BB in conversation with one of our artists, Diogo Duarte, who is continuing his work practice without the benefit of a formal art school education.
How would you describe your work practise?
Whenever I create work I’m interested in making sense of the world and the people around me. I’m really just trying to make sense of how I perceive the world. It’s as though photography is the medium that helps me piece together the puzzle of human experience. More often than not I think exaggeration is probably the adjective that can best describe my work – and myself as a person.
The reason why I exaggerate and use comedy in my work is not so clear to me yet, I’m still trying to work that one out – although I figure that it’s probably because throughout my life I’ve had to exaggerate myself to be noticed and be taken seriously as an individual. Perhaps, that feeling spilled onto my creative expression.
Thematically, I can probably say I’m quite obsessed with all types of pain because pain is hidden. Without pain, I can’t create; I have nothing to say. As a person, I like to ask incisive questions and very rarely take things at face value. Ultimately, that is my goal in my work practice – to encourage questioning and doubt about a subject. Hopefully, my work will encourage someone to listen and try to understand.
How did you get started and how did you learn the skills you have now?
I started playing with ‘photography’ in my teens with some friends in the woods of Sintra, a town on the outskirts of Lisbon where I grew up. I say ‘photography’ because at the time – and to an extent even now – the medium was secondary to what I was doing. I was more interested in skipping class to spend my time wearing personas and performing them to tell a story.
I experimented a lot throughout the years, so I guess I’d have to say that’s how I learnt the skills I have now. I try to stay as humble as possible and I absolutely rely on other people – and Youtube – to advance what I’m doing. It’s really not that unusual for me to hit a wall as an artist and feel that I’ve reached my limitations. But that’s part of the fun, I can’t progress unless I hit walls on a regular basis.
You use yourself in much of your practice; is this critical for your work?
No, not at all. In fact, I only started doing self-portraiture because I couldn’t easily find models that were willing to do what I wanted them to do. I work a full-time job so my schedule is incredibly busy as it is. I do all my creative work in my spare time and I discovered that the best way to work around this is to use myself in my story telling. When I’m using myself, I only have myself to let down, and only have my own expectations to fulfil. If I fail, which I do regularly, it’s ok – I can put the camera down and go do something else without feeling like I’ve let other people down.
Because all of my work is deeply personal I also struggle to work with other people unless I absolutely trust them to know parts of myself I normally keep hidden. For this reason I’ve found that it’s easier to work alone – or with a very limited amount of people who already know me back to front. But I try to keep an open mind about this – I’m trying to become a more honest and open person and I think my latest work is definitely going in this direction. I’m starting to care less about what others think about me.
It must have been a big moment to show your work publicly for the first time. Can you tell us where it was, describe what it was like for you?
The first time I showed work publicly was at Blackall Studios in Shoreditch after I did a short course at the London School of Photography. It was really nerve-wracking because until a few months before, I never thought I’d want to do that. I had never dreamt of being an artist and have my work hanging in a gallery.
Of course, when the day came I already knew this is what I wanted to do, so like anything that truly matters in life – it’s anxiety provoking! There’s always a side of you that wants the world to recognise you’re good at what you’re passionate about.
How has your work developed over time?
I feel that my work develops on the same plane as I develop as a person. One doesn’t exist without the other really. An easier way for me to answer this question is to say that my work has become more honest, more brutal about my version of the truth. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been brave enough to articulate honesty in my work so I would often divert attention by using artifice and extreme exaggeration. Now I find that I tend to create visually simpler work that is still intrinsically complex.
Do you have any artists that have influenced your work?
This is always a question I struggle with! Even though I’m not a musical person you will always find me with my headphones on. Since a little kid I’ve found that music stimulates my creativity and it’s quite usual for me to see images in my mind whenever I listen to music. The Haxon Cloak, which is produced by Bobby Krlic, is my go to music whenever I need to get in the zone and focus my creative mind.
But of course that I also admire some big names in photography that inspire me to execute things I can feel are out of my league. If I’m being really honest here though, what truly influences my work practice is the world around me – which is both corny and true. That, and being told I can’t do something.
Have you ever regretted not having formal art training or considered the possibility of investigating the options?
Absolutely! My first choice when I was coming out of college was to do a film-making degree, but as pressure mounted up to do a ‘real’ job I gave up on the idea and went completely the other way and ended up doing a Psychology and Criminology degree, and pursued a career in that field. It wasn’t until much later on that the art bug came on strong and I started feeling like I couldn’t live without it. By that point it was too late to pursue formal training in art for a variety of reasons so I made the best of it with what I had.
Sometimes I wish I had had the training because I can feel at a disadvantage with my peers, but then I try not to think too much about it. It is what it is, and just I push through by surrounding myself with like minded people with similar interests to mine with whom I can have critical discussions. I might not have had the training, but I truly believe it’s not so relevant to me these days – perhaps it enables me to create art in a different way to those who’ve had the training. Who knows?
In terms of your journey so far what has been your most difficult experience?
I mentioned earlier on about hitting walls with my art. I always find it difficult – and incredibly frustrating – when I want to do something that is outside my skill set. This always involves a lot of trial and error, learning and re-learning. It can be hard but also incredibly rewarding when it works!
What are you working on now?
I’m trying to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m currently working on a couple of new projects inspired by the idea of hidden suffering and how that can sometimes relate to public entertainment. Both have been technically challenging for me as I’ve had to do things I never did before, and I’m producing a video for one of them, so these are exciting times – even if scary! I can’t wait to share these with you when they’re ready!