On the Run Rafael Lopes

Beginnings

Rafael Lopes was born in Lisbon in 1987, a time when Portugal was facing a great financial turning point. More job opportunities were available in the big cities and people had more money to spend in travel. The 1990s flooded Lisbon with new ideas and artistic concepts that had been commonplace in many of the other European capitals for some time. Unfortunately for him, Rafael's parents could not afford to live in such a place and were forced to move to the suburbs, in the south bank of the Tagus.

The neighborhood where Rafael was raised can be described as a concrete jungle. The new and fresh ideas were but a fleeting mirage heating the other side of the river. This lack of stimulus forced Rafael to look to his gray surroundings in a different way, motivating him to see beauty in ordinary walks of life. Observing people in their environment was one of his favorite hobbies, but that was it, nothing more than a hobby.

One of the first photos Rafael took while visiting Lisbon, age 15

He completed all of high school studies in sciences, achieving grades that allowed him to pursue Veterinary Medicine in Lisbon. Finally, his time to live on the other side of Tagus— a place full of history, museums, concerts, galleries and more— had arrived. It was also the time to have a small, compact camera and continue his hobby.

In reality the city turned out to be even bigger than he expected, with more stimulus he could ever handle. After completing his degree he decided to move to a small town on the countryside and start his career. Landscapes and small hidden villages were now his refuge. After two years, he had the opportunity to participate in his first photographic exhibition. Focusing the shapes and textures of rocks, he created visual stories and brought them back to the capital.

Unannounced to him, life was about to change, on one hand he begun to feel veterinary medicine was too constrictive, with no space for creativity, on the other, Portugal was becoming too small for his ambition, he needed to see the world and to photograph it as it was— or at least, as he wanted it to be. Armed with a backpack and a small digital camera, he begun his European journey and started his street photography portfolio.

Unfortunately, after just four months he was forced to return to Lisbon for the worst of reasons. Illness struck his family, and his mother was gravely ill. After her death he decided to abandon Lisbon, a city full of memories he once again couldn't handle, and accepted the challenge to be a veterinary surgeon in Macau.

On the run

When arriving in Macau one might be easily impressed by the great skyscrapers, the casinos, the expensive cars around every corner and especially by the luxurious lifestyle imposed. That is just a glimpse of the city. The cityscape seems to be familiar to Rafael, it is, after all, the concrete jungle he was brought up with.

As soon he settled down, he started to realize the potential of this small metropolis. Step by step, on his free time, he would photograph life around each building, alley or garden, feeling like a kid once more. He was fascinated by the fact that Chinese society is so family-centered; everywhere there would be a mother, or a grandmother walking with their family. From those great, caged buildings he could hear babies crying, people shouting or the sound of a loud television set - he was returning to his roots while running away from the pain of having lost his family.

(...) beauty is a human concept, life is not beautiful per se, so we need to search for it, mostly, in people.

Rafael found himself photographing a wide range of topics— everything from loneliness, happiness and life inside markets to national events.

On his daily life he travelled by bus, crossing Macau's bridges at least twice a day. He soon started a personal project of shooting the core of the city based on what was happening inside the vehicle. The journey from home to work was a projection of his life and his ambition to be in constant movement, discovering new contrasts, expressions and relationships between humans and geometry. So many cultures sit next to him, facing a new working day or returning from it with tiredness. From the moment people wait for the bus, the overcrowded journey, to the point one drops off, he wanted to document everything with traces reminiscent of poetry. After all, beauty is a human concept, life is not beautiful per se, so we need to search it, mostly, in people.

The journey from home to work was a projection of his life and his ambition to be in constant movement,

Influenced by the fact that his father worked, and still does, as an ironworker, Rafael was always aware that the only reason a city can survive, grow and sustain itself, is thanks to people that are often forgotten. Photographing construction workers, city keepers, such as gardeners and sweepers, is a way to always be true to his roots, but also to build a connection between the present, and the future— the dreams that one should proudly build.

As an agnostic, Rafael could always be distant from all religious topics, making it possible to capture all scenes without judgment or bias. He was always fascinated by the power of any religion to move and influence the masses. Coming to Macau was his first physical encounter with Buddhism and Taoism and, like everyone else, he was overwhelmed by all the ceremonies and rituals. He was especially impressed by the way light always seems to know how to enter a temple.

He was especially impressed by the way light always seems to know how to enter a temple.

After a few months Rafael, started to get familiarized with all the places, the language barrier was still there, but he started to become more confident, approaching his subjects closer. From here, he stepped into a field he had never explored – Portraits. He rarely takes headshots not for lack of appreciation of the style but because the face is the only part of the body that can lie. He believes that in photography the only one that should lie is the artist. The eyes will always be above the nose , which in its turn will be above the mouth forever. There is no freedom to play with geometry. He would rather put his subject interacting with elements in the foreground or background, thus creating create a sense of storytelling.

The eyes will always be above the nose , which in its turn will be above the mouth forever. There is no freedom to play with geometry.

Rafael continues to photograph Macau's streets as if they were new to him. He refuses to adapt to a certain place or any culture because he believes that too much connection and habit will only lock the brain to see and experience things the same way. His main goal is to start printing his work and share with main public a way to see the world as he sees it.

On the Run

Street photography | Rafael Lopes

Selection of photos from 2015 - 2017

Credits:

All rights reserved to the author, Rafael Alexandre Duarte Lopes. Copy edited by Raquel Dias

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