Arnaldo Pappalardo is a unique case in brazilian photography. Having worked as a professional in the field of advertising, he has also revealed himself to be one of the most creative photographers in the country – as is evidenced by this book based on his new exhibition at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. In collection of images presented within, the São Paulo artist combines technique and erudition with the attitude of one who questions the photographic endeavor in a permanent and rare reinvention of his office.

A an architect, graduated from the University of São Paulo in 1979,Pappalardo is concerned with maintaining his way of perceiving different visual possibilities in order to create images with maximum precision and simplicity. He has an extraordinary capacity to isolate the essential characteristics of the motifs he photographes.

At the beginning of the project, the photographers was interested in reviewing his work from his current perspective, distanced and experienced. In the quest for a new and unexpected nexus in his own photography he sought out the common threads that weave together his complex photographic inventory. To embark on this journey, Pappalardo immersed himself in a theme that has accompanied him ever since his first exhibition. At his inaugural show, he already held in esteem a text by the North American painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993). In it, the abstract expressionist defines his art as a record that provokes the relationship “tension beneath calm”. This idea, associated with the influences of several other seminal artists – Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander –, was decisive in his trajectory.

Despite the dialogues with Diebenkorn`s work and several maters of photography, Pappalardo has always surprised us with his authorial freedom, having established from his first images a reading of the visible world centered on the principles of technical precision and aesthetic dissonance. He always revealed his clear intention to destabilize photographic canons and produce images that, in some way, provoke uncertainties.

At the time of his first exhibition, which took place in the Fotogaleria Fotoptica (SP) in 1982, the then critic of the newspaper Jornal da Tarde Moracy de Oliveira declared: “Pappalardo refuses the simple appearance of reality, common to everything. Whether in aggressive cuts or in conventional compositions, this refusal is shown as a contained tension, like a silent reflection, and in his gaze each photograph seems to confer individuality and security”

At this second exhibition, at Museu de Arte de São Paulo (Masp), in 1984, Pappalardo experimented with a different register by focusing on photographs of landscapes. To this end, he traveled along the Brazilian coast having made the decision to explore the strong ektachrome palette and produce images that hark back to the postcards that populate our imaginations. Commenting on the exhibition in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Arlindo Machado: “Pappalardo seeks to deautomate our vision to make it penetrate the forms of things, free of the straitjacket of convention. He frames the motifs in unexpected position, re-cuts them in a disconcerting manner (…) he always aims to render the landscape shorn of spectacle”.

However, it was at the Galeria São Paulo (1988) that Pappalardo sought to formulate new image production procedures that would shred photographic language. He presented a collection of photographs that approached the concepts of assemblage and objets trouvés. Objects found and collected at random on the streets of the city are presented against a neutral background. The monumental registration of society´s garbage took on a new materiality in the artist´s photography, which again provoked and tormented the viewer.

A further step would be taken in the exhibition at the Galeria Millan (SP), in 1994, when Pappalardo revealed his highly experimental nature. With deliberated lucidity, he illustrated how a poetics developed ont the border between photography as a visible extract (the image in itself) and its materiality in space. The photographs presented here occupied the spaces in unusual ways, approaching the idea of an installation.

Two years later, he took part in the Arte/cidade (Art/City) project in São Paulo, with a series in which he imagined an archeology of the future, where shockingly colored objects emerge from tinted soil with the purpose of questioning the dimension of material culture. The incoherence and the affliction of the vision – being faced with objects removed from their expected settings – is makes it possible to comprehend the reason behind the use of such an exuberant technique to express the futility of the object evoked as a memory and document.

The photographer´s second exhibition at the Galeria São Paulo, in 1998 was a turning point in his career. He bravely exhibited seven gigantic images enlarged and printed on canvas, that returned to the idea of the Renaissance artists who developed their works on enormous frescoes. The scale of the photographs displayed through the gallery space created paradoxical sensations for visitors, the feeling of being far away and yet of being up close, the feeling of being inside and the feeling of being outside, at times perceiving the image as part of the environment, at other times feeling part of it. Once again Pappalardo questioned the photographic act by refuting the logic of the process established and by accepting the intrinsic faults – reflections, distortions, small color alterations, among, others -, which appear along the printing process. He decided to embrace these imperfections as resources of the language resulting from the spontaneity of chance. Faced with this inevitability, he celebrates defiance and proclaims that “photography is not exactly what you want it to be, it has its autonomy. Regardless of how constructed an image may be, it will always contain a large helping of chance”.

