Júlio de Matos Photography

ARQUITECTURA & CONSTRUÇÃO ( [10/11] / 2008) [back]

Press Clips


Almost all his architecture is ephemeral, as his photography tends to be too. Multidisciplinary in approach, used from an early age to dealing with a plethora of sensorial experiences, he says: "the more diversified our path, the more different we are, the more unique."


I have two visiting cards, one as an architect and another as a photographer. This is how Júlio de Matos reacts when asked about which of the two disciplines dominates his work.

Born in Braga in 1951, the son of high school teachers and grandson of a newspaper editor, the now defunct Vilarealense (founded by his great-grandfather in 1880), Júlio de Matos was immersed from an early age in a mass of sensory experiences that would shape his destiny. From the graphic arts environment experienced in childhood, when his grandfather would take him to see the Vilarealense printing presses, he "invented" audiovisual and from there went on to photography and architecture.

He is led by his senses and attracted to the ephemeral. "My interest in ephemeral architecture comes from a set of experiences when I was very young. At five or six, I was already making films on tracing paper, drawn in Indian ink, which I projected from a shoebox with a plastic lens that came with the detergents of those days. These were my first audiovisual attempts." The combination of photography and audiovisual (he designed, for example, the audiovisuals for the ceremony awarding World Heritage status to the Alto Douro wine growing region) resulted in the thematic pavilions, that allowed him to develop in-depth all the experiences that he has undertaken.

"We are all the result of a set of experiences that we make along the way. The more diversified our path, the more different we are, the more unique. A thematic pavilion is not just thinking up walls. It is a place that provokes sensorial experiences in people and which results from sound knowledge of a series of disciplines that are combined and harmonised, whether they pertain to image, sound, film, heat and cold or those related to the restrictions imposed by spaces – more claustrophobic or more open."

This complexity that he tries to convey in his work does not make him despise the architectural object designed to fulfil a particular purpose. In this respect, he recalls his Alqueva Memorial, inaugurated on the occasion of the International Puente de Alcântara Prize. "We don’t always have to use all the resources we have, like an actor who knows how to raise tears doesn’t always have to use this skill on stage."

But what Júlio de Matos has and makes him special is a clear detachment towards permanence. Almost all his architecture is ephemeral, just like his photography tends to be. He speaks enthusiastically about the project of going back to his experiences with diazo paper while studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology – the prestigious school of photography in the United States that he attended after graduating in Architecture from the Oporto Fine Arts School.

He was familiar with diazo (or ozalid) paper because it was used in newsprint, and also from his time as an architecture student for printing work done on tracing paper. In Rochester he decided he would investigate it, and realised that it had technical characteristics of enormous potential. One Spring, he collected some plants and made some experiments with diazo, using a printing press. "At only 1 ASA, it is very sensitive to ultraviolet light, to the chemicals in leaves, plants, flowers." Recently, he discovered in Papelaria Fernandes, in Oporto, some left-over rolls of this paper. He bought the whole lot "they didn’t want to sell it because they said it was it was in quite a poor condition" – with the intention of "doing something” with it again, this time on a larger scale and with a different non-botanical subject matter. "Its range of blues is something quite extraordinary. Passing a hot iron over it makes it change colour. Its potential is very interesting, with many similarities to cyanotype, although cyanotype has more permanent characteristics. Diazo is more ephemeral. Even kept in a closed box, without light or humidity, the blues will lose their strength. It’s an irreversible process."

After ephemeral architecture, the step to "ephemeral photography" was natural enough and, he guarantees, does not bother him in the least. "There are many ephemeral things. Ballet, for example, is an ephemeral art. It’s not possible to make a physical record of ballet, just the memory of the dancers’ bodies. The relationships between people are ephemeral, a kiss is ephemeral, the most beautiful things are often ephemeral. And dereliction... ruins are beautiful things, dying plants too, time-worn people themselves have an extraordinary beauty. Time is a known quantity."

Having given his heart and soul to both photography and architecture, Júlio de Matos understands these two languages as activities with many layers of reading and with a strong influence on people. But he distinguishes between them and separates them. "When we are inside a space, we somehow sense the solution for a view of the world, a particular form of organisation of a specific person. But photography is not something that follows defined lines, it’s intuitive, it’s like a conversation, a process of discovery. In photography there’s no place for error. There’s a moment in which the image is made, and there’s no second chance. Like in a jazz concert, when there’s a wrong note, there’s nothing you can do about it."

