In his debut monograph, Portuguese photographer Henri Prestes constructs an intriguing and surreal portrait of his homeland, imbued with mystery, solitude, and melancholy.
Born in a small town near the Spanish border, Prestes harbored a love of storytelling from an early age, though only began taking photographs around seven years ago, after purchasing his first camera and quickly falling in love with the medium.
Inspired by the atmospheric images of American photographer Todd Hido; the cinematic tableaux of Gregory Crewdson, and Justine Kurland’s painting-like compositions, as well as the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins, who he calls a ‘true teacher’, he creates deeply cinematic compositions, that have seen him awarded the Gold Cube at the 2021 ADC Awards with his Conceptual Series and the Bronze Cube Winner in 2022 and 2020.
For many, Portugal may evoke sun-kissed coastlines, rolling vineyards, and picturesque towns and cities, but Prestes paints an altogether different picture. Wandering the rural towns, villages, and landscapes of his native region during the colder months of the year, he captures a land of pine forests and windswept plains, shrouded in wintry mist and on occasion, carpeted in snow, that seems more like some provincial part of the United States then Southern Europe.
Divided into three sections, – journey, deep of night, and land – We Were Born Before the Wind takes the viewer on an enchanting journey through these agrestic locales, filtered through Prestes’ distinct, enigmatic, vision.
Punctuated by mysterious figures (their faces invariably hidden from view) ramshackle barns, cars, or shadowy stallions, the imagery is pervaded with a deeply cinematic intensity that stirs the imagination and engenders a profound sense of intrigue. Prestes’ creative use of color during post-processing, further augments the dream-like ambiance, and he says, is an attempt to ‘enhance the emotion’ of the image, something he achieves emphatically.
His approach is a studied one, the result of meticulous planning, and preparation. He enjoys shooting during ‘harsh weather’, utilizing the elements to add depth and texture and accentuate the sense of drama. However, as is invariably the case with photography, his images are, in part, the result of instinct. When on location, he rarely stays in one place, shooting from a variety of different angles and perspectives to capture the perfect frame.
Although Prestes’ debut offering undoubtedly invokes the sensibilities of neo-noir horror, (the ominous atmosphere and sense of foreboding) at the same time, these are ostensibly beautiful images that are both pervaded with a sense of calm and imbued with palpable melancholy, and which, will no doubt, provoke a litany of subtle differing emotions, depending on the distinct sensibilities of each viewer. It is a monograph several years in the making, and one that embodies Prestes’ unique approach: his rare artistry, vision, and skill.
All images © Henri Prestes, courtesy of Setanta.
We Were Born Before the Wind is published by Setanta