Júlio de Matos Photography

MAGAZINE ARTES (11 / 2003) [back]

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MAGAZINE ARTES article

DEATH BY THE GATE TO PARADISE

The days, the days and death. Death as a companion of all hours, all moments all places. Never before has man breathed in so closely the omnipresent tang of death. Despite this, despite the wait, despite knowing its presence, understanding it and even sometimes eluding it, we never accept it, we are never prepared for its terrible arrival, for the ochre flavour of its manifestation, for his coming. Its black breath is eternal, we know the outline of its certainty on the background, but here, in the West, we are never prepared for the blackness, for the farewell.

It is different in the East. There, it assumes the philosophical ancestry of Man that, as the lucid poet said: “to be alive is to be dead”, so both concepts are part of existence like birth, and so with a disarming naturalness, are accepted. There, death is a given as natural as birth and life, so death and its rituals are even prepared, like one who would prepare to welcome the long-announced arrival of a distant relative, like the old man who, all time and wrinkles, all years and knowledge, intimately accepts the stripping of the body and the departure of the soul.

There is a silence in this acceptance. It is a difficult silence for a Westerner to understand, who unceasingly suffuses the pain and suffering of death with the cry of the body and the forces of incomprehension. This silence, appeased, intensely whitewashed, though deep and heartfelt, is the silence that the camera of Júlio de Matos caught in innumerable images that can be contemplated with the astonishment, the admiration and also the shock of someone who is confronted by something that is strange and distant to us, whether in the exhibition at the Portuguese Photography Centre or in the beautiful book published by the new publisher Dematos Designers.

The powerful, surprising, poetic, beautiful images reflect the way that in India, particularly in Benares, in Manikarnika Ghat, Man, Hindu culture, faces death as the ultimate, serene manifestation of a long-awaited karma. It was in the cremation places of Manikarnika Ghat, by the waters of the sacred, purifying, primeval and eternal Ganges, that Júlio de Matos was to encounter men ready to step across the door to the Universe. They are images, photographs, “fissures” of an immense fabric of emotions collected day-by-day of those awaiting death, awaiting the fire, the pyres, the cremation, death, absence, to send them floating up and thus continue with us, remain, present-absent in the air that we breathe. That Gate, that the photographer astutely and pertinently called the "Gate to Paradise", is, simultaneously, the title of the exhibition and the book that will provide long-lasting pleasure.

T.R.
November, 2003


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