Walk around the Mouraria area of Lisbon, one of the city’s oldest parts, and you might discover a series of portraits printed onto the ancient walls.
This is the work of Brit-born photographer Camilla Watson.
Named ‘A Tribute’, the wall-based artwork is a series of portraits of the elderly members of the community, which weaves its way physically and metaphorically through the neighbourhood.
“When I began this project, the old part of Lisbon had not been renovated for at least 200 years,” says Watson. “The walls were full of holes and cracks – and the area had a high density of elderly so for me the old people were ageing together with the old buildings. They were one and the same. So I imagined their faces as part of walls in the streets. And I set myself the challenge of printing them onto the walls themselves.
The 50-year-old artist learnt to print on surfaces like concrete, wood and stone in ways that allow her art to exist undamaged through the sun and rain, while incorporating the stories of locals and their connection to the physical space around them.
“I have always worked in collaborative projects with communities,” says Watson. “And it had always frustrated me that when I had exhibits they were in a ‘gallery’ and so far away in spirit from the communities and people who were the subjects. I wanted the community – the elderly to be part of the project and to exhibit in a place that was part of their everyday lives. So that they could enjoy it too.”
Watson first started out in the business as a 25-year-old theatre photography apprentice in London, where she eventually worked on documenting community projects. By 2000, she had moved to Brazil, teaching pinhole photography techniques to young people in the favelas of Sao Paolo – photographs that appear in her Lisbon installations.
It was while working for UNICEF in Sao Tome & Principe, that she passed through Lisbon, deciding to set up her photography work there permanently.
Watson has just completed a new project, which is a display of 100 tiles of a community in Lisbon, featuring a mixture of images from the beginning of the 1900s until today. Next up, she is focusing on the fishermen of Azores, on the isle of Pico, where photographs will be printed onto stone and mounted outdoors together with their stories.
Click through our gallery above to see Camilla Watson’s ‘A Tribute’.