Jean-Luc Godard used to say that television fabricates forgetfulness. However, cinema, he argues, can at times create a memory, a reflection where we are able to see ourselves represented.
It's not only cinema, however, that offers us this possibility. I will never forget the day that I saw for the first time Christian Cravo's photographs of the northeastern backlands of Brazil. They were being shown in Salvador at the Pierre Verger gallery and are now part of this extraordinarily beautiful book which is called Unredeemed.
Hands raised to the skies in supplication of that which is denied on Earth. Faces in trance. The look of a blind man, imposed upon that of Father Cícero. Straw hats resting on the face of the Virgin Mary. Arms desperately raising a crucifix. Black fingers caressing the coffin of a relative.
Absent from these images is the presumptive vision of someone who judges that which he enframes. There is no cynicism. The Christian Cravo's photos, on the contrary, evolve out of a desire to understand and portray on film that which he sees. This humanistic presupposition is able to eliminate the distance between the photographer and object photographed. As a consequence, here there is no mask or representation. Only one of those rare moments in which a people is portrayed on film ethically and sympathetically without manipulation or paternalism.
It's the physical and above all human geography of an entire piece of Brazil which here gains its contours. And, if Cravo's work is imbued with a sentiment of compassion, it is not, on the other hand, exploitation of misery or dogmatic. The images of profound beauty are dry, gritty, almost mineral in quality. In front of us, we see only life as it is, unadorned and without mise-en-scène.
Leafing through the book, one perceives how direct is the relationship between religiosity and necessity. Unredeemed portrays with poetic resonance and surgical precision that which we often don't wish to see and our incapacity to solve structural problems that become chronic, endemic.
In 1964, Glauber Rocha wrote an instigating and revealing text about the backlands, where he negates a statement by Euclides da Cunha: "The backlander isn't, above all, strong. He is a slave to the most primitive conditions (...) his resistance is to be found in his own death, not in his life".
The Christian Cravo's photos bring us to reflect that perhaps both Euclides da Cunha and Glauber Rocha were correct. In a situation of total abandonment, survival is in itself an act of courage. Religion, on the other hand, appears as the only lifesaver in a world where the State has been absent for centuries.
The immense talent of Cravo, perceptible in the surprising framing and luminous expressiveness of the subjects photographed, creates additional levels of codification for a universe rich in contradictions. The work that the photographer gathers together in Unredeemed has a universal and transcendent quality. It is, in its own way, a miracle, not of a religious character, but of one brought about by the action of the artist, who permits us to see ourselves suddenly reflected in bodies and faces which had appeared so far away and, yet in reality, turn out to be amazingly close to us.
A few more words about these images that Christian Cravo has offered us half-way between heaven and earth. Taking them in once more, I'm reminded of a phrase from the Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank, about the use of black and white in photography. One of the fore-fathers of modern photography, Frank said that black and white photography brings with it, paradoxically, both hope and despair.
I am unable to think of any work done by another young photographer so imbued in this apparent contradiction. In each face that waits, in each hand that raises, suffering and hope can be found. There is, perhaps, the impression that, despite the harshness of the reality, some kind of transformation is still possible.
And it's from this desire for transformation and spiritual transcendence that this book has come into existence.