Catedral Basilica de Nossa Senhora da Luz dos Pinhais – Afterword


After many years of research, personal investment, traveling, meetings with insensitive bureaucrats, promises and, of course, lots of work, Valdir Cruz's most daring project to date has come into being: to publish in book form a photo-documentary of the Catedral Basilica de Nossa Senhora da Luz dos Pinhais, in Curitiba, Paraná.

The book celebrates the Cathedral's centennial and, simultaneously, brings to the public the work of Valdir Cruz, a photographer that through persistency and tranquility, kept the initial goal of his proposal. Further, the photographic essay fills a documental emptiness and hallows the Cathedral as one of the most important historical references of the city of Curitiba.

For this essay he produced large format (8x10) negatives and later applied a handmade process of sensitizing and developing on a selected paper to generate a positive, a platinum print. This photographic process, patented in 1873, uses papers based on photosensitive iron salts and platinum precipitate forming the final image which is directly deposited onto the paper's fibers, offering a rich tonal scale. This handmade process, considered definitive and permanent, was abandoned in function of the use of silver as the sensitive agent, more economical and suitable for industrial production.

It is important to mention Valdir Cruz's working style in order to better perceive and value his photographs. If their formal logic derives from the sharpness and durability of his images, passion is the irrational novelty, closely connected to the artist's sensibility and emotion. Each photograph, apart from its content, disconcerts, energizes and tells a totally "subjective and personal" story, though it may seem paradoxical. The project took four years to complete with many trips to Curitiba. His photographs cover every architectural aspect of the Cathedral, general and also specific, and reveal the exuberance of the Cathedral and the richness of its details.

The experience of seeing is the exercise the photographer chose to evoke in his reading of the Cathedral, the mysteries of the lights that fill the space; to enhance the ritualistic environment imposed by its religious aspect and by its monumentality; to invent new points of view and create a new audacity. The work, of a minimalist character, captures all of the ambience constructive refinement and has a unique plasticity, for our attention is attracted to the inexhaustible visual adventures of the images.

The angles selected and the different relations with the scale of the urban surroundings show that he made a close study of every movement and incidence of the light. This research allowed him to develop an accurate and sensitive eye, committed both to the artistic and to the historical. He has brought to the photographic register the eloquence of our rushed and oppressive everyday life which exempts one from a more attentive look at things. Fantasy and inventiveness are here joined to the influences and objective circumstances of the photographic process.

The stained-glass windows have been transformed into immense kaleidoscopes by external light that helps us perceive this luminous magic and understand the intricate maze of the sacred space. Valdir Cruz's work is an exercise of courage and patience whose atmosphere brings to mind several classics of the history of photography, such as Frederick Evans, the Englishman who, many decades ago, produced a body of work with these same thematic and technical characteristics.

John Szarkowski, in his book Looking at Photographs, acknowledges that "while many photographers, for some reason, see the Cathedral as a stone building, Evans saw it as space and light". This inspiration, however, failed to impose limits on Cruz's creativity but, instead, enhanced his reading, both spontaneously and deliberately affectionate.

The impact of "the real" provoked by his photography collides simultaneously with the most conservative and the most daring concept of "reality". His eye presupposes the availability of other eyes, as well as new experiences and a good knowledge of the specifics of our time. His long exposures, up to 45 minutes, create the ghosts that register the speed of the anonymous visitors to the temple. This rhythm inspires the register of the light which moves slowly in contrast with the permanence of the construction. The drama of the events captured is also part of this essay: the wedding, the mass, the daily routine, the cultural shows, everything is photographed. Now, remembrance and sensitive memory.

Without losing the sense of his time, the photographer energizes the memories revealing, in the large format plates, the grandeur of the monument and the details of the century old construction: incredible visual metaphors that strain the atmosphere between the holy and the profane. Valdir Cruz preserves in the most beautiful pictorial tradition the rituality and the mysteries of memory that persist and conserve, without sleight-of-hand, the magical moments of the history of mankind.

The essay Catedral Basilica de Nossa Senhora da Luz dos Pinhais is a classic. It has the enchantment of the first printed images and, at the same time, is contemporary because it recovers technique as language, where each ray of light informs the new as permanent (re)discovery. The artist was there catching every small movement, every change of light, every situation, producing a unique iconographical document that is the memory of the Cathedral's centennial. Memory of an eye which perceives the future as the continuous rebirth of the past.

Rubens Fernandes Junior
critic and photo-researcher April 1996