Fernando Lara Coutinho
ITP – Tisch School of Arts
I was at the Museum of Natural History in London the first I was truly amazed by an artwork. It was a photographic exposition called Genesis by the brilliant Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado: a series of photographs portraying our beautiful planet and the places that are still untouched by humankind. There was a certain quality about the prints that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, a facet to the work like I had never seen before. What I could perceive, though, was the perfect blend between artistry and technical execution. The compositions were balanced, the lighting was superb, and the monochromatic prints were beautifully printed and framed. This was his first series of photos using digital cameras – and they were better than ever. He used the advantages of the digital age to aid his photography. Now the prints could be printed bigger, dynamic range of light was improved and the photos were sharper.
At that time, I was studying audio production and music has always been a passion of mine. My undergraduate studies focused on the very intersection between technology and art. I was trying to understand how the tools and digital mechanisms could improve and change the creative process. I went deep into the technical aspects of audio and became very interested in the process of creating a musical record from beginning to end. I would spend long hours in the studio tinkering with equipment. Like Salgado, I was trying to create beautiful artwork using the very best digital tools available.
As an foreigner living in England, I would often travel around Europe. I was overwhelmed by the continent’s rich history, cultural development and visual landscapes; so I decided to document my travels through photographs. Taking pictures has always been a part of my life, but now it became a way of telling stories, a way of interacting with the space and people around me.
It all converged into my thesis: a series of electroacoustic compositions that I wrote for their photographic counterparts and a discourse on the parallels between their visual and sonic characteristics. I wanted to create a metaphorical relationship between two mediums and try to explain it through several scientific fundaments. As always, I was trying to position myself between the qualitative of art and the quantitative of technology.
As I returned home, after several years abroad, I felt like Brazil wasn’t the same. Could it have changed that much in five years? Or was I the one that had changed? Differently from when I was in Europe, photography now became a way to dissect my own culture. Soon I was traveling throughout the country, using my camera to document medical expeditions and volunteer groups as they reached the far corners of Brazil to help the less fortunate. I felt very lucky to witness and participate in the valuable work of various NGO’s, but most of all, I felt for the first time in my creative career, that the work I was producing had more meaning to it.
And then it struck me.
Not differently from Genesis, my work now had social, political and cultural context. I was giving a voice to the people that otherwise would remain silent, and that was the hidden quality of Salgado’s work. I’ve learned that the most significant pieces of art are not only the ones that are inextricably beautiful and executed with technical perfection: they are also the ones that carry cultural and social significance.
Surely I am not the only one that has gone through the self-journey of trying to find meaning and significance in their art. In fact, there’s an entire floor at the Tisch School of Arts full of students trying to create work that is relevant(BREGA). ITP might be the perfect place for someone that wants to use technology to spark conversation and change. For now, my journey in art and technology has been an individualistic one. I can only imagine what will it be like to be surrounded by other active, critical and engaged minds. I would like to be challenged to think outside of my own frame of reference. To create art that otherwise would not be possible by myself. I believe that the collaboration between students with various competences might create something much greater than the sum os its parts. I am eager to expand my knowledge outside of photography and audio, so I can be at forefront of the technologies that will affect our future.