When someone says “don’t go”, do you? You bet you do! You know somewhere is interesting if you’re advised not to go there! As the old song goes – Baby Please Don’t Go Down to New Orleans and I’m sure there’s some places out there that just maybe you shouldn’t go too… (Not New Orleans though!)
As an English photographer marooned (sic) in northern Portugal, I’m delighted by the things that I get to see and experience living in Porto. I’m not after the ‘Ex-Pat’ experience; and by definition, I can’t have the native experience. I’m after my own experiences, I like to befriend people that live here, communicate and share.
One piece of advice that I received from more than one person, was the importance of avoiding a certain location. I was advised not to go to the narrow, ancient streets of Sé. Apparently it was not so much that it wasn’t a great photographical spot and I might not come home with any good images, but that I might not come home still owning a camera…
The streets of Sé are viewable from many of the tourist vantage points.
Dark, and foreboding… There’s a vibe emanating from this zone that I simply couldn’t ignore. So, armed with my trusty Fujifilm X-Pro1 (and to be fair: 3 companions!) I set off to explore.
These streets pre-date cars, very narrow, very close. Whatever light you observed before you entered, forget about it! The light here changes meter by meter! These properties are OLD. The stone work weathered, the colours faded. I’m already in love with this location!
There’s a ‘wabi’ delight about Porto in general, it’s not about living in the glory of the past, it’s not about dreaming of the future – it’s about now – this is what it is. I love this feeling that I perceive here.
Even though this was actually taken during the daylight, the high, narrow buildings force darkness down on to street level.
This location looks a little shabby, dilapidated even… But this hasn’t stopped someone from opening a restaurant; this hasn’t stopped them from modifying the table/chairs to work with the gradient. This is what it is, and it’s not trying to be anything different. I like that when I see it in humanity.
Something I personally really like in this scene, is the standard ice cream selection card they send to all the retailers, but Walls (or Ola as they brand themselves here) have truly no clue where it will hang, their marketing probably expects it in some pristine, beach front real-estate location, to draw in golden haired children, their parents Mercedes keys jangling as they reach into their bag to get the money for the ice cream treat, yet here we see the complete contrast to that world.
This is one of the most famous views in Porto! Type ‘Porto’ into Google Images and a derivative of this scene will be amongst the top images. I wonder how many tourists actually venture down the hill into those streets…?
Most things that end up in our mouths are placed there for pleasure. A snack, a cake, a fine meal, a cigarette (smoking is still pretty popular in some parts of Europe!) When we take a moment to indulge, we can take a moment to reflect, a few personal minutes to enjoy and be peaceful.
With little space, there’s only one place to dry your clothes! We see time and time again these faded colours of Porto, the dark browns and mustard yellows! (Plus I have quite a thing about shooting washing lines; I like how they’re both public and intimate at the same time, whilst also showing the timeless activity of drying clothes).
What importance do you place on people, on appearance, on age?
This was my first shot as I entered the streets of Sé. Should we worry if we see young males loitering? Would we worry if they were girl scouts or Nuns?
Should we worry at all? Should we listen to advice given to us about where to go, where not to go?
Well yes – clearly.
But bad things can (& do) happen anywhere, if we take care, ideally don’t travel to dangerous places alone – ideally take someone who’s local with you, keep our eyes open and our wits about us, then there’s no reason not to explore the places that you get warned about!
Like most things; trust your instincts, pick a good time of day (so perhaps not 11pm on a Saturday night), take extra care, if possible hide your camera under your jacket or in your bag until you feel comfortable to take it out and try and make sure the photographs are worth it.
That advice given, I do have to say that apart from a few dodgy looking teenagers (not photographed!), the district of Sé offered us no problems at all and the people I did meet there were open and friendly as I frequently find in Portugal.
It is activities like this where I really feel that the Fuji X cameras perform well. I might have a personal preference for the X-Pro series, but any of the Fuji cameras share the same key characteristics. They really are quite small and discrete, it’s easy to tuck them away until you feel that it’s safe to start shooting. The lenses (especially the 3 original primes that I favour) are also small and don’t draw attention. The APS-C format can offer slightly more forgiving DOF for reportage work, whist still retaining decent ISO performance for changing environments, like I’ve presented here.
Stay safe and keep shooting!