Near the opening of Paulo Nozolino’s book, Far Cry, a young boy looks from the back of a car into the night that shrouds a Lisbon garage. The child is composed, singular and still as the rough world revolves around him. It is a thread that follows throughout this collection, published by Steidl in collaboration with the Museo de Arte Contemporanea, Oporto. Children recur, and they are fragile, dwarfed by the world they occupy and never far from shadows.
I am reminded of a Robert Frank photograph in which privileged boys are shielded from the city as the photographer searches, against the grain, for his truth. Even in Nozolino’s busier photographs, we often come to rest on an individual who seems to carry the weight of the wider situation; a man is separated from a crowd through heavy printing; children appear isolated as their carers fall outside the dense black frames that comprise this work.
It is as if Nozolino’s world is forever candle-lit. It is a platform of half-light from which his subjects emerge, and they are the universal human subjects: the urgencies of sex, the intimacies of motherhood, the pain of lives and the lack of any kind of civil stability. These moments are elaborated upon by a photographer whose strength is in the creation of concise, emotive sketches that swing between the private and public. Occasionally, still lives sit within the flow of the work, and they do so effortlessly; a peacock is almost lost against a pock-marked Lisbon wall, three single shoes dance in a Vienna shop window, threadbare children’s toys occupy a discarded chair. These are haunting, ink-soaked, melancholic images.
The integration of Nozolino’s family pictures with those which relate a wider sense of Europe (and beyond), is a difficult strategy to master. While the personal photographs appear insular, much of Nozolino’s work has been created around sites of wider conflict. Somebody’s child lies dead in Sarajevo, buildings are pitted and skeletal in Beirut, visitors mill at the entrance to Auschwitz while (a few pages earlier) Nozolino’s father reveals his ageing and scarred torso. In accommodating such diverse material, the sequencing of the book occasionally feels abrupt, and some of the familiar zones and atrocity sites surface, as they so often do in photography. Closing the book, prosaic observations by Rui Nunes pick up on the details and motifs that weave throughout the work with reverence, as if solemnly relating the majesty of a Pieta to a humble audience. It might have appeared overplayed, but a wonderful picture of children sleeping under sackcloth, as still as stone, convinces me of the photographer’s strength to mark what is truly of worth.