Marcelo Greco, Sombras Secas

JTF (just the facts): Published by Schoeler Editions in 2015 (here). Softcover, 84 pages, with 43 black and white photographs. Edition of 1000 copies. Includes texts by Diógenes Moura. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: In translation from Portuguese, “Sombras Secas”, the title of Brazilian photographer Marcelo Greco’s newest photobook, means “dry shadows”. These evocative words hint at the photographer’s darker and more unconventional look at city life in São Paulo, a moody and melancholy black and white portrait which is several steps away from the more common image of a sunny and colorful Brazil full of carnival dancers. Lingering in the depths of grainy mists and blurry indistinctness, his pictures reflect the metropolis’ ghost soul and its seething waves of unsettled energy.

Starting with the first turn of the page, it’s clear that Greco isn’t interested in documenting well known architectural landmarks, fast growing skyscrapers, or recognizable corners of the city – this is an atmospheric impression, not a factual retelling. There is no explicit indication that we are in São Paulo or even in Brazil. Greco’s photographs are centered on elusive, transitory moments, where visceral fragments of urban existence are given a personal connection. Hiding more than they reveal, they immerse the viewer in the photographer’s unconscious world of senses and fantasies.

The photographs in this book don’t follow any obvious narrative. Light leaks, double reflections, and heavy shadows dominate Greco’s representation of São Paulo, and most of the photographs escape any clear description or interpretation, creating a haunting eerie atmosphere that is often veiled and clouded. We start with a blurry, almost faded reflection of a man, maybe shot through window glass – the dynamism of the city, with its buildings and fast moving cars in the background, permeates and overwhelms the ephemeral human presence. As we progress through the book, we can almost feel the absorbing power and hidden danger that lies beneath the surface. Greco repeatedly finds unusual angles and often plays with asymmetrical compositions, mixing the layers of the urban environment. Fragments of residential buildings are overlaid with shadows, reflections, and nets of wires, producing an unexpected collage of visual elements.

As the fleeting shards of the city change one after another one, we encounter abandoned buildings, blurry silhouettes on a bus, lonely trees, a close up of cars. There are almost no people in the photographs, and the few indistinct figures that do appear here and there seem more absent than present. Were they swallowed by the city? One of the last images in the book captures a dark profile of a man on top of a flight of stairs, with a building on his right; his body looks slightly slumped and tired but it also dominates the surroundings, as if he is exhausted after a long walk around the city, yet has reached his destination. Can this mysterious figure be a projection of Marcelo Greco himself, and his tenuous push and pull relationship with São Paulo?

Construction-wise, Sombras Secas is a softcover book hosted inside an envelope and the process of taking it out creates a feeling of peeling back a layer or making a discovery. A black cotton strip on the spine is an elegant design element, and the black paper that is employed throughout consistently darkens the mood – the book has a lot of black space, as the photographs are either placed on the right side only or allowed to cover the full spread. The image flow creates a rhythm of interruptions and reverberations, as shadows, mists, and reflections dance from image to image, the form of the design working well with the content.

While the photographic flaneur wandering the streets of his or her home city looking for its overlooked essence isn’t a new idea, Greco’s walk around São Paulo buzzes with a pulsating energy not typically found in nostalgic looking. While he shows us very little of specificity in these pictures, his impressions are surprisingly intense and visceral, offering a vision that is both sensual and elusive, pitch-dark and actively searching.

Collector’s POV: Marcelo Greco does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above).

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