LOOKING UP

Biophilic Design in Light of Art, Neuroscience, and Technology

Portraits of Life, Loss & Renewal

Valdir Cruz, a Guggenheim fellowship winner, captures life and death at Barretos Cancer Hospital.

Written by: David Navarrete

This spring, Terra Virgem Edições will release Brazilian photographer Valdir Cruz’s latest book, Portraits of Affection, a singular portrayal of 25 lives—survivors of cancer as well as those who rest in peace—revealed by their vivid testament and portrait.

A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship winner for his portrayal of the Faces of the Rainforest (1996), Valdir’s keen eye for portraiture, as well as his technical excellence in classical photography (silver gelatin printing), earned him a place in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), as well as The Smithsonian.

 Within these pages lay before us the lives of people we know. Every one a husband or wife, a neighbor or relative, a close friend or colleague. Each one chosen by the hospital staff and Valdir himself from hundreds across the countryside who’ve been treated in this remarkable, philanthropic cancer hospital.

Barretos Cancer Hospital grew from its humble origins in 1967 to become today’s internationally renowned oncology and research institute. Its mission is to provide the most advanced treatment to the country’s rural population—free of charge.

The lifework of Henrique Prata, a well-to-do landowner and cattle rancher, and his parents (the founding doctors), the hospital has become Brazil’s leader in Health Quality.

The hospital’s altruistic and humane approach to healthcare caught Valdir’s attention, whose photography often turns to the lives of indigenous communities—like the last tribes of the Amazon—or in this case, the rural poor of Brazil, who often rely on the philanthropy of traveling physicians for access to healthcare.

“No one takes the time anymore,” says Valdir from his studio/apartment on W. 14th Street, New York, where he’s lived on and off for the last 30 years. “Almost no one takes the time to learn good photography,” he says. “Study each shot, take a few—well composed, rather than take a thousand.”

“Today, everybody is a photographer. But to capture something meaningful, you have to first almost stop being a photographer,” he confides.

 “You have to take the time to discover your subject… Eat at their table, share their stories…earn their trust. Only then will you be able to capture a glimpse of life.

  That’s what makes a portrait a record of significance. Five years of my life have gone into portraying this side of human life. From all these experiences, we have chosen about 25 stories, illustrated by some 40 images.”

 These 40 portraits, women and men of all ages, are bound in a handsome double spine book. Valdir’s unique “Z” design features a back cover with twin spines that create two interlinked books—one with the portraits and the second with the Barretos Cancer Hospital history—that naturally lead to the other.

 A moving testament to what it means to be diagnosed with cancer, the courage to see treatments through, and witness the way cancer affects how we grapple with our own mortality—few visual artists have both the steady hand and unflinching honesty to level a portrait of this eloquence about Brazil’s 2nd most common cause of death.

 Sky Factory contributed a set of Open Sky Compositions, for the leafs (inner sleeves), a nod to the Luminous SkyCeilings that give patients a vivid visual connection into nature at the Juvenile Child Hospital at the Barretos Cancer Hospital. 

Although the decorative leafs did not make the final press inspection due to unexpected creasing during the manual binding process, Sky Factory would like to thank the architect, Carla Vilhena, and Marie Wikoff, principal at Wikoff Design Studio, for selecting Sky Factory for the Barretos project.

Portraits of Affection will be unveiled in May, 2017. If you would like to acquire a copy to foster cancer prevention awareness, please visit the publisher’s site www.terravirgem.com.br

To learn more about Valdir’s fine art photography, please visit Valdir Cruz - www.valdircruz.com

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