Matilde Viegas’ empathetic photographs nurture hope for the future
“Photography is an entryway into someone’s life, even if for a fleeting moment,” says Porto-based photographer Matilde Viegas.
- Joey Levenson
- 2 July 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Porto-based Portuguese photographer Matilde Viegas puts human connection at the forefront of her work. Having spent time studying biochemistry, the academic world of science taught her the importance of methodical practice. “It was only when I felt the restraints of life as a scientific researcher that I realised my need to counteract and defy them,” Matilde tells It’s Nice That. “While spending most of my time studying science, I craved human connection”. On the side, Matilde nurtured her photographic instinct and remained inspired by works such as The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin. “As an introvert who is profoundly curious about the world, the camera provides context and explanation to start a conversation,” she says. Within Matilde’s work, conversations are allowed to breathe and linger with a sense of calm intimacy that draws one into a state of empathy. “My photography is a tool to show appreciation and compassion towards a stranger,” she explains.
Now an established photographer in her own right, Matilde has a clear and thorough dedication to the craft. She speaks passionately of its impact: “It’s a powerful tool to construct and deconstruct tales, perceptions and preconceptions about communities and individuals,” she explains. Naturally, Matilde is excited by digital but is drawn to the physicality of film photography and its somewhat scientific nature. “The process doesn’t stop once you press the shutter, there are so many steps you can control and tweak to your liking.”
One of her latest projects, Love Stories, is a perfect example of how Matilde has mastered the craft of storytelling. Originally conceptualised in 2018 when Matilde was visiting New York for a workshop, Matilde found inspiration from the longing of her partner. “I was missing my partner and our intimacy so much, that it became clear to me that I should look for couples in town and photograph them in a domestic setting, much like the one I missed while away from home.”
After meeting a queer couple she wanted to photograph, Matilde realised Love Stories could help bring about better representation in couple portraiture. After around six collaborative sessions with different queer couples, Love Stories began to take shape. “Representation is now a buzzword but it definitely has an impact in our lives and our perception and idealisation of the future.” With Love Stories, Matilde was able to change the visual discourse of queer lives, “portraying them from an empathetic point of view, anchored in homes.”
Other series of Matilde’s include The City of the Deported, which she was able to complete thanks to the Gabriel Grüner Stipendium, a German photojournalism grant. “My work is inherently documentary,” she says. The work allowed Matilde and German journalist-writer Viktoria Morasch to travel to Kazakhstan to speak to descendants of those who experienced the gulags of Soviet Russia. “My photographs stem from my relationship with what I am photographing, as I work towards finding a common ground between me and the person I am collaborating with,” the photographer tells us. It’s this level of relationship building that also lead Matilde and artist, architect, and director Mafalda Salgueiro to their Alento. “Alento is focused on personal stories, relationships and communities using food as the propeller for storytelling,” she explains. “The intent of the project is to create a collective memory built through the tales and experiences of those we meet.”
As usual with Matilde, empathy runs through each series, almost bursting at the seams. Whilst certainly documentarian, they also speak to the more artistic affinities of fine art. There is a striking humanity that balances observation and participation. “I always do my best to convey something special and unique about the ones involved with my photographs,” she concludes.
Matilde Viegas: Love Stories (Copyright © Matilde Viegas, 2018)