The city from within: a conversation with Kitty Paranaguá

by Julia Lima

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

When Rio celebrated its 450th anniversary, artist Kitty Paranaguá wanted to make a project based on the Rio de Janeiro landscape, the context that moves and guides much of her authorial work. Working in the field of architectural photography for many years, Kitty has always been interested in the idea and concept of the Brazilian house and, in 2015, she combined this fascination with the desire to talk about the city's landscape.

At the beginning, I was researching the port quay region, which was undergoing a profound and complex process of transformation and recovery (and gentrification), which also included the implosion of the perimeter viaduct that crossed the region. Faced with the impossibility of recording the event up close, he went up to the neighboring Morro da Providência, where Dona Jura was going to receive a bunch of journalists in her restaurant. From there, the impressive view from that point made her ask: “Dona Jura, can I come back here with this photo to make a portrait of you?”.

Thus began the series later titled Altitude Fields. The artist's idea came true in a meta-image: she projected a photo of the view from the restaurant inside Dona Jura's house, then photographing the resulting overlap. This way of operating ended up becoming a procedure, repeated in several other houses: “I took that photo to her house and made the first image. I made contact with the hills, I spoke to some people beforehand and then things started to happen, people opening doors for me.”

The whole series is very impactful, composed of intricate scenes, full of layers – both real and metaphorical. But it is also very diverse, reflecting stunning landscapes within spaces covered with clocks, empty, awaiting projection, which serve as workspace and living space, which are uniquely decorated. The process of finding these places to carry out the project is an integral part of the job. “They were really nice meetings, because I arrived at Chapéu Mangueira hill, for example, and I had no contact there, I didn't know how I was going to do it. There was a book fair, I started photographing landscapes and then I went to talk to a woman and told her about the project. She said okay, I could go to her house. She later told me that she always wanted to have her portrait taken. They were organic encounters, of destiny too”.

In other communities where she also had no acquaintances or direct access, Kitty signed up for guided tours that take place for tourists, a carioca recognizing her own city, her own “neighbors”. Surprisingly, people's resistance to being portrayed for an art project was much lower than expected. “Everyone was receptive”, recalls the artist, who maintains a personal relationship with her subjects to this day. All project participants received a copy of the photographs taken in their homes, and also receive a percentage of all sales.

After completion of Altitude Fields, the project became an exhibition, already mounted in Rio de Janeiro and even in China. This year, 2020, it was the turn to bring the work to São Paulo. The geography of the two capitals is very different, which creates yet another layer of reading these images in the São Paulo context. Everyone knows that Rio de Janeiro is configured in the constrained space between the hill and the sea, but the main aspect of this work resides less in the geographic aspects of the city and more in the importance of the house for the people, in the continuous and collaborative relationship between the photographer and photographed, in the unstable separation between the public and the private, in the explosion of meanings when the beach invades the living room.

The exhibition, which has not yet opened to the public due to the crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic, was scheduled to open at the Museu da Casa Brasileira this week. Cultural spaces are closed in São Paulo but, whether we like it or not, it is still essential for us to be close to art. Kitty's photographs are waiting for the day when the public can visit them, find their powerful narratives, talk to their stories, hear the testimonies of their characters. Until then, we stay inside our houses, enjoying the houses on the hill, full of scenery, on our cell phones and computers.

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