Interview with Caíque de Deus
Shinji Shiozaki: Introduce yourself and tell me about the space you grew up in and the environment you were raised in.
Caíque de Deus: I think there is something here that stitches together the space of living in a periphery of a city in the most peripheral city of Brazil. And that was also my visual, artistic background. I never took visual arts. I understand the power of the image and also that I am a man who was raised in a periphery, in a slum, which was my college and also in the Central neighborhood. The main focus of my urban Amazonian visibility is connected to this pain that is latent. It bleeds every day, every day I leave home and see this pain. And it is a routine thing, because I have seen it since I was a child. Violence has always been very present there, both from a direct or indirect perspective. The garbage and the open sewer. And food, which is scarce. It's like the city that used to be Belém, right? And its outskirts? And what was supposed to work and what worked with time, with the Belle Époque, but ended up going wrong after that. You know what I mean?
Shinji Shiozaki: How do you see that? First camera, equipment?
Caíque de Deus: My first camera was in 2013. I always took off towards downtown. At one point, my childhood friends started dying. You know, they were murdered, they started getting involved with the wrong things. And then my mom saw that I could be there too. And I was, right? And then we came to live downtown. I got my first camera from my mother when I turned 18. Then I started to photograph skateboarding in the street. The street was already an intimate thing of mine. I was already talking to a lot of people that were there. I started photographing the things that happened on the street. First things that caught my attention. So, like subtleties and languages that are not verbalized.
"The street was already an intimate thing of mine. I was already talking to a lot of people that were there. I started photographing the things that happened on the street. First things that caught my attention. So, like subtleties and languages that are not verbalized."
Shinji Shiozaki: How do you think about the topics and the day to day? What directs you? If you leave your house?
Caíque de Deus: I always go out with the camera. Eventually I was working and got into a better situation and I bough a good compact camera. And then, like, since I bought it, I talk with it straight up and down. It's like a notebook, it's anthropological reading. First it’s a register. And then the post-production that will tell me the subject. The idea is that I will put it together. And this is how prints come up and then installation or photographic series, a photobook; that is kind of the post production that I will understand. I never go with an idea in my head to photograph, I just photograph.
Shinji Shiozaki: But what is it like to photograph the Amazon in general in Belém?
Caíque de Deus: Photographing the Amazon, I don't talk like that and more than any other city, Belém is a wound, a city that does not understand reality. In Sãp Paulo and Rio they discuss our state, the city and lives with a perspective towards the future. There’s a belief in this utopian idea of progress. We are decimating what is real and we are decimating the Amazon; cheap demagogy, passing over everything and creating a bigger and bigger wound. The only thing is that people are not aware of it. If this is progress, there is a hole in progress, what are we doing? We’re building a hole underneath our own feet. The issue with photographing the Amazon, and this is something I’ve discussed with other artists who work with photography as well as other artistic languages in the Amazon, is that we can't live off the Amazon or work in the Amazon. In a way, because first of all it's something restricted, right? Restricted, in quotes, because to pay money to you, to go to these places, to photograph you is not cheap, it's a photographer's job. There are certain guys who come from other countries and go there to photograph Xinguara, Redenção, Capitão Poço, in other words, various places like that that you can go to on the beach, in the southwestern region of the Amazon, as well as in the lower Amazon, Santarém. Everything has a cost and it is difficult for the artist to swim and spend time in the Amazon, to visit these places that we are going to earn money with. So, for example, I try to photograph this fragmented Amazon in my own city. I try to take a photograph that is close to me. Cool, I get it. Before, I used to say yes, or I want to photograph Indigenous tribes, but in reality I have to photograph what is close to me, and the most I can photograph is these confusions here. Of course that in the middle of these confusions there are also things, many beautiful things, many things to be said. But that's kind of what it is. To photograph the Amazon, being in the wound of the Amazon, is kind of difficult.
"And to this day I try to avoid photographing the person's face, unless they tell me to. The body is more of interest and the minute things."
Shinji Shiozaki: How do you relate to the objects you photograph? I understand that you walk through places very tense, but I lived in Belém and I know that some places are really difficult, so how do you relate to that space and to those people before and after photography?
Caíque de Deus: At first, I photographed skateboarding, but I always had intimacy with them, because I always met several people on the street and from Terra Firme and São Bráz neighborhoods. I would go to other neighborhoods from time to time, only when there is some comrade invites me. At first I photographed as if I was stealing the picture. And then some things happened to me on the street and I realized that I have the language to dialogue and have access to that person without stealing the photo. And then I started to have more intimacy with what I was photographing. And I don't have, for example, this way of capturing the perfect instant. No, sometimes I even set the scene. Like “Hey, man, put your hand here.” It's like that. I began to understand that what touched me most as a photographic language was something that the subtlety and sometimes that was not symbolized in the face. And to this day I try to avoid photographing the person's face, unless they tell me to. The body is more of interest and the minute things. And sometimes a nail, sometimes a shirt, sometimes no shirt and the environment that that body occupies. Even because when I want to talk about something, when I create a photographic series, I want to tell a story. And if I print someone's face, it's already going to be that person's. It can't be of a subjective person, which can be all of us, it can be a it can be an entity, it can be God, it can be a slum-dweller, it can be me represented there in that series. Iin that process of understanding photography, of understanding what I wanted to tell, I was molding this aesthetic and I was also having more humanity in photographing and exchanging ideas with a person. It was this process that humanized me when maybe before I didn't have that, I used to steal photographs and that started to affect me inside and also externally with my relationship with other people.
