Fernanda Preto Stops Time in Quiet Catuçaba

December 5, 2012

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Fernanda Preto

The spaces of Catuçaba, shot with Preto's iPhone. She switched between her Canon 5D Mark II and iPhone 3Gs to document different subjects and series.

São Paulo-based photographer Fernanda Preto has always identified with her culture through her art. Born in Cianorte and raised in Campo Grande, the roots of each Brazilian citiy she has resided in are reflected in her imagery and are an integral part of the way she creates. Preto is used to the high-energy, fast-paced way of city life, but when she took on an artist residency in the quiet town of Catuçaba, she formed a relationship with the culture and residents that initiated a subtle and beautiful portfolio of work.

Preto was working on a travel assignment for National Geographic Traveler in 2010 when she visited the village of Picinguaba to photograph a boutique hotel. When she returned to São Paulo she received a call from the owner of the hotel asking her if she’d like to contribute her time and work to a new project he was working on. He was opening a new hotel located on historic Fazenda Catuçaba, a coffee farmland in a coastal mountain range. The hotel would celebrate the “luxury of simplicity,” with the true fazenda, or farm, lifestyle, tying in the identity of Catuçaba and surrounding nature. The countryside hotel included a farmhouse where the owner wished to house artists, and had already lined up residencies from photographer Joseph Keller, photographer Joern Blohm and sculptor Pasha Radetzki. Preto agreed and brought her husband, filmmaker Bruno Jorge, to work with her.

Preto and Jorge visited Catuçaba nine times over the course of the spring and summer for five days each to photograph and film. Preto produced four series in four different formats as well as a 33-minute film with her husband that they called a “fairytale documentary.”

Catuçaba series.

The “fairytale” nature of the town lay in its history and culture. Catuçaba, once a stop on the way to the Minas Gerais region during the Gold Rush era, is now called the “end of the road,” an old road that once led to Cunha and Paraty. Its culture was shaped by its position as the leader of world coffee production in the 19th century, and the influx of European immigrants in the 20th century, yet it still remains a remote community of 800 residents, disconnected from much of the outside world.

Retratos de Rua series (Street Portrait series).

“In Catuçaba, people live in another time,” Preto says. “In São Paulo, we live our lives at a very fast pace. I always wondered what it would be like to slow down. This project was like a stop in time.” She says time in the village passes so slowly that residents often say nothing interesting happens there and that there are no stories to tell. 

The isolation is so strong that outsiders are not easily welcomed to their customs and way of life. In their documentary, a woman from Catuçaba comments, “When somebody shows up, we want to know. But there’s a certain fear.” Gaining the level of access and trust that Preto and Jorge did was their biggest challenge. “They are very quiet about their lives,” Preto says. “It is a peculiar culture in terms of sharing feelings, even with each other.”

Preto’s only goal was to immerse herself in the Catuçaba way of life. “The idea was to be a part of this calm way to live, of this silent culture,” she says. She photographed folklore parties and home interiors, and set up a street studio for still and motion portraits. In one of her series “Objetos de Fazenda,” she abandoned her loose style for carefully crafted still lifes. Preto shot with her Canon 5D Mark II and shot an iPhone series as well, taking in the atmosphere in sketch-like imagery that piece together the village one detail at a time.

Objetos de Fazenda series.

Preto’s body of work from Catuçaba is on permanent exhibition in the Catuçaba boutique hotel and in Picinguaba boutique hotel.  She also returned to the village to hold an exhibition for the residents, saying “It was such a great thing to do, to return the art work to the people that participated.” Preto will continue to exhibit her images from the quiet town, telling the story of a place with no stories to tell.

Fore more of Fernanda Preto’s work, visit her Web site.