Born in Porto, Portugal, Miguel Proença arrived at photography as a practice, and potential career path, via early encouragement from his uncle, an amateur photographer and film enthusiast, and stints studying engineering and film. He says: “What excited me was the immediacy of the medium, I could visually describe my surroundings, create stories and organise my naive curiosity.” Considering the composition of stills in similar terms to moving image – “the landscape as the space for the story, the portraits as the characters” – Miguel is still most influenced by cinema: “There are several directors who I constantly return to, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wim Wenders, Ingmar Bergman and Nuri Bilge Ceylan”.
In his series, Behind the Hill, Miguel photographs people and places relating to his interest in superstition, faith and nature. He started by collecting flyers left by spiritual healers on car windshields in north-eastern Portugal, “a stronghold of the Pagan tradition, where [he’d] often find flyers advertising cures for hair loss, lack of love or envy”, before starting to photograph the healers and their tools. Miguel began the series in 2011, and continued it ’til 2017, “shooting portraits, still lifes, and photographs of the landscape, which conveys a sense of place and carries the superstitions perpetuated by the ancient legends particular to each region”. Early in the project he met a priest who was also an expert in alternative medicine, and was both keen to be involved and introduce Miguel to other healers: “Meeting the priest led to opportunities which really expanded the scope of the project, although it wasn’t always easy to track people down – I didn’t have any addresses, just the name of the village and the person’s nickname. There were many instances where the healer was dead, or just didn’t want to meet with me, and a few hilarious moments – like when I went to meet the owner of a rare artefact and ended up photographing a book of witchcraft at his friend’s wedding party.”
Since completing the project – alongside finishing his MA in documentary photography at the University of South Wales – Miguel has been working on projects with a more political slant: “I’ve been delving into the confrontations amidst the West and Russia, along its former territories in Europe – I’m interested in the construction and de-construction of ideologies and identities, and on resulting tensions between politics and the complexities of living influenced by memories of the recent past”.
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