A Poetic Journey Through Time

Behind a fable’s title, Under the Surveillance of Ancient Animals, Maria Oliveira recounts the vanishing of Portugal’s countryside where her roots unravelled.

© Maria Oliveira, from the series, Under the Surveillance of Ancient Animals

This series is neither a portrait of the changes nor about the rural exodus. Rather, it’s a diary of her re-encounter with the place where she spent her childhood. “I started this project to think about my relationship with the place where I grew up, to capture what this place means to me after years, and how it has changed”, she explains.

“The title comes from a poem that I wrote. There are many wild horses around this place, and as the village becomes more and more empty, they are coming closer to the homes. Nature is slowly conquering the place where people used to live”, she explains. The silhouette of a cow appears within the fog, both majestic and quiet. Oliveira’s images are imbued with silence that we imagine reigning with these landscapes. The black and white of the photographs contribute to distilling the atmosphere of a place frozen in time, uncertain, between life and death. And mystery is at every corner, in the form of a wild footprint, an aging dog that resembles a wolf, and the rays of the moon on nature.

© Maria Oliveira, from the series, Under the Surveillance of Ancient Animals

“There is a mystery that this place arouses in me. When I was living there, people were telling me stories about the past. Even if I don’t think about it, it’s halfway between a dream and a memory”, she explains.

It also gives a strong sense of uncertainty, as if the past was somehow taking over the present and not leaving much room for the future. The horizon is usually blurry, hidden by the frequent mist covering the mountains. “There is a strong feeling of emptiness that goes inside people living there, which enables them to reach a calm way to approach life. People are very strong in their way of living with only a few things and accepting the thin line between life and death.”

© Maria Oliveira, from the series, Under the Surveillance of Ancient Animals

A symbolic photo is that of a person, seen from far away, still, in the middle of a dirt road. “This photo is really representative of what this place means to me. Someone seems stopped in the middle of something. There is nature around, and the person is lost in some way; it’s just a small point in the middle of the landscape.”

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Maria Oliveira is a Portuguese photographer working in the space between photography and poetry.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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