Nevertheless, Júlio de Matos recognises that the reality of architecture "is never very far" from the photographic projects in which he involves himself. He recalls a working trip to Cambodia in 2001, when he photographed Ta Prohm, the forgotten temple that was rediscovered by French missionaries in the 18th Century. "There, it was nature that kept the temple standing: if a tree was cut down, the building would have collapsed because it was actually nature that was holding the construction up. On the other hand, you can witness this extraordinary thing as nature itself seems to recognise the forms of architecture, because it follows certain lines, handrails and other things, without deviating even a centimetre to the left or right, shooting out small arms to support it." The record of this experience is on exhibition at the Convento SanPayo, in Vila Nova de Cerveira, until the end of the year. He recalls, too, a trip that made a deep impression on him to the city of Benares in India, to Manikarnika Ghat, the sacred quayside in Hindu culture, where the faithful aspire to be cremated on their death. "It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It enfolds every layer of time, buildings, the intricacy of the streets...” In another more recent work, "Fading Hutongs" (Hutongs are the traditional streets of Beijing) that, like the Manikarnika Ghat project, resulted in a book, Júlio de Matos reflects on the disappearance of the typical urban structure of the Chinese capital, recognising here what happened in Oporto in the 1970s.

"I remember when I was a student, my friends and I walked the streets of Oporto and saw beautiful dilapidated houses being replaced by buildings covered in mosaic tiles, ugly buildings that these days are all dilapidated, as a result of property speculation."

The concern with cultural impoverishment is transversal in his work. "I heard the other day that in Melaka, because of tourism, mostly Chinese, they’ve taken out the Portuguese floor in the Cathedral and replaced it with tiles. This almost senseless destruction results in impoverishment and leads to hyper-simplification. The multidimensionality of the planet, all this wealth, is being lost on a daily basis. I realised that this reality was happening in the Hutongs and felt a responsibility to portray it."

Photography lending a hand to architecture? "No, and neither is the opposite possible. Photography, like language, is on an equal footing with architecture and other disciplines."

Júlio de Matos is not too keen on architectural photography, "which subordinates the architectural object to an image". He is much more interested in bodies of work. "It’s like saying that a certain cathedral is very interesting, but what one liked most was the right hand door. In photography, there is an image that can be more silent and another that can be noisier, and it makes perfect sense that it is so. But it’s the sequencing of the images that gives you the overall picture."

From all his work to date, Júlio de Matos picks out the thematic pavilion on Alqueva, "for the way in which it involved a series of personal experiences in assembling the structure and in the fact that it was left standing for over a month", and the work on the Manikarnika Ghat, "for the very strong spirituality" of that place in India.

Pedro Ferreira Mendes (Journalist)
October, 2008


  • 1975
    Founded the OCA, Ceramics Workshop at the Árvore Cooperative, in Porto.
  • 1978 / 79
    Participated in the first phase of the Paços de Ferreira Planning project Freamunde, with the Architects Carlos Loureiro and Pàdua Ramos.
  • 1982 / 2008
    Founded Dematos Designers, starting audiovisual, multimedia and graphic design projects.
  • 2000 / 2005
    Projects for the Fashion Forum and Textile Forum at the Modtissimo Trade Fairs, Exponor (Matosinhos) and Porto Customs House, Portugal.
  • 2002
    Alqueva Pavilion, Beja (later in Évora, Monsaràs and Ferreira do Alentejo), Portugal.
  • 2003
    SaborAlentejo Pavilion, Beja, Portugal.
  • 2004
    Thematic Exhibition "The Colour of the Cork-Oak Forest", in Beja, Portugal.
  • 2005
    CIAL, Alqueva Information Centre, a space with multiple characteristics information, sales, leisure. Refurbishment of an existing space. Renovated in 2008, Alqueva, Portugal.
  • 2006
    Thematic Pavilion "Évora – A History with a Future ", Évora, Portugal.
  • 2006
    Study and project for the Exhibition Park for the S. João Festival in Évora, Portugal.
  • 2006
    Exhibition/installation "100 years of EFANOR", Matosinhos, Portugal.
  • 2006 / 2007
    Architectural study for the "Mar da Língua Portuguesa" Museum, planned to be installed in the Museum of Popular Art building, in Belém, Lisbon, Portugal. Developed for the Ministry of Culture, this is a virtual and sensorial museum, with an emphasis on the Discoveries and on the Portuguese language .
  • 2007
    Alqueva Memorial, which incorporates construction elements of the dam. Alqueva, Portugal.
  • 2009
    Bolota Permanent Exhibition Project, Portel, Portugal

© 2009-2017 All Photographs and texts by Júlio de Matos | All rights reserved | © Júlio de Matos, 2009-2017