Today I interviewed New York based Brazilian art director Maria Lago, who recently published a beautiful book about Rio de Janeiro: “Where the City Meets the Sea” (editora Língua Geral):
1) How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Originally, I was working on this concept for a branding client, a family run hotel business in Rio. Nereo Zago and I came up with the idea during the branding concept development. We were searching for something that only Rio – as a big city that hosts so many tourists – would have that no other city in the world does. The answer was that Rio is a big metropoly, that lives a beach life – and that intersection draws the “carioca” lifestyle in a very particular way. The encounter and dialogue between city and sea in Rio is authentic and unique. The publisher Língua Geral liked the idea of a concept book.
2) What is the link to buy it in the US?
3) How was the process of editing the images?
I worked side by side with the photographers. With technology we can say we do that, since I was in NYC and they were working from Rio. But Skype saves us all. I invited the photographers I believed would better represent the concept from different points of view and multiple techniques (film photo, iPhone, digital). The idea was to show that richness of the carioca lifestyle through a mix of visual representations that could translate that kind of “Babylon”. I gave them freedom to create and interpret the theme – some really nailed it immediately. The only briefing I gave, besides explaining the concept, was that I was looking for a personal carioca but a non cliché regard.
I organized the photos by mixing them and creating a kind of stroll from city to the sea, and from sea back to the city.
4) How many artists are featured in the book, who are they, and how their interpretations of the city interested you?
There are nine artists, including myself – the most amateur photographer of the group : ) They are all from Rio and have very diverse forms of expression, including different techniques. I also see them as emerging artists who could intepret old traditions with a contemporary vision. I like that all of them lived abroad for a while, and that this experiences changed their point of view. Once you leave and come back, you start noticing details from the city’s landscape and lifestyle that you hadn’t before.
5) As a Brazilian who has spent many years out of your home country (both in Madrid and in New York), how does the eye of an expatriate appeared in the book?
If you are born and bred in this culture, you just take it for granted. You start noticing some of these details are peculiarly ours (cariocas), when we get that distance and new perspective. We get a little nostalgic – but it is nice to feel that and be able to visit from time to time.
6) Rio de Janeiro has inspired many songs, films, artworks and books. Tell us about your love story with the city and how it inspired you.
Rio is a inexhaustibly inspiring city. There is always something new to be found. At the same time, what I value most are the simple rituals that we repeat from generation to generation. Of course everytime something changes in the city, we have to adapt a little, but it always happens in a smooth and elegant way. Cariocas are specially good at washing their feet before leaving the beach or getting in a car. Or at always leaving the house with the right amount of money for a fresh coconut water and a “canga” [beach towel] for a quick swim in the middle of the week.
My insipiration was the urban landscape that surrounded me, specially Flamengo Park. I wanted to show through façades, windows, doors and buiding details how you can feel the sea without framing it as the main character.
7) What was the most challenging part of the process? And the most delightful?
Challenging: finding a way to mix 9 different photographers with a varied visual language in a harmonious way, without making it look like “mixed salad”!
Delightful: exchanging and learning so much from the process of editing and directing the collaborators, seeing how everything fell in place. It was very fulfilling.
8) How did you come up with he title: Where the City Meets the Sea?
The book is about this intersection between city and sea – which happens in Rio in a very particular way. It is a very unique and strong concept that you could not translate to other cities that are by the beach.
9) The book will be launched in NYC this weekend. How would you compare Rio and NYC?
For me it is really complimentary. Rio is great for some days during the Holidays, family, friends. Nature nourishes me and makes me ready to face NYC, my home, where I feel not only free and encouraged to create, but very stimulated. It is great to have the chance to live with this bridge. Rio inspires me in an irrational way, but NYC is where I make things happen.
10) Anything else you would like to share?
I am very very thankful that all collaborators participated with enthusiasm and care. They were all very happy to have the chance to show their work as part of a cliché-free project. I like when my projects touch people, not only who worked on it. I want to keep doing this not only as an art director, but as an editor as well – I am willing to publish all artists (specially Brazilian) that could have interest in this kind of partnership. Telling stories in a special way.