Since 2017, the Brazilian artist, Uiler Costa-Santos, has been focussing on the movement of the tides, taking aerial photos over the Itaparica Canal. Capturing the new reliefs and ever-changing landscapes along the coast of Bahia, his images, which seem like dream worlds to the viewer, are a visual extension of perceptible spaces.
What exactly is Sizígia?
Syzygy is an astronomical phenomenon that happens when three celestial bodies from the same gravitational system align. It is in this phenomenon of connection between the ocean, soil and rivers, that marine life builds new reliefs and geographies. I find the main visual material for my work in these very low- or very high-tide formations. In syzygy moments, something common to the collective unconscious appears as a revelation. That’s why syzygy is also an encounter. A moment where time-space, in its various forms of non-human life, react to the synchronous movement of the cosmos to produce its outflows, directions, reliefs and maps. It is in the syzygies that the landscape is transmuted, allowing us to perceive everyday life and its constant capacity of creation.
What is it that impels you to shoot these images?
The impulse comes from my desire to relate to my homeland and to understand its dynamics. The Sizígia images carry a little of all that… of my desire to expand the perceptions of already existing landscapes, from my childhood, but, above all, the ungovernable capacity that the imagination has even in the worst of adversities.
What is it you want the pictures to show?
I want to show how nature is important to our existence. At a time when structural violence seems to take our subjectivities and socio-collective practices to extremely saturated limits, it seems urgent to (re)think the fictional potential of images, as well as their ability to speak about our belongings, homelands and places along new paths of the imagination. It is in an attempt to expand these realities, that I come to understand the political and fictional dimensions involved in the construction of this work. What I have been experiencing through aerial photography is the possibility of co-inhabiting the lands that define us, opening them up to new forms of sensitive distribution through the imagination. Thus, understanding the political dimension attributed to this practice is also to contribute to the creation of new possibilities of interaction with nature, its non-human technologies, as well as the paths of our own experience in this space.
What is it like to look at the earth from above. Is there some kind of revelation?
That’s a good question! There is an opportunity, an event, that takes place in this state of suspension. At that exact moment, we are required to become in tune with nature and, however much we try to separate man from nature, we are forced to experience an inner plunge that makes us realize that we are a single living organism. From above we can feel that the earth and everything is connected. Before experiencing the suspended state achieved by aerial photography, I explored the landscape from the top of certain buildings. The quiet, the scale and the perspective are the composing elements, which allow me to reflect on how we are immersed in (pre)fabricated realities, and how this socio-historical engineering deprives us of the possibility of understanding them in other ways.
What challenges did you face for the aerial shots?
The production of images starts with the evaluation of the weather forecast: the syzygy, the low tide, happens between 8:00 and 11:00 in the morning, or between 15:30 and 17:00 (at these times the light is softer). I try to fly when the sky is open and there is little humidity in the air: under these conditions there is greater visibility. The search for the images begins in the Baía de Todos-os-Santos, the regions of Barra do Paraguaçu and Salinas das Margaridas, the coast of Itaparica Island, the Itaparica Channel in the vicinity of Caixa Prego, and the mouth of the Jaguaripe River. Departing from these locations, I fly for up to two hours. In most cases, the routes are circular, with the intention of making the most of the time. I take two cameras on these field trips: a Leica M and a Leica SL with focal length lenses ranging from 24 to 280 mm. Concentration and attention are important tools in this process, and we work at altitudes ranging from 150 to 3000 feet. Not too high and not too low. Although wonderful, flying is a tense and tiring activity…
How do you prepare for this shoot?
I usually carry two cameras: an M10 and an SL, and four lenses. For the Leica M, the Leica Summilux-M 35 f/1.4 ASPH, and the Leica APO-Telyt-M 135 f/3.4. For the SL, the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 f/2.8–4 ASPH and the Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90–280 f/2.8–4. In addition to the cameras and lenses, I carry eight memory cards and extra batteries for each camera as a backup. One day before the flight, I check if everything is okay: clean lenses, charged batteries and empty memory cards. I try to rest and concentrate to be physically and emotionally present in the experience.
How was your experience working with Leica cameras?
It is a unique experience! I never imagined that I could find such versatile and practical equipment for my work. There’s something magical about these cameras that makes the experience of using them extremely pleasurable. They function like an extension of my body, allowing me to enjoy the moments I photograph to the fullest. When I started shooting with a Leica, my first impression was as if I had found something I’d always been looking for: a camera that allows me to be in tune with nature and behold the essential. I love its simplicity and objectivity. I also need to emphasize the versatility of the SL and the SL2! Without forgetting to mention the quality of the images that are unbeatable. I can’t imagine a better tool right now for my photographic work!
Your images seem like fantastical entities, that suspend both the laws of space and time…
I understood that in a world loaded with images, it was necessary to devise pictures that raised more questions than answers. Abstraction through visual enigmas seemed to me to be an outlet to imagine new landscapes, especially for people like me who develop within the context of greater socio-racial-economic vulnerability, where the right to the landscape is something private. In this sense, developing the right to the imagination in looking at one’s own homeland, also means creating new possibilities for living and feeling within us, to recover the experience of being in contact by means of the sensitive. To produce images that create tension within these relationships, is to allow the real to open up to a new reality.
Uiler Costa-Santos (born 1983) is a visual artist and educator in the city of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where he lives and works. Through photography and the study of images, his research proposes a dialogue between the imaginary within a landscape, and the policies of redistribution of the sensitive on the part of abstraction. He has collaborated with entities such as National Geographic Brasil and National Geographic Traveller UK, the Four Seasons, and the Salvador Tourism Board, among others. He is a guest columnist for the Iphoto Channel and the Portuguese blog Fotografia DG, and has been teaching photography courses with an emphasis on technique and poetic research, since 2015. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram page.
Find out more about his photographic project in LFI magazine 02/22.
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