What does an Italian photographer see in Cabrinha?


This is a special article. Michele Spatari, an Italian apprentice of architecture, as passed as a storm at Quinta do Cabrinha. He was in Lisbon, until the end of June, collaborating with Colectivo Warehouse and found it made sense to come to Quinta do Cabrinha and photograph its people.

His words are always going to be better than hours to find out the how and why of this happening.

We offer you the interview and some of the pictures he left us with.


Hi, Michele. Can you please introduce yourself?

Ciao! My name is Michele Spatari and I am an Italian architecture graduate trying to find his path into photojournalism, documentary photography and the news media in general. I know, it is an arduous path.

I was born in a middle-sized city in northern Italy called Bologna in 1991 and I was lucky enough to have the chance to live these last years in some great places like Lisbon, Beirut and Bordeaux. I have done a little bit different degree thesis that changed some of my perspectives: the subject was the role of public and collective spaces in divided post-conflict cities, with a comparative work between Nicosia, Mostar, Belfast and a major focus on Beirut, and that is the reason I ended up in Lebanon.

My photography work is concentrated on the study of bodies and space: how politics, religions and social rituals affect and shape contemporary cities and urban societies. In the midst of my confused thoughts, I am planning two long term projects, one on the relationship between urban forms and violence, architecture and terror, design and security and a second one on the struggle of a decent personal accommodation as a parallel archetype of the concept of home.

For the next year or so I’m planning to settle down a little bit and pursue a proper education on the before mentioned topics, so wish me good luck!

Tell us about your journey into photography. How does that relate to your architecture background and in what way does it relate to the work you’ve been doing?

At some point of my architecture education, I started losing interest in the design process to find myself more and more attracted to the part related to research and investigation. My stay in Beirut and the subject of my thesis helped me realize my unconscious willing of completely switch to that side of the practice: what I am committed to is to analyse and dig in a main narrative to find cracks and holes, from those cracks and holes, build a counter story enlightening issues and struggles related to the consequences of politics and power. At the cost of appearing naïve, exposing problems and conflicts of our society it is what I care most.

In this contest, photography is an incredibly powerful tool. There is a very needed discussion on the objectivity of the photographic medium, especially nowadays that photojournalism and the whole media industry is facing various and severe crisis, but this is not the time to discuss it. Nerveless I am fully aware of the personal angle of a picture, and that’s why I am trying to learn and employ various media such as video and audio, mapping, archives research: photography can not describe everything and to integrate it the architecture years learned me some quite useful tools.


What are the main concerns you have as a photographer? What do you search for with your photographs?

The first and most important concern is not to misrepresent the subject, this is mandatory in any circumstance.

Since I am a very overthinking person I am currently overwhelmed with concerns, but I guess it is a healthy thing in the long run. Most of these concerns are related to my condition of white privileged European guy: from that condition, I try my best to avoid sexism, racism and orientalism in my narrative. I recently had a small but enlightening conversation with documentary photographer Clary Estes that helped me rethink my privileged state: she pointed me to Eula Biss, that puts this issue «in a very healthy way», citing Clary. Estes and Biss helped me shift my thoughts from a negative to a positive perspective changing the point of view: think about my privilege not as a guilt but as a debt to society and work hard to pay it back.

I am deeply attracted to chaos, violence, conflicts, protests, dichotomies, informalities. These are the topics I wish to investigate through photography. I do not yet consider myself a photographer, surely not a photojournalist or a documentary photographer, but I am deeply committed to “earn my stripes” with hard work, time and experience.


How did you come to work at Quinta do Cabrinha?

Long story short, I was working for an art and architecture collective called Colectivo Warehouse, I deeply thank every one of their very talented members, since January and I was looking for a way to narrate some of the contradictions I was feeling about Lisbon. I witnessed a city in a fast spiral of transformation: the shiny historic center, the “Erasmus hype”, the rising art scene, the corporations’ fiscal paradise, the touristic “hottest” capital of Europe. There was no way all these changes had not a dark side, so I started asking and questioning people that spent their all life on Lisbon’s steep streets: they enlightened me on the hyper touristification, a gentle term for the devastating gentrification of the city, the skyrocketing rents, the subtle evictions, the emptying of the city center, the endless peripheries. A very different narrative from the one you see in glossy magazines.

I was looking for a story that could embed some of these dichotomies and one day I went with Ruben Teodoro from Warehouse to a meeting with Academia Cidadã in Cabrinha , it was love at first sight: the modernist colourful housing complex and the feeling of a community on the edge of the society quickly attracted my soul, my heart and my mind.


Does the work that you started at Quinta do Cabrinha relates to your previous work in photography?

Indeed, it does. As I said at the opening of this interview I am very interested in the topic of housing: the “house”, the protective shelter, is in architecture the archetype par excellence, declined worldwide since the humankind shifted from a nomad to a stationary condition. I argue that since ever, and still nowadays despite all the technological achievements, the struggle for a decent home is not a less important archetype. In every corner of the world you will find controversy and conflicts on the right to a proper house, and is a theme that intersects with all the “hot” but not new topics we discuss: migration, climate changes, social inequality. It is a dark archetype that went along all human evolution, and we are not getting rid of it anytime soon.

In this contest, Quinta do Cabrinha is a special place and a precious community I had the privilege to witness, even for a small amount of time. All the narrative entrenched since the time of Casal Ventoso created an aura of wilderness around the neighborhood that is very difficult to disperse. The modernist architecture of the social housing is a good metaphor for the community: a brutal physical presence externally embellished with bright colors. From what I learned and understood, Cabrinha represents a group of people that have always lived on the edge of the Portuguese society, with all the pride ant pain associated with that condition: but there, on the limit, on the border, on the margin is where you find unexpected passion, joy and rapture. An overwhelming mix of contradictions and resistance that makes informality so interesting to me and shifts the notion of public, associated with top-down decisions of the ruler, into the notion of shared.


What have you found at Quinta do Cabrinha and how do you see the future of the neighborhood?

I found daily resistance, a very different Lisbon from what you normally are used to seeing, but I will certainly need more time to properly assimilate all the lessons I had subconsciously got from Cabrinha.

On a more personal level, I found new friends despite language issues, my Portuguese is far from being perfect, age difference and the initial suspicious a camera normally bring. At the end, I felt welcomed, and it is the most heart filling sensation anyone who does or wish to do this job can experience: for that and for all the rest I am deeply grateful.

For what my opinion count, I see the future of Cabrinha in the self-organization and cohesion. It is a very arduous path, but despite all obstacles, community self-determination can lead to a stronger position when it is time to deal with the administration and demand for your own rights. I hope the neighborhood will grow, enhance and improve itself without losing its uniqueness. I hope the youth I met and got along with will raise their voices for the community, leading it and improving its living condition, without rip up the bold bonds that are the real strength of Cabrinha.


To Michele, our eternal thank you for the work done here.

Our door will always be open.

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