Rubens Fernandes Jr


After ten years away from the visual arts exhibition circuit, the photographer Bob Wolfenson surprises us with two essays – Antifachada and Encadernação dourada –, which, set together, stir up a reflection on our relationship with the city and inspire a nostalgic retrospect, somehow distant, of the photo albums that we forgot in a corner of our memory. In these works, BW shows the capacity and the duty of the artist, able to instigate us by presenting, under a new perspective, a new way of looking at São Paulo and our life, with evidences that arise feelings of discomfort before what it obvious: the exhibition of our complex interiority, in which the identification between memory and aesthetical emotion is called up to recover an experience of life.

This explicit demonstration of how to impress the world with a mysterious inner order, present in the selected photographs, indicates that, despite the chaos resulting from the lack of urban space forward planning and the irresistible improbability of everyday life control, BW finds true essences of purity and harmony in the register of the forms, as if he was trying to (re)organize his wills, to balance his feelings and (re)encounter his history. His images burst out from memory as if they were flashes distant from the contemporary fever of real time, to impose themselves as visual fragments materializing as the restless manifest of the hard human existence.

In such essays, at once so different and so intrinsically connected, one can notice the presence of a conflict ground; of revelations, unfamiliarity and confessions. The photographer chooses to walk upon a razor’s edge that challenges and touches us. And at once, through this in-and-out, he searches for the memory confined in a distant time. These fields of silence allow the observer to get involved in each image as if it were a true adventure that, as in a movie, implies an incredible experimental duration.

Antifachada and Encadernação dourada are authorial aesthetical experiences, in which the absolute space, related into an idealized time, legitimates the nostalgia that the man has of himself; Nostalgia of his own history and of his passage in the garden of ephemeral delights. The almost gloomy light enlightening the city of São Paulo contrasts with the various lights of the daily snapshots; the creative geometry striking the eyes, resulting from the superposition of the different building styles of São Paulo, distinguishes itself from the imperfect composition of moments of intimate and lighting evidences. At last, BW highlights the dissonance between what is excessively technical and the simplicity of an almost unpretentious photograph, creating a possible strategy that reveals a quiet and almost natural passage, the transition from a public space into a space of intimacy.

The monumentality and repetition of the public space contrasting with privacy; the distant and the close; the outer and the inner; the huge and the small; the exclusion and the inclusion; the anonymous and the immediately identifiable. The conflict of ideas, this juxtaposition of concepts is the touchstone of these works, so different and similar. Such possibilities have already been used by other artists who, in some moment of their trajectory, searched for the references of a memory, forgotten and abandoned by the daily accidents and impositions of life; the city and the family as model and reference; model by the proximity and reference as a register of the moments captured to eternity. Images of a happy quick moment, of which existence, in the fullness of the image, the photograph somehow tries to guaranty.

Finally, the essays refer to places as indicators of the passing time. Antifachada shows that the urban landscape is inaccessible to the passer-by, mechanized and fast, who does not look, does not observe, and does not concretize the relationship with the surrounding space and its huge scale. Encadernação dourada focuses on an intimist visual description, perceived in the ambiguity, in the attempt to organize the sequential movements – leisure, freedom, displacement, meetings, memories –, which reveal a sensible plurality of moments of pleasure.

Actually, in these works, BW feels the space, visually treating it as if he were a spectator before the fantastic spectacle of life. He sets up a direct relation between the fact of seeing a landscape and the register of the scene, conscious that such attitude, of momently rareness, and foresees that melancholy and loneliness are expressed as the fact of overcoming individuality. Apparently, there is no poetic in such things, but, when the spectator starts the long journey of visual lecture to understand the ideas as a whole, shown with singularity and skillfulness, one can find some lyricism in these intertwined journeys, which pave the way so that we can lose ourselves in the madness of imagination


This essay deals with the present time, with here and now, to conciliate the references of past and present, mixing them up by playing with identity and relationship. The set of images shows the complex and dynamic space of the contemporary metropolis. Despite the long and wide shots, BW requires an intensified concentration, since the details selected by the spectator will cause the visual and individual satisfaction. As if it was possible to bring the invocation of a distant gestalt of an explosive set, of strange meanings.

