Portuguese artist Virgilio Ferreira deals with the uncanny and intangible. His light-as-a-feather photography weaves in and out of focus, playing with perception and sight. The Catlin Guide-shortlisted artist tells us about his work.

Virgilio Ferreira

You set yourself a pretty tall order by trying to show the intangible in your photographs. Why did you decide to do this?

‘Intangible’ is a synonym of immateriality, used to describe things that are recognized but difficult to quantify and qualify. The evocation or the perception of the inner world that comes to us is intangible, because it is personal. But images can depict these immaterial symptoms, designating them as a “pre-perception”, an impression or a sensation recorded by the artist. My aim is to represent states of being that are intangible in this world, which we see as a transient and uncertain place.

What’s the main stimulus behind your collection?

In my point of view, feelings and perceptions are developing into a more fluid, less concrete state, made of blurred realities. It seems that there is a growing sense of doubt about how to live in this era of uncertainty.

You take photos of people on the street, then alter the final images to get your signature blur. How do you find your subjects?

What I’m trying to depict is not only the human presence, but inscriptions (on people’s faces or bodies) that may have an immaterial quality, while symptomatic enough and able to reveal or suggest something. I’m not photographing the individuals in action but the diffuse impressions of their inner world. These images aren’t portraits but images of people with themselves in their own unguarded moments.

Virgilio Ferreira

What do you think the lack of focus in your images bring to the atmosphere of the photograph?

I’m doing experiments with focus in order to explore the immateriality of light, appearances and disappearances, as well as liquid colours. The use of blur intends to simulate the representativity of the invisible – it creates an interplay between what is visible and what can not be shown.

Why did you choose to shoot in black and white in your ‘Blurred Times’collection?

My concern is that the viewer focuses their attention on emotional aspects of the figure and in the subtle transition of the matter to light. Therefore I explore the soft tonal contrast of the grey. In this case, colours could be a distraction for the eye.

You tend to choose a city as the basis of each collection. Which has been your favourite location?

I don’t have a specific favourite. Usually in my work I intent to explore ideas and perceptions that reflect what I feel in a specific time and space. I like to shoot in cities, because of the possibility that these environments offer me in terms of diversity and multiplicity of encounters.

Who has been your favourite subject and what was their story?

People fascinate me and what emanates from them, such as behaviours, emotional expressions and gestures, cultural codes and the spiritual quality of being. There are people that attract me and make me stop, regardless of photographing these individuals or not. In general I spend a lot of time watching the other and myself.

Virgilio Ferreira

Virgilio Ferreira

Virgilio Ferreira

The Catlin Guide 2013: New Artists in the UK is out now. virgilioferreira.com
Words: Zing Tsjeng