Read Time 7 minutes
Songs of love & loss
Angolan photographer Francis Augusto has just come to the end of a multi-faceted artistic project made possible by funding from the Arts Council, which explores the complexities of human emotion in the context of interpersonal relationships.
Alongside various development workshops and a mentorship opportunity for a young person, the project Songs of Love and Loss has seen Augusto turn his lens to the intimate details of a relationship––the tiny gestures of adoration or expressions of isolation––culminating in an exhibition at Four Corners in East London.
Here, Augusto tells us more about making it happen.
This project was made possible through Arts Council funding – what was it about these themes that you think made your proposal successful?
It wasn’t solely the themes that made it happen, really. Truthfully, it was the presence of multiple facets of inclusion and experiences crafted for the project. There was a shadowing opportunity for a young individual, a workshop specifically aimed at guiding young people through project creation, and an interactive exhibition to culminate the project. Alongside the artworks, these activations left ACE with little choice but to award the grant. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe!
The project aims to empower young people to navigate love and relationships in the modern age, what do you think the challenges are to relationships in the 21st century?
Navigating relationships in today’s world presents a host of challenges. The digital age offers numerous communication avenues, making it challenging to discern genuine bonds amidst the constant buzz. While our devices facilitate global connections, they often overshadow personal interactions, making it hard to prioritise real human contact.
Adding to this complexity is social media, which paints an idealised picture and breeds comparison, leading to insecurities that undermine trust. Gender roles are shifting, blurring traditional expectations—a beautiful evolution for some while daunting for others. Where you stand amidst these changes is your call. Meanwhile, careers, though promising, demand substantial time, making achieving work-life balance an increasingly daunting task.
Dating apps epitomise these modern relationship challenges, blending accessibility with an overwhelming array of choices. The paradox of choice arises, offering countless options while instilling a fear of impermanence. At a mere swipe, one might choose what seems like a ‘better’ match, accentuating the fleeting nature of connections and leaving us questioning our value in a swipe-driven culture. These platforms expand our dating pool but also foster a disposable mentality, making commitment seem transient and the pursuit of the perfect match an endless chase.
To navigate these hurdles, it takes a delicate balance of understanding, communication, and adaptability. Cultivating meaningful connections amidst the chaos of the 21st century demands intentional effort and a willingness to navigate through the noise and distractions.
Tell me about the casting process for this series?
The casting process was open, broad, and straightforward. We reached out on Instagram, WhatsApp groups, modelling agencies, and through word of mouth. The aim was to make the series as representative as possible. After receiving the names, we reviewed the casting tapes and selected individuals who best fit the scenario.
Tell me about how you went about naming the images?
This question is my favourite. The answer? Past Lives.
I watched the film three times, and it struck me every single time. The titles for the six hero images are taken from the film, each adding a layer to the story of each image. They’re all quotes, except for one, meant to be spoken to yourself or your partner. ‘Providence’ isn’t a quote but is from the film, serving as another word [in English translation] for the Korean phrase ‘in-yun.’ In-Yun embodies the idea or layers of a meaningful human connection or relationship. I thought it was a perfect fit for this project.
Can you tell us about the types of relationship you were interested in depicting, and how you went about choosing them?
The relationships I chose were secondary to the scenarios in which the audience perceives them. I aimed to create images where whether you’re 67 or 19, you could see yourself reflected. I then considered staying true to the diverse couples I’ve encountered — different ages, ethnicities, sexualities, and genders. Remaining authentic to my friends and the everyday world I observe was essential. When selecting the individuals, casting real couples or individuals who exuded authenticity was crucial. Unintentionally, it resulted in a 50/50 split between genuine and staged couples.
How do you as a photographer maintain a sense of intimacy between the couples you photograph, without interrupting it by your presence with a camera?
Capturing intimacy between couples in photographs involves a delicate balancing of establishing rapport beforehand and then gently guiding rather than interrupting moments. Using long lenses to maintain distance while observing and anticipating genuine interactions helps in capturing candid emotions. Creating a comfortable environment, respecting boundaries, and blending in with a friendly manner are crucial, alongside post-session conversation. It’s about being present without imposing, allowing their natural connection to unfold effortlessly.
Was the series in any way informed by your own experiences?
All my projects are influenced by my own experiences or fascinations. This series was shaped by my previous relationships and the intimate connections I’ve had while being single. My breakup in 2020 hit me hard, as I felt I was almost there. You know, that place you see others in, but it didn’t end well. My ex and I are friends and have talked about it. So, some of the images depict moments I recognise from that relationship, as well as previous connections too.
Ultimately, I reckon I’d struggle to create a strong body of work for personal artwork if I wasn’t somehow invested. I hope that ‘Songs of Love and Loss’ allows people to contemplate their own relationships.