Sometimes, at first impression, the photographs seem o monolithic block, without any difference. But, as we look closer, we see that such apparent effect has a fascinating pattern, as it clearly shows the chaos and the formal differences between the buildings. Chaos and pattern dialectally connect themselves to cause a powerful visual effect when we are immersed in the image, trying to clearly see a tragic poetical horizon in its uselessness.

The idea of photographing the city sprung up long ago. But a lengthy lunch at the Bar do Léo followed by a tour through the old downtown, as a Baudelairian flâneur, during an afternoon that irradiated a special light, was necessary so that BW could see the beauty of a city that everybody seems to find ugly. As interesting beauty, new, able to cause a creative process and delineate an idea that was already pulsing, but burst out in a moment of intense perception.

BW’s São Paulo has no horizon, neither sky, nor ground. The lens squeezes the shots, the cropping highlights the rough superficies of the visual texture, and the image feeds itself with the total lack of photographic perspective. Misery and hugeness; possibility and impossibility; grandiloquence and atomicity; public and intimate. All is discerned through hundreds of windows present in the photographs, transforming us, in the apex of “Rear Window”, in amazed voyeurs in this wide ground of unequivocal visual abstraction. At the same time, the inhumanity of such way of living is shown: stacked on top of each other, without setting up links or articulations, thus isolated.

BW radicalized the fictional possibility, transforming the city with intentionally oppressive and suffocating light. The city seems to explode in such claustrophobic space. And the tone of the images also was selected after several attempts to change the color of the image through computer. The primal idea was to show the city as if the air was rarefied, giving the feeling of oppression. An image inhospitable enough to iconize the critical situation of living in São Paulo.

Other important decision for the development of the work was the choice of the wide shot for the photographic blowups, which tried to break out our relationship with photography, through the amazing details that instigate our sensibility. Just as they cause amazement, the photographs show a scale that invades our consciousness and bring an experience which is not allowing us to create neither a feeling of sharing, nor of solidarity. The primal singularity totally alters our perception of space, letting us perplexed when we try to accept our perspective limits for the understanding of the contemporary urban form complexity.

Other differential in BW’s work stays in the fact that we are driven to inaccessible places, thanks to the audacity of trying to see the city through its unexplored places, those of difficult access. From this results the visual impact of such strategy, which presumes that the structure of the urban space can be broken apart by the each time more amazing scale of the city and through the constant abstraction of the understanding of urban processes and social relationships.

As we mindfully observe these photographs, was can verify how the city, randomly built, surprises us. In the innumerous windows of the buildings, we can verify that the inhabitants managed to solve their domestic issues. The clothes-lines, the bicycle, the parabolic antenna, the additions to the homes, the green spaces, the advertising spaces, the different styles, all together live free from the stigmata of an identity, in a dissonant harmony which is typical of São Paulo.

There is no unanimous agreement on what means to live in São Paulo. Paradoxically, in BW’s city, we do not see the terrible traffic jams, we do not discern the different smells, nor do we hear the noises proliferated into space. Only a devastating silence in the image of the cosmopolite city. Despites of the critical vision, the photographs point to a principle of architectural rationality in permanent conflict with the irrationality of the urban space construction. São Paulo seems to transform itself into a space of alienation and claustrophobic loneliness.

By photographing the city from this point of view, BW causes in us an unlimited ecstasy as he shows this perception of drawing born from this perverse logic. Our body, as wandering through the city, is not involved anymore by the streets and references that make him walk around and identify the space. The limits are imposed not only by the terrifying constructive scale, just as through a precise technique. BW creates a perfect essay, realist-minimalist, of the contemporary metropolis in its 450 years. In such flaming declaration to São Paulo, he proves not only the power of the image, but also makes emerge a strange feeling of displacement through which he can find again the beauty of this city, although hidden in the interstices of a paradoxically functional web. Nothing is explicit, as, contrasting with this almost sordid aridity, BW lets crop up the subtlety of his sight, which sees the city with a peculiar atmosphere, of nonachievement and permanent mutation.

