Before the age of 60, Sandra Cattaneo Adorno had never been a photographer. But when her daughter treated her to a photography class to mark her birthday, Cattaneo Adorno found herself fascinated by the medium. And now, this Saturday, a collection of his photographs will be exhibited at Personal Structures – Reflections, a contemporary art exhibition parallel to the Venice Biennale.
“Sandra’s photographs are a dreamy, poetic reverie,” says Gulnara Samoilova, founder of the Women Street Photographers gallery community and exhibition. “His work is soothing and restorative, the perfect balm for life in today’s chaotic world.”
Cattaneo Adorno will present selected works from his two books, Aguas de Ouro (golden waters) and Scarti di Tempo (snippets of time), a pair of collections of his best street photography.
“I think street photography appealed to me because I’m mostly drawn to people,” she says. “Having a camera is an excellent justification for me to approach people from different backgrounds and participate in their experiences. I feel like with street photography, I’m always learning; it always surprises me and, above all, it’s a lot of fun.
Don’t miss this picture
Personal Structures attendees will have the opportunity to see the photo on the cover of Aguas de Ouro, which is the only image in the printed exhibit larger than the original. It occupies a special place in the personal photographic history of Cattaneo Adorno. When she took the shot in 2016, she was just getting to grips with her camera, a Nikon D750, and hadn’t shot much in Rio. However, the image eventually took off and titles such as National Geographic, The New York Times, and the Washington Post all published it.
“The success…gave me confidence in my work and made me realize that my photography had value,” she says. “That day, the weather was very foggy and the sea had a very strong undertow, so swimmers were reluctant to get in the water. Having photographed at sunset, the scene is bathed in warm light which accentuates the haze. People are small figures on the waterfront looking out to sea and only occasionally venturing out onto the waves.
Growing up in Rio de Janeiro when bossa nova captured the world’s imagination and painted images of Brazilian idyll, Cattaneo Adorno achieved this feeling in Aguas de Ouro.
“Saudade is a deep sense of nostalgia very present in Brazilian culture,” she explains of her mid-century inspiration. “I felt it suited this project, which drew on my childhood memories of Rio de Janeiro and Ipanema Beach.”
A focus on the silhouette
Looking through his work, one easily comes to appreciate Cattaneo Adorno’s emphasis on the silhouette. The absence of faces gives her photographs a mysterious quality and, she hopes, depth.
“I am fascinated by silhouettes because of the sense of mystery they evoke in photographs,” she explains. “Not being able to see someone’s features, I believe, allows the person looking at the photos to participate more in the scene, as their imagination is called upon to try and form their own idea of the image.”
She prefers images that leave the viewer guessing. Simple is not in the lingo of his portfolio, which can sometimes be ethereal, inviting the viewer to actively participate in the creation of the world.
“I prefer to create images that are not easily revealed at first glance,” she says. “I believe depicting a scene in this way allows viewers to make sense of the images for themselves, based on their own personal experiences and other images they may have stored in their memory.”
Although she learned photography later in life, Cattaneo Adorno proves that it’s never too late to try something new. She loves the challenge of bringing order to the chaos of the streets and sharing the beauty she discovers along the way.
“I get a real buzz from the moment it all comes together in one photo and I feel like I could frame some of the beauty and poetry of the scene and share it with other people.”
Art lovers are invited to gather at Personal Structures to see striking works, including that of Cattaneo Adorno. The show runs from April 23 to November 27, 2022. A preview of the exhibition is available here.