Shinji Shiozaki: Generally, do you know people, or do you meet them on the spot? How this approach works.
Caíque de Deus: Sometimes I already have a connection with the person, I’ve already talked to them. Where do I usually shoot? I like to go to the fair, I walk down the street, people know me, and we talk. Like “Hey, it’s Rosa’s son.” We spend time, exchanging ideas, hanging out on the corner a lot, talking with the guys, having a drink or smoking. I'm photographing what I'm doing there.
Shinji Shiozaki: In this case, is it weird with a camera there, while no one else uses that kind of thing these days, everyone uses their phones.
Caíque de Deus: It was, but by now the guy already knows this is the crazy photographer. So there are a lot of people who died pandemic that worked there in São Bráz. So, there was a grandfather or a friend of mine from there that worked, fixing shoes, fixing sneakers. I used to take my skate shoes to fix them there and I took several photos of him there. Some months ago, my friend asked, “Hey do you still have those photos of my grandfather? He passed away.” And I sent them. I have the photos that I use for the photo series and there are also photos that are for the people. Because the people, you know, Black people, they also the way they want to present themselves, you know beautiful, well dressed. If I have a camera and I can take a portrait of my brother to put it on Whatsapp or on Instagram and whatever other media, or a portrait of the family? I'm going to take that picture and send it to him.
Shinji Shiozaki: I think we talked a little bit about the approach, but how does it relate to photography, with equipment that can break and even street violence, assault and so on. How are you when you’re out taking pictures?
Caíque de Deus: In 2018 I got a Fuji XT2 with flash. I use this camera, but I’m not stuck to it. I take cell phone pictures, I take pictures with any camera you have and I like to test new things.If there’s Motorola three camera. I will take pictures with that there and I will produce something. Then I keep testing a lot, because photography, above all, is not only aesthetic. It does help, to set up something portable, to have a whole palette of color, to set something up. But mainly photography. It is also the pleasure in assembling, creating an alphabet of letters, creating phrases with those, with those letters that are the photos. And there you go creating plots, stories, chronicles, which is enough for anyone. I believe very much in accessible photography, even because I speak for my brothers like that. You don't need the best camera to do such and such. The camera helps you a lot on the technical side, it helps you a lot to shoot if you have a Samsung cell phone, make a photographic series, assemble it, and you’re already a photographer. I started to understand that photography as an idea is not technical.
"In the act of photographing I let myself be free to photograph. I don't keep thinking, 'I have to photograph this. I have been photographing this way'."
Shinji Shiozaki: You mentioned photographing with various types of media, but I realize that your photography is very analogue. I realize that there is much experimentation in what you do. How do these experiments work? Do you let yourself lose control, see the result, or do you try to control how it works and the production of that final result?
Caíque de Deus: There’s two things, the act of photographing and post-production. In the act of photographing I let myself be free to photograph. I don't keep thinking, “I have to photograph this. I have been photographing this way.” I'm kind of testing it. And then, when I upload the file to the computer, that's the post-production when I already think from the perspective of editing something there and assembling something. I have a process where, say I have a sequence with five photos, beautiful, I put it together. Then when I go to revisit it, it's not like that anymore, it’s something else. It became another story, for example, there is a photographic series that I am working on. I am doing the book together with Bia Mathur, and Cicero. Cicero is the curator. Bia is the designer of the book. The project is called Opaco. It was one thing in the beginning, in the middle, it became another. At the end, I understood it logically, and then we finished. It was like a light in my life, because before that I photographed with a lack of faith. I photographed with the perspective of this is it, and fuck it. It’s always going to be that shit. And then came Opaca. That's the entity that's there in Opaco saying, “This is the place where you come from.” There are several social mirrors. There’s a prayer that my grandmother and mother taught me that it is something like, “God give me words, dreams and hard times.” It gives me ideas that take me away from that bad omen. And I had been at it for a long time, being the hopeless pessimist. And then, when I did Opaco, it gave me hope that brought me back to that rush, to that point. When you read the book visually, you will see that this question of nature, of entities, of the forest, of the world, in short, of entities that even make the blessings that allow a city to exist. And then I started to look at this more carefully, because this says more about me, about my work. And it was my work that showed that. You know? It was a person that came to me and it wasn't just one person. There were several moments when I was photographing in the street and the entity spoke directly to me, you know? But then it was on my own, by my own enthusiasm, through my own search. And demystifying my reality through photography that changed me. I had stopped believing in doing certain things, but I kept doing photography because it is not a financial necessity of mine. I earn my money doing other things. I sell used clothes. I go to work in a kitchen, I do other things to support myself. For me photography is a form of self discovery. My self-affirmation is connected to it. So much that I use a street tag, which “O que sou,” a way to demystify my reality, to understand what is, what, what, what Caíque and beyond his name and beyond his ID number, beyond his zip code, everything is also a form of discovery. And it isn't the money or isn't just the money, of course. The money helps the artist pay the bills. But if the artist does the artwork thinking only about editing and thinking only about the money, he ends up messing with his work. Because it has to be something more than that. It's about understanding Brazil, understanding what we are doing here. So it starts from that beginning. Otherwise I wouldn't even do that, I wouldn't be in it, because you think about the money. I invested more money than I earned.
