The first thing God created was the journey; then came doubt and nostalgia. With this sentence, Theo Angelopous summarizes one of the founding epics of western civilization. With the Trojan War over, Ulysses was ready to return to Ithaca but a sequence of unexpected events kept him away from home for another ten years. After many stops and incidents, Ulysses reached Ogygia island. There he became Calypso’s lover and her prisoner. Despite promises of eternal life, despite being attracted to Calypso, and even though he happily shared her bed, Ulysses never forgot Ithaca and mourned every day for his lost home and family. After seven years of confinement, not yet convinced of Calypso’s love and by Ogygia’s vita beata, Ulysses was free to leave the island and return to Ithaca. Between a pleasant life at Ogygia and a dangerous journey back home, Ulysses chose home. As Milan Kundera wrote, Instead of the passionate exploration of the unknown (the adventure), he preferred the apotheosis of the familiar (the return). Instead of the infinite (because any adventure is supposed to go on forever), he preferred the end (because returning home is a reconciliation with life’s finitude).
When Francis Frith captured the exotic ambience of Middle East lands in his celebrated albumen prints, the journey became one of photography’s central themes. If the portrait was sought as a way of keeping and remembering the faces of loved ones (or simply lost youth), travel photos were artifacts that astonished the cosmopolitan citizens of the world centers of the photographic art: London, Paris, New York, Boston. In some countries, due to their geographic situation, history and culture, photographers engaged more seriously with the journey’s theme. English photographers like Frith took advantage of their country’s presence in the Middle East to record powerful images of the mythical civilizations that had flourished on the rich eastern Mediterranean lands. The United States, with its overwhelming and wild open spaces, saw the birth of landscape photography, via the eyes of such artists as Carleton E. Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan or the Portuguese jew Solomon Nunes de Carvalho, amongst many others. (Later Ansel Adams reclaimed those pioneers’ inheritance). In the 20th century, Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander followed the same trails, but this time they did it by car. Finally, if there is such a thing as a Portuguese photography, the journey is undoubtedly its core.
Filipe Casaca and Nuno Direitinho belong to a generation that grew up in an age when travelling is no longer a luxury, but became another middle-class conquest, instead. The world has become smaller: everyone is connected by broadband internet and mobile phones. Remote places became easily accessible and Ulysses’ anxiety and long journey back home do not make sense any longer. Homesickness, nostalgia, saudade: these feelings have not vanished from humanity’s soul; but they are now more easily appeased.
Does this mean that the journey that began in the sands of Egypt is over? Maybe it is over or maybe not. The two defining pictures of the pyramids in Paulo Nozolino’s Penumbra show that the world is infinite and that only the spectators’ imagination and creativity may end. Photography has not returned home. It is just the concept of home and private space that have expanded their limits. Telegram moves along this blurred borderline, showing us not only the dialogue between the authors’ images, but also their engagement with this contemporary and broad sense of home.
This text was written for the book Telegram (50 numbered copies, at P4Photography), released by P4Photography to accompany the exhibition with the same name.
Carlos Miguel Fernandes