Field Trip: Documenting the carnival days in Portugal with Nicole Sanchez

Field Trip: Documenting the carnival days in Portugal with Nicole Sanchez

All photos from this sponsored Field Trip are courtesy of Nicole Sanchez


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As a teenager, I would stare at a blank paper when it came to writing. It did not matter what the subject was, poetry, music, geography, art, life--I found it impossible to write. Photographic essays feel like the same struggle. Looking through almost one thousand and five hundred images taken in three days, I looked for various themes and did not settle for one.

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Mainly, this trip focused on documenting traditions still in practiced throughout the Carnival days in various small villages Portugal. Apart from the already commercial and rather mediatic carnival parades, these traditions have descended from the Celtic influence (prior to the Romans) in Portugal.

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Very tightly connected with fertility rituals, young men would wear masks and riot throughout the villages, blocking roads, robbing wineries to drink and pranking everyone around, especially girls. Nowadays, you also see women disguised and in some villages all the inhabitants participate, from young to old.  Everyone wants to joyfully party around the streets.

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Aside from documenting the carnivals, I decided to give myself an assignment, pushing my skills and being more aware of what I was photographing. One field of photography that I rarely explore is landscape. Taking pictures of winter in Trás-os-Montes is not that beautiful (unless it snows, and that makes everything easier), so I decided to approach the landscape as it was, raw, naked and dry, deserted of people and colour.

On one hand, I decided to photograph the landscape, and on the other hand, the bus stops.

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For the bus stops assignment, I decided that I would have to compose and shoot each angle on just one approach. Opposite to weddings, where most of the day happens extremely fast and sometimes capturing the moment takes precedence over composition, in landscapes, apart from the importance of light, the subject is rather quite still, enabling me to think through the shot with no rush.

The empty bus stops also gave me a sociological understanding of the roughness of the real country that I live in.

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Portugal has been struggling with a lack of population in remote areas due to massive growth to main cities. That left thousands of villages empty or lacking young people, just to be inhabited by the elderly that still provide themselves with agricultural practices. Sadly, this is a reality that many of us are still unaware of.

And this abandonment led to extreme wildfires in the summer, which destroyed thousands of hectares of pinewoods, eucalyptuses, farms and villages, leaving thousands of people even poorer and homeless. So, travelling North is painful as you just look at kilometres of roads where all you see is black all around.

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For a few days, we joyfully celebrated happiness and pranking, threw each other flour, rosemary, nutgall, drank wine and ate filhozes (this is a Christmas dessert which consists of flour, sugar and eggs that are fried and served with sugar and cinnamon).

Being a vegetarian, I did not eat the steak from Miranda or the alheira (Portuguese type of sausage) that are very traditional meat dishes in the North. I did not starve though! I rather feasted upon potatoes, greens and eggs from wild chickens.

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Travelling with other photographers also made me overcome my fear of being caught on camera. Ever since I was a child, I never enjoyed portraiture and as an adult, the only pictures I ever liked of myself was when I did not know I was being photographed. So, I decided to not run away from the other two photographer friends and embrace their requests for ‘modelling’ for them, or to take some pics of myself. 

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Ultimately, this trip made me defy some of my fears: overcoming my shyness on camera, exploring new photography themes, taking care of composition and the way I would approach taking a photo while taking my time, bringing this attention into other fields of photography, such as weddings.

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As for the gear, I restricted myself to a camera bag with a Nikon D750 with a 50mm 1.8 lens and a Nikon D700 with a 25mm 2.0 lens. No flash was used and occasionally, I shot on film with a Nikon F3 HP 50mm 1.8.

All my photos were edited with Adobe Lightroom and the Raven Pack presets by Tribe Photo Co, mostly 05 and 08.