One of the first photography projects I ever tried shooting was inside a male prison back in my home town, Curitiba. After about a month of visits I showed up one morning and wasn’t allowed in because a rebellion was in full swing, with guns, hostages, the whole thing. It took a while, but things eventually calmed down and the staff felt it was safe for me to go back in. I did, but from then on my time there was filled with fear for my safety, and even for my family’s, the more I heard from the inmates about their influence outside. It was then that I realised I was not willing to face actual deadly risks in the name of a project, no matter how passionate I am about photography.
So it came as no surprise to me when, five years later, two weeks into the Photojournalism MA in London, I asked to be transferred to the Fine Art Photography program. All the stories I heard from different tutors about the risks you must face if you really wanted to be a photojournalist were really not for me, I had made up my mind about that long ago.
Still, I didn’t quite fit in with the Fine Art folks either and spent the rest of the year questioning myself about everything. My tutors were great and incredibly patient with all my crises, even with all the times I cried in their offices. I was tired, overworked, confused and unhealthy. Simply put, I was a mess, and must have been a real pain to be around to be honest. But some people did, the most important one being my flatmate and dear friend who, tired of seeing me all worn out, decided to take me on a goodbye trip before I returned to Brazil at the end of the course. Our first option was Iceland and we called a friend who had been before to ask if there was any way to make it cheap. There wasn’t, but he suggested we all went to his parents’ house in Sweden. We said yes right away and, within half an hour, eight of our friends had booked flights.
A few weeks later, off we went on a sort of transport saga: we walked to the station, took a train to the airport, a plane to Stockholm, a bus to the centre and a couple of cabs to the middle of nowhere late at night, where our friend’s father picked us up on a boat. Their house sits on an island with around 20 other residences and absolutely nothing else, no shops, no nothing, not even mail reaches the place. Each house has their own mailbox back in the continent, and the only way to get from one place to another is by boat in milder temperatures, or by ice mobile (or whatever it’s called) when the water freezes up in winter.
It was late November, and the dark days of London and end of year pressure were already wearing everyone down, so when we arrived to a candlelit table of moose (recently hunted right there on the island by our friend’s father) with fresh apple jam and potatoes from the garden, nice wine, fire in the fireplace and the warmth of parents looking after us, it didn’t even matter they were someone else’s, it was heaven! The next day we all looked exhausted, probably not used to such fresh, crisp air. We had days and nights of great food, amazing hosts, board games, boat rides, walks in the wild fueled by biscuits and mould wine our friend’s mother packed for us and Swedish style sauna sessions: we’d get really really hot in a wooden cabin, then run barefoot on the snow, jump into the cold water in the dark, then back to the sauna and start all over again.
By the time our faces looked healthy again, it was time to leave. Back in London, rainy and miserable, we couldn’t stop talking about how magical Goose Island had been, and how much much much (!) less than magical it was to be back. That Monday, anything and everything would be made worse by the shadow of the weekend niceness, even the poor tuna sandwich from the school’s cafeteria was the saddest I ever tasted.