Júlio de Matos Photography

JORNAL DE NOTÍCIAS (12 / 10 / 2003) [back]

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JORNAL DE NOTÍCIAS article

THE GATES TO PARADISE THROUGH THE EYES OF JÚLIO DE MATOS

Images by the photographer of the Manikarnika Ghat rituals in India, displayed in the Centro Português de Fotografia. The exhibition will be on show until next month.

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Ashes have been smouldering for thousands of years in Benares: there, by the sands of the River Ganges, guarded by man to feed the cremation pyre in one of the most well-known “gates to paradise” - Manikarnika Ghat in India. Júlio de Matos, photographer, architect and founder of the higher education Photography course at Cooperativa Árvore, in Oporto, travelled in April last to the Indian city of Benares. This time, he accompanied and photographed the whole funeral ritual at the most famous “gates to paradise” in India, and is now holding an exhibition in the Centro Português de Fotografia (CPF) in Oporto, which continues until November.

Death, which Western culture conceals and suppresses from everyday life, but also ritualises and dramatises, is the opposite of the departure quay of Manikarnika Ghat. Cremation is transformed into a farewell, a serene departure to another life.

Benares, a thousand-year-old city, which over the last five thousand years has survived storms, floods, invasions and human disruption, has always managed to keep the ashes smouldering, from which the fire can be taken for the cremation, in an act of faith: an eternal fire.

At that point, the Ganges suddenly heads North, leaving the city exposed to the East and prey to the unsettling, inquisitive and intense gaze of Júlio de Matos, who addresses the city from outside in and by layers, “as it should be, since as I was in an alien culture”, as he states.

Júlio de Matos is interested in “in-depth projects” that decipher reality.

Being interested in “in-depth projects” which might help him decipher reality better, from a visual perspective, he plunges deeper and deeper into the atmosphere at Manikarnika Ghat.

First, he addresses the urban atmosphere, with some portraits of its characters, suddenly stopping at the timber merchants. It is they who, through heavy, strenuous labour, saw, carry, weigh and sell the fuel for eternity by the kilo - the fuel that, according to the purchasing power of the deceased’s family, will determine the size of the pyres.

Going a little further down, “sucked in by that vortex of energy”, we draw closer to the funeral procession, but first having visited the homes in which the widows, living only off charity, serenely await death, since for many widowhood is the complete loss of their social status.

There is the “mother river”! We have arrived at the gates to paradise, at the cremation quay. Here the final farewell path starts. The holy rituals begin. Silently and placidly. The nearest onlookers and the actors in this ritual wait peacefully for the embers to light the pyre and for the body to turn into dust, so they can then scatter the ashes on the Ganges.

In a poetic light, drawn in an atmosphere conceived by Júlio de Matos at this departure quay, we recognise the symbolism of the coming together of life and death, at this sacred location for the Hindu religion.

J. Paulo Coutinho (Journalist)
October, 2003


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