Last August I was in Portugal, half on holidays, half working, or if I’m honest I am never truly on holidays as wherever I am I’m always itching to create work. One thing I do a lot when I’m abroad is to take time to go on long walks which is my way to connect with my surroundings as an observer and to take pictures and capture sounds I find on the way.
It was my last day there and I was on my way to meeting a friend at a café, so I took the long way around town, snapping photos as I went. It was morning but the sun was already strong.
I came upon the old fire station and decided to walk down a lower street to the side of it, when I suddenly realized I was in front of the new municipal art gallery. I decided to go in, out of curiosity. Inside, the space was empty as they were between shows, but the gallery director, Paula Dias, who I’ve known for a long time, was there. We had a nice chat about the new gallery and all sorts of other things, until she proposed that I should participate in their next photography exhibition which was mainly by artists born in the region. I’ve never been amiable to the idea of becoming a ‘local’ artist, but I guess I was homesick and this felt a bit like coming back, so I said yes.
I returned two months later with my work to hang on the show and for the opening. In the days prior to the opening Paula allowed me to curate the show with her and organise the display. It was an amazing experience and I felt in my element. Maybe I’ve missed my calling as a curator. Maybe it’s not to late to become one, at least sporadically. But I really enjoyed the selection and organisation of works, creating positive dynamics between them and the space. She did most of the hard work of hanging the pictures and I was amazed with her dedication, most days working till the small hours and back again the next morning.
I was however very apprehensive at the opening. Though it was well organised and had a large attendance, I wasn’t expecting the artists have to do speeches about their work. I panicked. I have a huge fear of public speaking. I made an excuse and I ran away. I’m used to British openings where it’s all about drinking and schmoozing. I was told later on that it’s a standard in Portuguese gallery openings to have speeches. Next time I’ll try to be prepared… Dutch courage or something like that!
I’m proud to be showing in this exhibition. It isn’t exactly the epicentre of the art world but the effort the town has put into creating such an amazing new gallery and the priceless efforts of its director fulfill my expectations of what this town can achieve. Should anyone be in the area the exhibition can be viewed at Quartel Municipal Art Gallery, Abrantes, Portugal, Tuesday to Saturday, 10–12:30 and 2:30 to 7 pm, until 8th January 2016.
All images ©Juno Doran, except image of gallery opening event ©Fernando Baio / Camara Municipal de Abrantes. Town images taken with a Mamiya 7 II and Kodak Portra film.