Paul Cupido, Amazônia

JTF (just the facts): Published by Alauda Publications in 2019 (here). Sewn paperback with dust jacket, 132 pages, with 70 black and white photographs. Includes essays by Hugo Fernando Salinas Fortes Júnior. In an edition of 750 copies. Design by Esther Krop. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Amazônia is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes a luxury box with a signed book and 2 signed and numbered original prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Bright White paper. In an edition of 50 copies.

Comments/Context: The work of Dutch artist Paul Cupido revolves around the Japanese principle of mu – a philosophical concept that could be translated as “not have; without.” It is a subtle exploration of void, of absence. Cupido says that his work “is about the magic moments of life as well as its inconveniences.” He was born on the small Dutch island of Terschelling, and from childhood, his life was connected to the cycles of nature, and that influence is present in his philosophy and approach to photography. Cupido’s ongoing project Searching for Mu takes him to remote places where the slowness of life reveals itself more fully; his artist book Continuum published in 2019 was inspired by his trip to Japanese islands Ishigaki, Iriomote, and Taketomi. 

In 2018, Cupido participated in an artist residency at LabVerde in Brazil, the “art immersion program in the Amazon.” This unique program provides artists with access to the Amazon rainforest, aiming to nurture ecological thinking and a constructive debate about environmental issues. Cupido embraced exploring the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Amazon, establishing a dialogue with its mystical environment. His new book Amazônia is a poetic and mysterious documentation of this experience. 

Amazônia is a vertically-oriented book; a seemingly abstract black and white image appears on the cover, yet if you look closer, it resolves into a horizontal photo of trees growing along the river superimposed with another layer of reflections on the rippled water. The book is printed using nine different types of paper, reflecting the many textures of the natural world. It also easily lays flat. The photographs themselves are largely black and white, with a satellite image of the Amazon Delta and few associated pictures printed on yellow paper. Overall, the photobook feels deliberately designed to reflect the tactile sensations and fleeting impressions of the rainforest. 

One of the first images in the book shows a woman holding a dry yellowish leaf – it is so big it covers her body – and she stands in the water against a dark background. The color contrast makes the form stand out even more and draws an immediate connection between nature and the human body. The next few photographs are full page studies of various leaves, where we can see all their details and imperfections – dry parts, veins, structure, colors, holes. These are followed by a black and white sequence showing hands moving the fragile skeletons of leaves and their shadows.

Another sequence starts with a simple black and white photograph of a long leaf, and the following eleven photographs watch as two fingers rotate the leaf in a complete circle. Cupido invites us to observe him as he immerses himself in the world of the jungle and actively creates his own personal interchange with it. He says that “in the Amazon you feel part of an unspoken dialogue with nature, which brings you back to a more primary state of being – one of a curious and playful child.” Cupido’s visual narrative intertwines shots of wild dense greenery, misty fogs, images of isolated leaves and their structures, and a parade of less identifiable textures, surfaces, and reflections. A few photographs in the middle of the book capture what looks like the grittiness of soil. Darkly abstract and obscure, these images recall Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu which documents the textures of the walls and ceiling of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Cupido is an active observer of nature’s cycles, and his images revel in the spiritual dynamism of the surrounding ecosystem. 

In a time when environmental issues are an increasingly urgent concern and artists are searching for novel ways to sound the alarm, Cupido’s immersively intimate work is a reminder of what is at stake – the beauty of the natural world, its fragility, and its rich interconnectedness. In the end, Amazônia is a thoughtfully produced and quietly understated book, where its presence as a physical object reinforces its attentive message.

Collector’s POV: Paul Cupido is represented by Kahmann Gallery in Amsterdam (here) and Bildhalle Gallery in Zurich (here). His work has not found its way to the secondary markets with much regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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