the late 1930s until his retirement in 1977.

Under the staircase at the Combatentes Centre, there were almost two hundred glass plates with images of Guimarães and its surroundings imprinted on them. They were original plates, no less. And the conversations during that Summer of 1981 were about these photographs: the majority of them had been taken by the photographer Domingos Alves Machado; the rest by his son-in-law, the aforementioned Amílcar Lopes, who in that same year, sold about two hundred images of Guimarães from his Foto Moderna shop in S. Dâmaso Alley, to the Muralha Association. A few years later the Muralha made a second purchase, this time from an antique shop. It comprised many thousands of original photographs from Foto Moderna—and from it’s predecessor, Foto Eléctrica Moderna—both studio portraits and city images on glass plates and film, which only escaped oblivion as a result of the Association’s action.

Foto Moderna was a renowned store, established in 1910 by Domingos Alves Machado (1882-1957) and originally known as Foto Eléctrica Moderna. It was based at 141 Comércio Avenue (currently Afonso Henriques Avenue) and if you walk by today and take a look up,you can still see the bust of Nicéphore Niépce, one of the inventors of photography. In the late 1940s, Foto Moderna moved to the now non-existent S. Dâmaso Street, where the shop remained until the demolition of the entire neighbourhood in 1958. It then transferred to 1, 28th of May Square (currently S. Dâmaso Alley), on the first floor of the building next to the ruins of the Torre da Alfândega (Customs Tower).

Domingos Alves Machado—or Machado the Photographer, as he was known—took pictures in both the studio and outdoors for almost forty years. He only stopped photographing in about 1940, devastated by the death of his only son. It was around then that the store, its name now shortened to Foto Moderna, was passed on to his son-in-law, Amílcar Lopes.

Amílcar Lopes arrived in Guimarães in 1924, when he was twelve. A leather craftsman who knew him in Murça, where Lopes was born and had lived until then, sent him to help Mr. Machado at the photography shop. The reason being that Amílcar had inherited from his father—a pharmacist—the aptitude and discipline to mix powders and liquids perfectly. Amílcar lodged at his boss’s house and fell in love with one of his daughters, Armandina, who he married in 1942. Over time he stopped working at the laboratory and instead started to accompany and assist Mr. Machado on his photographic trips to the city, subsequently taking the latter’s place when he retired. Amílcar Lopes then became Amílcar the Photographer – the studio portrait artist and city reporter responsible for capturing its spaces, places and daily business. He became an inseparable companion of Mário Cardozo on their journeys to the Citânia de Briteiros settlement and on the Martins Sarmento Society life register. Amílcar remained active until the late 1970s, when he handed the business over to his son João Ricardo Machado Lopes, who sold it in 1987.

And so we present a possible history of the images belonging to the Muralha Photography Collection: a collection of thousands of images showing Guimarães and its life, and that of nearby cities and places alongside studio portraits and pictures for publications. It comprises a set of originalsphotographs from Foto Eléctrica Moderna and Foto Moderna, which is assembled in the hazards of rearrangements and which stands out as one of the most consistent photography collections of Guimarães. The authorial origin of these images is unclear. But they are probably attributable to Domingos Alves Machado, between the late 19th century and the late 1930s, and Amílcar Lopes, from then until the late 1960s; and also it seems, to a photographer who preceded them both, but whose identity is still unknown: the author of the oldest images in the collection, which possibly date back to the early 1980s. Besides being taken prior to the foundation of Foto Eléctrica Moderna these few first images of the Muralha Photography Collection form a significant part of that photographic studio’s assets. However, it is still not possible to credit them to any particular photographer.

Forgotten for more than half a century, the images that comprise this collection arrived in Muralha’s possession in poor condition and without any kind of description or logical and thematic organisation. In fact, only one or two sequences managed to escape the resulting disarray. For almost twenty years, the Muralha Photography Collection resided in the attic of the Retired Peoples Association on Santo António Street in seriously unfavourable environmental conditions. Then in 2000, it was moved to the Raul Brandão Library—again without any efforts to catalogue or conserve the collection. It was also subject to regular handling by researchers, which only served to further weaken and disorganise it. Only since 2009 has the collection been stored in a room with controlled temperature and humidity at the Alfredo Pimenta City Archive. Also a first attempt at description and systematisation was carried out by Fernando Conceição, who was the chairman of Muralha at that time. The photographs in the collection have an interesting history of both publication and exhibition. For example, they are an important part of the book Guimarães, do Passado e do Presente (Ed. Câmara Municipal de Guimarães, 1985). Likewise, they have appeared in several exhibitions—the most recent being Guimarães in Black and White in 2009.Today, the Muralha Photography Collection is the subject of a concerted effort to preserve, archive and share it. These are certainly the main objectives of the project Reimagining Guimarães, developed by the Cinema Department of Guimarães, European Capital of Culture 2012. The aim being to preserve the collection by cleaning each negative, scanning in high resolution and rearranging them into an organised digital archive with detailed descriptions, accurate dating and thematic divisions. It will then become accessible to the whole world via the internet (at www.reimaginar.org) and also through exhibitions and publications.

The Wall City (A Cidade da Muralha) is the first step in this process. The first example of the endless possibilities that archives always offer us. The exhibition presents a selection of photographs of the public or semi-public spaces in Guimarães contained in the Muralha Photography Collection. The images are presented without any extensive treatment and with no attempt to hide damage, dirt, erosion or any post- production processes such as reframing and corrections made in the laboratory. These photographs stand out, not only as products of their own particular photographic time, but above all as products of their oblivion time and their waiting time.

From this study of the archive—the aforementioned inventory of endless possibilities—a proposal was made to show the external face of Guimarães in five sections: it starts with the city that can no longer be seen; moves on from there to the city created by the people for their festivals, work and worship; then to an imaginary place of possible stories and narratives; next we see the passing of time via the photographers’ return to places they have shot previously; and finally we leave with the city being rebuilt and taking a shape which is still familiar today. It is in this way that the Cidade da Muralha tries to turn Guimarães into a place in our imaginations. More narrative than history-based and more connected than chronological. This is the proposal today: to look at the city of Guimarães photographed over six decades and to discover all the stories taking place in the images. To re-imagine the city, no less.

Translated by Raquel Ralha. Revised by Tuse.

Year 2011
Type Book Chapter, Text in Catalogue
Publication A Cidade da Muralha — Fotografias da Colecção de Fotografia da Muralha
Pages 20-23
Publisher Guimarães 2012 Capital Europeia da Cultura
Local Guimarães
ISBN / ISSN 978-989-97607-0-7
Language português, english