Shinji Shiozaki: Do you create rules to guide you in your photography, like not shooting at angles, not using a lens? Anyway, is there some guideline?
Caíque de Deus: I think of rules and I respect the rules, but they are going to change from the street that I am on, come on, they are going to change according to the day of the rules. The world changes every day, it is connected to the game that we play, especially the street game. We deal a lot with malandragem, which also has its rules. And they are not tangible rules. They are not a code of conduct. They are and they aren't, but they change every day. And then I say this rule of saying the way to stay current, have agility, exercising the mind, paying attention, respecting a rule. It is like being humble, respect. Sometimes I can’t shoot, the other is in a rush, sometimes the other turns around and he’s high. So sometimes I don't photograph everyone just to see. But that's kind of what it is. Humility, respect that this is the basic rule of photographing or being on the street beyond photography, because everyone is on the street nowadays. Here in Belém they are all hustling. Sometimes the guy is hustling to make five bucks, so he can give money to his wife or to buy food and then tomorrow he'll do it again. So, it’s about having faith, being humble, respecting others whether coming and going anywhere. There are rules.
"Humility, respect that this is the basic rule of photographing or being on the street beyond photography, because everyone is on the street nowadays. Here in Belém they are all hustling."
Shinji Shiozaki: And how do you think your photography represents Brazil?
Caíque de Deus: My photo represents and doesn’t represent Brazil. It's hard to answer this question because the current Brazil is a Brazil that I don't want to exist anymore. It's connected to that guy. Even if it does exist, I don't want to see people getting fucked up. I want to see people having a certain representation that now that I am starting to photograph of people smiling, seeing Black people enjoying a beach, seeing people doing well, living free, having perspective, being able to dream. Basically, now, in the last four years, the idea of dreaming, the idea of life… Even my brothers who had access to education, went to college. Now they're slaves to these Über guys, you know what I'm saying? The guy graduated, bro. He graduated with the power to do anything and then he's working for a stingy company, yeah, selling out of necessity. But that's it. Photography, as a representation of a Brazil that is utopian is still only a Brazil of our dreams. It’s crazy because Brazil is formed mostly in the street. Every part of Brazilian identity was formed in the street and the street is our heart. For example, the samba formed in the street and the samba, above all, at the root is love and hate go there. Nelson Cavaquinho, Cartola, Nelson Sargento. The guys are just talking about it. When we demystify what we are doing as photographers in the street, as poets, as musicians in Brazil this was the root of it all. It has always been a relationship like this, with the beautiful place. But this beautiful place is where there was 300 years of slavery and it still goes on today in this same place. A beautiful place where the Portuguese came and they killed and decimated it. several videos in an extremely beautiful place and when I was watching Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau, and it’s all there, the beautiful place, a lot of tragedy at the same time. That’s Brazil, a beautiful beach, stained with blood. You know what I mean? So that's the cordial, love, hate, beauty and tragedy coexisting in the same environment. But we need to tell another story already. I am tired of talking about work and struggling. I started photographing things like Iansã and Exu Tranca Rua in Opaco, but Exú of the waters came and talked to me at Marajó about the love of sea, and told me about the boy who wants to wash his face, and that he already wants to talk about other perspectives on Brazil from the entities, the guardians of the forest, the Indians, the quilombolas, that live the real war in Brazil. Because this real war in Brazil does not happen in the urban parameter, as it was at the time of Marighella, which was urban guerrilla warfare. It happens in the rural areas, it happens at the front with the guys that are illegally mining gold, and it’s the Indigenous people at the front of the war. If there is no representation, no democratic representation in the public institutions of an Indigenous person, of a Black human being, we are not going to get out of this. Lula will come in, but if there is no representation of the Indigenous, of the quilombolas, they will never understand each other. Brazil will never have a really free democracy.
Interview by Shinji Shiozaki for the Digital Brazil Project.