The Berlin based photographer portrays actors in his series who are dedicated to the Santomean folk theater art Tchiloli. His pictures from São Tomé and Príncipe vividly narrate the historical processing and entertainment, as well as a deep connection of the people to tradition and heritage.
How did you come up with the project?
It was a combination of intuition and being in the right place at the right time. I was inspired by a drawing by René Tavares in a café in São Tomé. I was fascinated and immediately envisioned creating a portrait series of Tchiloli actors. The opportunity presented itself unexpectedly when I couldn't leave due to a military coup in neighboring Gabon. So, I started researching, asking around, making phone calls, and reading about Tchiloli. I eventually managed to organize an exclusive performance at short notice – what luck I had!
What exactly is behind Tchiloli?
Tchiloli is an artistic expression, a theater tradition that has existed for centuries on the island of São Tomé. It is a reenactment of the Portuguese play "Charlemagne and the Marquis of Mantua" from the 16th century. The story revolves around Don Carloto, the son and heir of Emperor Charlemagne, who murders his best friend Valdovinos, the nephew of the Marquis of Mantua, during a hunting trip. Tchiloli combines drama, dance, and music, symbolizing the synthesis of African and European traditions and illustrating the coexistence of two different cultures. Tchiloli actors, mostly men, wear frock coats with colorful ribbons, sequins, tricorn hats, masks, and white gloves – all carefully handmade.
Your shots depict portraits of the actors. How did they react to the camera?
The portrait series was taken before the performance. The actors were informed in advance that I would be there, so the camera didn't surprise them. The M6, equipped with a 35mm lens, usually appears harmless. It doesn't intimidate; it is quiet both when taking a shot and in design. Looking back, I can only say that I didn't notice any extraordinary reactions. I approached my protagonists – as always and wherever – with respect and clear communication.
Were there challenges for you in taking the photographs?
The biggest challenge was having only one film. My time in São Tomé had actually expired, and I had carefully calculated the number of film rolls. However, I found one last film in my bag. And with the M6 for portrait shots, you can always rely on it. It is fast and compact, its construction and feel in hand – a perfect combination of ingenuity and tactile experience. When I look through the viewfinder, focus, and release the shutter, everything else around me seems not to exist.
What did you want to convey with your images?
Everything happened so quickly that I hardly had time to think. I just wanted to share my perspective; I followed a feeling, an intuition. I had to capture it.
You set the portraits against a white background, a sheet...
I wanted to create static, "simple" photos – without a tripod, but also not in motion. The white sheet served as neutrality to "ideally" expose the colors and achieve uniformity. I knew that I wanted little depth of field and also little green (palm trees) and little silver (corrugated iron fence). I consciously decided against strong depth perception because I wanted to achieve an effect only through the subject and not through a blurry area. However, I wanted to provide a hint of where the photos were taken.
What fascinates you about analog photography?
It remains a craft. I am fascinated by its decelerating effect, the ability to slow down space and time, and the capacity to largely make a photo oneself – "not taking a photograph but making it." In analog photography, there is room for potential "mistakes" or "beautiful accidents," which gives me goosebumps. I am captivated by the tension and the limitation to a specific number of results. The process constantly challenges me in every aspect.
Your series also tells a story about tradition and heritage; to what extent is it important for you as a photographer to preserve them?
Tradition and heritage are significant words; for now, I can only preserve my admiration and respect for the people I photograph – wherever in the world. I can only speak of or through my perspective. It's about my experiences with stories unfolding in front of the lens, stories that my works narrate. My goal is not to tell the stories of others – those are their own – but how my perspective influences what I encounter when I travel to different parts of the world, photographing people in their societies and cultures.
The photographer and filmmaker lives and works in Berlin. His photography captures people in spaces that define their daily surroundings, combining portrait and street photography to document social landscapes. Against the backdrop of his master's degree in International Relations, his images transcend borders, primarily traveling to countries affected by the consequences of war, colonialism, or climate change. He has produced campaigns in politics and advertising nationwide in Germany.