gUi mohallem
© gUi mohallem

“When I was a kid my auntie used to take me to those rituals.
I was in the middle of this circle of candles
and these women kept singing
things I could not understand.
I’m afraid they did something to me.”

gUi mohallem is a Brazilian photographer whose pinhole portraits about madness have caught my attention from the very first moment I saw them.

In addition to his dark, intense and blurred photos, I greatly appreciated the accompanying texts: quotes collected during his discussion with the portrayed people. I have always been fascinated by writing, as well as photography, the extracts gUi mohallem combines with images are as intense and lapidary modern poems, a form of poetry that is collectively created by people telling their truth in front of the camera.


Fabiano Busdraghi: How did you start taking pictures? What is your history as a photographer?

gUi mohallem: I think I was 17 when I got my first camera. I went on exchange to Australia to study in high school. That’s when I first studied media and I did a documentary about the exchange program. When I returned to Brazil, I was fascinated by film making and decided to apply for Film School in São Paulo.

gUi mohallem
© gUi mohallem

“Sometimes I feel detached from myself
and go for days like this, as if I am not really me.
That’s when I need to come here and watch people.
I look at them until I feel I captured their essence.
(or what I decided to be their essence)
That’s the only way to get back to me.”

Photography was already a hobby and I had already started to visit studios and mini labs in my home town. I remember when I first saw an image coming on the white paper inside the last B&W darkroom in town. It was magic! At this time I was already interested in the destruction of the image and I would experiment all sorts of chemicals available on processed paper, to see how they could affect them. Once I could control it I started writing on my images and make customized cards for my friends and lovers.

Photography came to me in University, starting the following year. I was addicted to the darkroom. And I loved testing things and making all sorts of mistakes. I also loved the taste of the chemicals on my fingertips.

I graduated specializing in cinematography and photography. I would spend a lot of extra time inside the darkroom. I was so much in there I eventually got the spare key and the grant to use the special enlarger, an impeccable Leitz.


Fabiano Busdraghi: I love the smell of chemistry too, and I remember that my first print in the darkroom was really a magic moment as you described. And a little bit of that magic is always present today when I shoot or print, even if it is digitally. But let’s go on with the second question: what is photography for you?

gUi mohallem
© gUi mohallem

“I was a very sad child.
As I grew up I learned to reason
and painted several layers over sadness.
But it is still there, underneath.
And I guess it will always be…”

gUi mohallem: Photography is the way I try to pacify my deepest solitude, I think. It gives me the illusion I can communicate with people, really. I will never know for real, but this illusion keeps me sane.

The other day, very recently, I was in the subway in NYC and I saw this girl with the hula hoop and she looked so sad and so tired holding it in her arms. I took 3 pictures. Then some people came to talk to her. It was Halloween night. And it turned out she was not sad at all and not tired at all. When the train came I started to talk to her. I was amazed by how much of this scene I had build by my own fantasies. She wanted to see the pictures, she was concerned about her image and I replied, without ever thinking about it: “Don’t worry, I didn’t take a picture of you, I only borrowed your body to portrait my own feelings.”


Fabiano Busdraghi: I agree, photography almost never show the truth, but just ours feelings, ideas, and point of view. You also said photography is the way to minimize your solitude. As you I think it is a wonderful way to communicate, to let other people look inside you. But sometimes I think photography increase my solitude, sometimes I am like a slave of photography. During the huge amount of time I spend inside the darkroom, or retouching, or searching the perfect combination to express my feelings, or even writing this blog, I’m always alone. All the time I spend in those activities is time subtracted to my social life. Other people on the contrary are able to use photography to interact with other ones, maybe as you did with the girls in the underground. What do you think about that?

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  1. Ludmila Franca

    said, January 18, 2009 @ 3:37 PM :

    gUi mohallem rules!

    he is simple the best!

  2. ghuga tavora

    said, January 18, 2009 @ 6:15 PM :

    I´ve lived it as well, it´s fascinating the surrealistic results of images, feels like reality to me, all movement, nothing stays the same.;) Great work gUi!;) Cheers!

  3. Dominique Chanovre

    said, January 19, 2009 @ 4:06 AM :

    Amazing work, a captivating insight of the darkness in the void.

  4. La fotografia nei documentari di Hu Jie

    said, January 19, 2009 @ 8:58 PM :

    [...] poi mi sto abituando e rassegnando, sia mai che la solitudine della citazione di Rilke nell’intervista a gUi mohallem non sia davvero di qualche [...]

  5. Danx

    said, January 21, 2009 @ 12:21 AM :

    oddia, tutta questa gente intrisa di nero non mi da alcuna speranza :(

  6. Wagner

    said, January 28, 2009 @ 2:47 PM :

    Olá querido mestre quanto tempo……muito legal ficaram suas foto ….poxa nunca tinha feito e nem sabia fazer pinhole colorida mas estão otimas ….
    Parabéns e boa aventuras pelo o mundo que é pequeno para o seu olhar até mais……..(>..<)………

  7. Rafael Castellar das Neves

    said, January 29, 2009 @ 1:28 PM :


    Bellissima composizione delle immagini e parole….mi piace troppissimo!

    Salute brasiliane…

  8. eugenio

    said, April 3, 2009 @ 8:50 AM :

    Muuito interesante, obrigado pelo seu trabalho de alto niveo. Um olhar especial, parabens querido! que deus te abençoe

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