BASIL SYLVESTER PINTO
A resident of Sweden, born In Portugal but with his roots in Goa, Sergio Santimano is a photo-journalist par extraordinaire. While the vivacious 62-year-old admits to feeling Portuguese born in the colonial times, his Indianess in his outlook and belongingness to the place he considers second home has ingrained a resolve to give it back to the country and State of his origin through a story related in pictures.
In a freewheeling interview with this daily, he speaks with a glint in his eye on nurturing a dream of bringing a window to the world to look into his ancestry and his people of Goa and other parts of India at large.
Following are the excerpts of the chat:
Q: Tell me something about yourself.
Sergio Santimano: I am born in Maputo, Mozambique in 1956. I was very young when the country of my birth attained its independence. It was a very important moment for me as I decided to stay back in the country I was born as the rest of my family and relatives moved to Portugal. At the time, given to my academic background in Economics I took to accounts as my profession. I stayed on to the profession for three years when I decided to do something different.
Q: So you decided to do so through photo-journalism?
Sergio: I wanted to participate in the records of the new nation. Because of that I was involved in cine clubs after the country achieved its independence in 1975. One thing I was very interested in was to make films. I tried to pursue my studies in cinema in Paris and Cuba but neither worked out with me. While in Paris it was very theoretical, in Cuba it was the other way around besides there being economic issues existing there. I wanted to learn things quickly. So I chose to be a photographer instead.
Q: Tell us about your initial days in photography …
Sergio: I was around 22 years then. I was working as a photographer in the Culture Department in Maputo. I began teaching basic photography in the school of arts apart from a bit of cinema whereby I showed and discussed films. I was there for around two years before moving on to working for the local weekly paper called Domingo. At the weekly, the director, Ricardo Rangel was a very big photographer himself. He influenced a lot of people from my generation in documenting photographs. At a time when we did not have photography schools, he was the best school that I had to which I was close to and learnt a lot from him about photo journalism. After a cherished five months working experience at the Mozambican weekly, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal. There, I met my mother and the rest of my family apart from doing a small course in photography. I went to a Portuguese News Agency called ANOP (now called Lusa) around 1982 to learn how to send telephotos. By the end of 1983, I returned to Maputo to work with the Mozambique News Agency.
Q: It was here that you got involved with the Government …
Sergio: Yes, I was very close to the Government. I covered major political events. The first President of independent Mozambique, Samora Machel and I had a mutual admiration. I remember he really liked my pictures. It was an honour for me to cover different trips with him within the country and other countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania as part of his delegation. I also covered a lot of significant cultural events that included the first National Cultural festival. I travelled to a lot of the provinces, across country-sides to document traditional music, a first such contact with people outside the city.
After Machel died, there was a Civil War. I was actively involved to cover the effects of the war. On one side, I saw people toting guns and on the other, suffering. That time foreigners were not allowed to come into Mozambique. For us, Mozambicans it was our bounden duty to depict the situation prevalent in our strife-torn country through pictures in national and international periodicals.
Q: You then migrated to Sweden and changed the way you perceived photography …
Sergio: When I moved to Sweden, I changed completely. Over there from 1991-93 I made a request to join a photography school and they accepted me. This school brought a major change in my photography. Earlier, I used to only take photographs, but now I began to learn to tell a story through my pictures. I became a freelance photographer and began to write my photography projects with the financial backing of the Swedish Government. With their support, I was enabled to complete five projects while living in Sweden, but documenting in Mozambique. My photography has since reached far and wide and can be viewed at different galleries, museums, festivals and universities across the world. I have also compiled two books based on my works.
Q: Tell us your India story which led to your first exhibit of the country of your origin…
Sergio: In 1995, I was at NCPA, Mumbai to exhibit my works. At the time, I also went to Rajasthan and Goa. That year was my first meeting with my relatives in Goa and I visited places like my father’s ancestral home in Colva, Panaji, Ribandar and Carambolim. When I returned to Maputo, my colleagues saw B&W contact sheets and encouraged me to have an exhibit that I called ‘India Intima” which was a huge success. This was because many people from there were from Goa or traced their lineage to Goa. After that, I held another exhibition on India and Mozambique in Portugal.
Q: Tell us about you India project that brought you to Goa again …
Sergio: For the last three years, I am working on this project. This is my third trip to India and I will be based in Goa for three weeks. During my time here, I will be capturing Goa in the monsoons which I haven’t earlier. Though my project will concentrate 85 per cent on Goa, it will also include my trips to other places in India to Mumbai, Rajasthan, Kolkata and Varanasi. On Goa, I will primarily focus on daily life, my family, the fishing community and different religions. For example, I want to show young school girls talking to each other with architectural background, a lot of colours basically. For another, I want to show the old portraits of my ancestral house which is deteriorating on the walls. My first trip to India was to recognize the country. On my second visit, I wanted to implement the process that arose from my first trip and spend time on it. From here on, I will look at documenting all my material into a book which I plan to release next year.