The History of Photography – more than any other art − is a work in progress. The very own nature of the medium and its worldwide expansion flooded the planet with an inconceivable amount of photographic images. The offensive started in the studios of the portraitists of the 1840s and 1850s, went through the emergence of photography as an art and it was completed with the democratization of the process. Photography has always been business, art and leisure. Even in nowadays, forgotten specimens can still be found in wooden boxes, dusty attics or underground stores of old commercial studios. (Recently, a bag has been found that maybe will fill some holes in both Robert Capa’s biography and the History of the Spanish Civil War.)
Vernacular photography − the new hype in photo collecting − is the accumulated result of Photography’s increasing popularity amongst 20th century middle-class families, eager of recording every second of their lives, making links with the past and the future; it is also the outcome of passionate amateurs’ activity, directed to common things, everyday life or bucolic landscapes. Although far from being a professional or an exhibition-oriented photographer, Manoel J. Florenço made an extensive set of photos that are hardly classifiable within the vernacular category. In fact, Florenço was born in 1884 and his body of work was mainly produced before the appearance of those small and portable cameras that continued George Eastman’s revolution and provided half the world with the means to keep a record of even the most banal of the activities. The snapshot is the foundation of vernacular photography while Florenço used a large-format camera with 18x24cm sized glass plates. On the other hand, a careful look at his work discloses his enthusiasm for distinct themes, switching from countryside landscapes to portraiture, passing through naval scenes and Lisbon street views, apparently with no strict rules or obsessive attitude. Florenço’s images may lack the formal sophistication of some his contemporary fellow photographers, but they have that distinctive freshness and spontaneity, even naiveté, only found in an amateur’s work.
P4Photography is proud to announce that the first (to the extent of our knowledge) exhibition of Florenço’s photos will be held at the gallery in September 2009, jointly with a series of editions that we hope will raise the public’s interest in the legacy of Manuel J. Florenço.
This text was written for the exhibition Manoel J. Florenço — Out of the Box, held at P4Photography in 2009.