Isabel Pinto in focus

Internationally renowned photographer, Isabel Pinto recently moved to Cape shores after a life in Portugal that included working for Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, advertisement campaigns for brands such as Coke and even two successful photography books. Marking her move to Cape Town, the Portuguese Consulate of Cape Town invited her to launch and exhibit her newest photography book, “FAMĺLIA”, a compilation of family moments taken over 20 years and 41 families to complete.

It all comes down to photography being my mode of expression, my mode of communication where words don’t come easily.

Before taking up the camera, I studied Anthropology at the University of Lisbon. I was always attracted to studying human life and relationships. I am however dyslexic so academic study is a bit more difficult for me. Photography allows me to express myself without needing words, you know how they say ‘a picture tells the story of a thousand words’? A career in photography was actually accidental though; I merely followed bands my husband at the time managed and I photographed them for fun. After a while, magazines and newspapers needed photos of the said bands and so I became a ‘photographer’. I have no formal training in photography, but I am a very instinctive, and with experience, I have learned to follow my emotions when framing a photo. It all comes down to photography being my mode of expression, my mode of communication where words don’t come easily.

You can’t judge a good photo with an established set of rules. A good photo carries emotion, makes you feel something even if it’s blurry or composed awkwardly. That’s exactly what scares me of ‘photography’ today. Taking a photo with your phone to show what you had for lunch today, add a filter it suddenly becomes something special? When you are following the trend of masses, where is your individuality? This includes the ‘selfie’ craze over social media. I believe when you express yourself, it needs to mean something; otherwise it’s like talking for hours without actually saying anything. I worry about this, as lines between private and public become increasingly blurred. That’s the technology of today though, and just like Photoshop we need to grow with the new developments and as a photographer, adjust to these trends.

I love doing fashion shoots in a magazine context as you collaborate with the best of creative minds. You don’t realise how the way hair is done could mean the difference between a great shot and an average one and it’s exactly the same with lighting. Magazines like Vogue I particularly enjoy, as even though no one would ever wear the outfits featured, it’s more a sense of beauty than ‘selling a coat’. That would be my dream photo shoot – fashion without the consumerist aspect, but rather carrying a concept and meaning. I feel that generally this is where the trend will be going in future, away from mass-produced, mainstream images.

Success as a photographer I don’t measure in terms of what photos I have taken, for who I work for or how many books I have released. I think of how many projects I still need to do and how many things I want to do. Even then, my three kids will always be the greatest milestones in my life. Today success seems to come so quick, measured by how many Youtube views you receive for doing something shocking. You may have received millions of views by 16, but what happens when you are 30? You should never stop challenging yourself, you need to stay open and more importantly, stay modest.

“FAMĺLIA” was shot over the course of 20 years, and publishing the photos was by mere coincidence. I realised I had a consistency of images revolving around relationships. Anthropologically speaking, “FAMĺLIA” can be seen as a psychological profile of familial relationships. Connectiveness in families attract me; simple moments of kids kissing their parents, moments no one sees. “FAMĺLIA” represents family as a place of belonging through intimacy and sensory gestures. No matter how dysfunctional a family, everyone shares at least one of these moments. This has been one of the critiques of the book, idealising families as always happy. Artistically, it’s much easier to show shouting, tension and drama, but I want to show even with the quickest passing moment, every family has a few seconds of happiness. Naturally, my own family also features in the book, I could never have done a project about ‘family’ and not include them!

I moved to Cape Town about a year ago from Portugal with my family. Even though my two boys and one girl are grown up with the youngest being 15, they all came down with me to our new life in Tamboerskloof. I grew up in Mozambique and had to leave for Portugal when I was 13 because of the war. I have always dreamt of coming back to Africa and launching “FAMĺLIA” here is symbolic for me as I am returning home, to where I belong. If I were to describe “FAMĺLIA” in three words it would be belonging, connection, love. Being back here with my kids, that is also exactly what I am feeling now.

Cape Town – Vancouver