Antifachada is a breakthrough essay paying homage to the city of São Paulo and, at once, it reconstructs the desire of seeing again some images living in the imaginary of the kid BW, who, at the beginning of the 1960s, in the district of Bom Retiro, saw the city as a mass of strange objects; cables, transformers, street lamps, high building seen from the bottom up, endless repetition of aligned windows.  He believes that his perception of São Paulo as an oppressive and dominating city, and, at once, beautiful and seductive, arose at that moment, in which he registered everything in his unlimited imagination. Antifachada is a work deeply personal, of sharp perception that captures life in a differentiated flow; now that it has been transformed into this expressive, instigating essay, it does not pretend to investigate the city from the descriptive point of view, even less ideologize the city, but glorify it in its fullness: plural and spectacularized through photography.


The idea of this essay was much more of a photo album of the daily intimacy, a fine piece which would only be seen by friends and family. By publishing it, BW brings to other circuit a more simple production, without the glamour of ordered images, without the pretention of the momentary exaltation. Encadernação dourada offers circumstantial images of a life, through the observation of several moment of a trajectory, portraying the people who were the lighthouses that lightened the different paths the artist pioneered.

The publication of the photographs was developed under the purpose of registering a history, through different kinds of fragments, which show the singularities of a trajectory, and seem to be images belonging to a collective imagination. In our contemporary society, the lack of will and incapacity of the society of willing to remember is something usual. Therefore, these images get an aesthetical and historical dimension, for being collective memories, imagined, dreamt and even lived. The moments BW witnessed, with different intensities, represent the experimental dimension of a photograph, which, with simplicity, aims to transcend the limits to reach the human essence.

The photographs iconize the everyday life spectacle. None of the exaggerations of representation, only the registers of the ephemeral character of the true-life roles, seen by the photographer with dispersive look, yet deeply conscious, as the aim is to learn the visible world directly through the events. The fragments are set up in order to narrate the history of the artist who aimed to see the world through the lens that magnifies the details and widens the perception. BW does not want to occult the passage of time, but he wishes to contribute to the construction of a peculiar memory, which generalizes itself with enough intensity, able to cause the visual pleasure and the hope for an individual discovery.

The unity and incredible coherence of the publication are guaranteed in this work, initially produced without the aim of being glorious. Once the painter Iberê Camargo declared that “the figures that populate my pictures involve themselves into the sadness of the twilight of the days of my childhood”, and we can feel such atmosphere in BW’s photographs, in this series produced during a whole life, and that in the last eight years started to get an articulation, a synthetic reconfiguration able to irradiate the emotion of the true-life experience. This coherent lecture of his visual memories gives intensity to life in its radiant and bright splendor. As for it is very close to a recognizable poetic horizon, it abashes our hurried sight on the Other.

What we can detect in Encadernação dourada is the incredible communicative transparency. There is no technical overcoming. Through portraits produced in the studio and a series of snapshots, BW searched to perceive a visual discourse that understands life as a succession of selective fragments made at any day, when everything seems to emerge from a precarious state, which determines the atmosphere and uncertainness of the lack of conclusiveness. The main characteristic of this work actually stands in the energy found by the photographer, demonstrated by the spontaneous composition as through the intimate and intuitive pounding.

BW demonstrates that, from time to time, despites of the excess of works and the commitments, within the artist sprouts a restlessness from which burst out multiple interests – cinema, music, fashion, comics, among others. In the two essays we can see that live simultaneously the photographic making, excessively technical or not, it does not matter, as what is worth is the vibrating life in each image. For this very reason, we can feel that his speculative experience with the world of images is able to produce these two possibilities: the one of (seeing)(the)(city) and the quiet visual strangeness of the dream of the collective unconsciousness.