We interview Cliff Andrade, a GSA graduate recently nominated for the Jill Todd Photography Award hosted by Street Level Photography in Glasgow. Cliffs project 'Saudade' achieved the 'First Runner Up Prize' and we get the chance to get behind the project and the photographer himself.
Tell us a little about Saudade (part ii) and your process in creating this particular body of work.
'Saudade (Part II)' was created for the Jill Todd Photography Award (JTPA) and came out of, as you would probably expect, my graduation project 'Saudade'. It began as a personal journey to discover the island from which my parents came - Madeira. They left in 1974 and my project was an attempt to reconnect with my lost heritage. In the process it became much more about the long-term effects of migration, the changes that have occurred in the Southern European periphery over the lifetime of the European project, and a broad exploration of identity and place. Saudade (Part II) is also about identity and place, but I flipped the focus from the descendants of emigrants to the migrants themselves.
The JTPA set submitters the challenge of taking their degree projects and developing them in some way, within the theme of 'flow'. You couldn't just submit your degree project again. Migration gave me the theme of the 'flow' of people. I then almost instantly knew I wanted to compliment Part I by exploring what it must have been like for my parents, and thousands of other Madeirans, to leave everything they knew and come to the UK so abruptly, never to return. I then set about looking through old shoeboxes full of photos seeing what was there and where that would lead me, at the same time as wandering around the area my parents settled in, exploring it photographically. It all came together fairly organically as I worked. My only criteria was that the 'archive' picture had to have been taken by me.
The title of the collection is taken from the Portuguese word “saudade”. What does this mean and why is it significant to your work?
That is a tough one. Saudade is hard to explain as it doesn't translate directly into English. Also, its definition is deeply tied in with the Lusophone mentality and culture. I think the easiest way to explain it is to quote from the introduction to my book. It took me ages to figure out how to word it so I might as well make the most of it:
"Saudade. How does one explain a concept that goes to the very core of the Portuguese national character? Tenho saudades tuas (lit. I have saudades for you) is often translated as ‘I miss you’, but this is misleading. It fails to communicate the profound depth of longing present with saudade. To miss is to feel the absence of something. To have saudade is to bear the additional sorrow of knowing that that absent something may never return. Others have described it as a deep emotional state of melancholic longing; but longing stares outward, to the horizon. Saudade is a profound internalisation of longing, drawing it deep into the soul. And there is a profound paradox at the heart of saudade - the melancholy is accompanied by joy; joy at the memory of having experienced that for which you now pine."
It significance to my work is fairly literal. I think 'Saudade' perfectly encapsulates the relationship between the children of migrants and the land of their parents - at least in the context of Southern European migration in the 20th century. We are caught in a paradox - we are linked to a land by blood and culture that most of us will never truly know. There is an absence in our identities, however small.
You include text and collected images alongside your photographic works in Saudade (part ii), why did you choose this mixed media approach?
I wanted to explore the themes above in a personal manner. I wanted to make sure anyone seeing the work realised this is a real story involving real people, and that the artist was not an external observer, but involved in the story themselves. I guess using personal family images is a way of breaking down the distance between the viewer and the work, inviting people into the family environment. I was very keen that the work be displayed in its 'mixed sizes', ensemble way. I wanted to reference the visual language of how you encounter images in the home or the photo album, rather than the gallery.
Making the body of work seems to have been quite a cathartic experience. How does it feel to have such a personal body of work on display?
Yes it was in many ways I guess. It was quite a challenge, personally, too at some points. But that is not what the work is about. It is not about me and my family and our experiences specifically, it is about the broader themes of migration, dislocation and identity, and the micro-effects these have on individuals. I think it is important, at a time when the majority of discources surrounding migration in the modern media are concerned only with its micro effects on the economy or society, etc, to concentrate on these micro effects. It could be one of hundreds of other families up there. For me, my way into these themes was through my own family history. But as I say its not specifically about them. So when I look at it, the fact that it is a personal body of work is not my predominant feeling about the work. With this personal approach I hope to convey the themes more strongly and encourage people to stop and think about the work more, if that makes sense.
The work allows viewers a small, yet intimate, glimpse into your family and history. How do you view the artist’s relationship with their audience?
On a personal level, I am happy to talk about my work and even about the personal side of it if people are interested. Since embarking on this whole 'Saudade' journey, I have met lots of people who have talked to me about how they feel similar about their past and their families. Even some of my friends who have never ever mentioned anything of the sort have been prompted to reflect on their own situations. I think all this is fascinating and am very happy and touched to hear about people's experiences with the work. But in the grand scheme of things I think the work needs to stand alone, away from me. Work is often displayed away from the artist or, for example, the artist may be dead and we know little or nothing of them. So the work needs to be able to survive alone and speak for itself. As someone trained in Visual Communication rather than Fine Art, I prefer work whose message can be understood or guessed at and debated, rather than something which is overly conceptual or obscure, alienating the viewer.
Do you have any projects on the horizon we can look out for?
Right now I am working on a couple of projects, but it is very early days and I am just in the initial stages of research for both of them. I couldn't even say what they are roughly about as I am not sure myself at this moment in time. I'll use the dark months ahead to prep, ready to start properly in Spring. If anyone is curious as to what I am up to, I guess the best thing to do is keep an eye on my website and twitter. I always update both as I go.
To find out more about Cliff or to see more of his fantastic work visit: cargocollective.com/cliffandrade
Interview by Helen Kellock