Commenting on the artist´s journey, even if for a briefly, is a strategy I have used in this text for the purpose of recording his critical and inventive spirit, one that is in a permanent state of restlessness. Ten years after his last recent exhibition, Pappalardo again provokes and breathes life into Brazilian photography. Tensão calma (Calm tension) explores and synthesizes with an even greater vigor than his previous work.


The images specially produced for this exhibition and book, divided into three different genres of photography, provoke our perception of time and space drastically. More so: they subvert the idea of what is photographic by extending the dominating limitations of that which can be the object of actual photography.

In the first series, the artist deliberately explores photography´s visual ambiguity, creating large abstract stains that are simply details, unnoticed by the common eye, of raw material stuck to the asphalt surfaces of São Paulo`s roads. He positions us with them, presenting us with a solemn situation of confrontation and shock. His photographs of the ground were produced using a large format camera, five by seven inches, with a standard high quality, good resolution lens, at a distance of a few centimeters. Before setting up his equipment, he selected the detail to be photographed and positioned the axis of the objective perpendicular to the scene, in such a way as to photograph the image from above, so allowing a view of the entire extent of the plane divided by the framing. The perfect focus produced incredible texture in the image.

The choice of a detail almost invisible to the naked eye creates the illusion that the photography is a record of a distant aerial landscape in which nothing is identifiable. This loss of reference creates an abstract image that stimulates the perception of the spectator, creating confusion, for the color neither defines nor limits this unrecognizable landscape. Color as an essential and descriptive element does not provoke the experience of immediate vision and this disturbs the reading of the image: the orange in tension with the green and the desnsely textured black in dissonance with the irregularity of the outline of the white line.

This record is far from consecrated and easily identified methods of landscape photography and creates distrust. Pappalardo manages to amplify our fascination with the unknown, and these eloquent abstractions bring about a new way of experimenting color, now as an experience of the registration of form. They are poetic abstractions and dramatic records of a tiny fraction of urban space. The imprecision of the stains, the contours, the exaggerated textures, bring a tactile sensation to Pappalardo`s photography; in other words, they create a kind of perceptive materiality

In the contemporary world there is no longer space for the rigor of predictable linearity, for images become empty in front of our eyes. He asserts that the visible is concreted in the borders of that which we believe we know.

In the second series of photographs, Pappalardo provokes the spectator by inverting the axis through which the images are interpreted. From the extreme close-ups of details of asphalt in São Paulo, he moves brusquely to highly vertical records of buildings, absorbed in the great voids of the silence of the night. This shift, similar to a cinematographic zooming out, is mimicked by the graphic design of the book itself, which, starting with the cover, highlights the constant duel between horizontal and vertical.

The images transform central urban space into an icon for a phantasmagorical place, one that harks back to the modern metropolies of film noire and expressionist cartoons. A public space of true greatness, Pappalardo`s São Paulo has a strong identity. The nocturnal records of the city center tease the memory of those who recognize it as a genuine space. The photographs, taken with long exposure times, accentuate the verticality of the modern metropolis.

The use of a frontal camera emphasizes the monumentality of the constructions. But, strangely, it tricks us and creates a feeling of being low down. We see those imposing, sober and abandoned buildings as black monoliths sculpted by the dispersed light at night. The expressive power of the photographs of this series is noteworthy, for through their natural setting and atmosphere in them we are able to simultaneously register the immobility and the void. Take the photograph of the building on the corner of Rua Quintino Bocaiúva with Rua José Bonifácio. It is the result of a long exposure, which manages to bring to the negative matrix both the deep black that emanates from the night as well as the volume fleetingly lit by the flashes that light up the space from time to time. The camera is placed above the natural view point (the photographer stood himself on a ladder, two and a half meters up) and, paradoxically, the image produces a bottom up viewing effect reinforced by the technical use of the camera´s rocker, which corrects perspective distortions and makes vertical lines parallel.

The city seems to be inhabited by specters that leave marks of their passage and are perceived precisely on the empty streets that hold the phantasmagorical flow indicative of life. The frontality of the photographic record makes the image more perfect and creates a temporal geometry that takes us back to the past. A kind of urge to produce the image of the present with a sense of nostalgia for what has already been.

Like Atget, he allows himself to get lost in the little know mazes of the old center of São Paulo and creates powerful images in black and white, in which it is possible to note his impeccable technique that reveals the impressiveness of the design and the architecture of a modern city. The visible world presents itself anew, like objets trouvés that, in Arnaldo Pappalardo`s photographic documentation, acquire a halo of transcendence. The series of portraits marks a new perceptual and sensorial direction in Pappalardo`s work. He no longer directs a professional model, compliantly collaborating to create a suspect image aimed at satisfying predetermined ideas, but produces portraits that denote a challenging restlessness. The choice of locations was made by chance and for pleasure of discovery; the subjects portrayed are simple and anonymous. Pappalardo tests his curiosity to the limits of the essential nature of reality, a curiosity that, in fact, is the same that led him to central areas of the city, abandoned by economic power and that resulted in an imagetic chronicle of this sapece.

His approach is reminiscent of the more controversial portraitists such as Diane Arbus, who defended the idea that “photography is a secret about a secret. The more it informs you, the less you know”. In truth, both subject and photographer are fully aware of what they should reveal to the camera and to one another. This complicity is evident in Pappalardo`s portraits, for his characters move through the outskirts of the system and allow for a naturalist record, without interventions, making the images more believable.

For the majority of the portraits we are able to follow the photographer´s skills in using the camera facing the subject of the image. As many know, a frontal view preserves the identity of what is being photographed. Look at the images that start and end this series, of two men leaning on brooms. These portraits give us the exact idea of the circular time proposed.

Equally “circular” is the almost hypnotic relationship between the photographer and the photographed. What kind of complicity exists at the precise moment the portrait is taken? How can we understand the existence of these people, who in revealing themselves hide their secrets and experiences?

Pappalardo succeeds in drawing us in precisely because he takes his portraits in spacious environments that allow relationships to be established. He tries not to arrange the scene; instead he focuses on a direct relationship with his character. When looking through the lens, technically everything is under control, but his subject is uncontrollable. The great mystery of the photographic portrait is the registration of this magical moment, the capturing of its magnetism. Because he leaves this balance intact he thus accepts a more purist posture.

The Japanese lady, for example, reveals a certain tension in front of the camera, but the surroundings allow us to establish formal and semantic relationships that enrich the reading of the photograph. She allowed herself be caught in her small workplace, scattered with religious references, whether Christian stickers on the post to the left, or the sword of St. George that emerges from the weighing scale´s plate. The seat, worn with use, connects with the old hands relaxed on the blue apron. The rigidity of her posture contrasts with the excessive number of different elements in the scene. The apparent calm actually expresses the tense and ambiguous interplay between her and the photographer.

The history of each character can be inferred from these objects set in their surroundings. Some environments, replete with technological equipment, take us back to the past. In others, windows and mirrors reverberate with a kind of meta language. Each portrait demands a complex reading, for the constituent elements create a narrative crisscrossed with references.

Articulated between themselves, the three series provoke restlessness and unsettle the reader. He proposes an inspiring journey through images in which it is possible to celebrate the city of São Paulo, its inhabitants and overlooked details. In the subtlety of the differences we confirm that the artist is seeking to discuss in his own way, apparently unconnected themes. The series intensifies the unquestionably unique vision of the author, where the precise and sensitive composition is an indication that allows us a stimulating reflection on time and space in contemporary photography.

This work is enveloped by an air of mystery, as beyond the images that remind us of the silence of the different environments, the enigmatic atmosphere allows us to establish a variety of poetic relationships. The confluence of discrete elements – textures, lines, planes, movements, forms – and their effects, present in the photographs, can be interpreted in different ways: that which is ephemeral and transitory in the registration of the portrait and in the passing night; what the detail made gigantic and visible reveals; the opacity, the transparence and the materiality of the actual photograph.

The three series produced for the exhibition and the book Tensão calma denote the purity of the recorded forms, clean composition, subtle matrices of light and shadow. All this seems to lead to a possible purification in the experience of seeing. In counterpart, within this aesthetic, manifested by the beauty of formal and tonal values, there is also the tension created by Pappalardo`s provocative attitude. His photographs are based on an interplay between recurrences whose purpose is to evoke surprise and go beyond the visibly obvious to prove that the everyday eye sees nothing. The calm tension also comes from the relationships between color and black and white, for the images establish relationships at different levels of abstraction and question the concept of reality in contemporary photography. The visible becomes enigmatic. It is up to us to explore the mysteries and enchantments offered by Arnaldo Pappalardo, one who, throughout his coherent trajectory, has always chosen to expand the limits of photographic undertakings and thought.

Rubens Fernandes Junior