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Matinee: 'Portraits Made To Order' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

12 November 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 161st in our series of Saturday matinees today: Portraits Made To Order.

OK, that title is our translation of José Costa Barbosa's four-minute portrait of a Portugese street portrait photographer who we take to be Rafael G. Antunes. The official title is Fotógrafo 'Á La Minute'. We're neither sure of the translation nor the photographer.

Á la minute (ah-la min-OOT) is a culinary phrase meaning the dish, or more likely a sauce, is prepared to order or on demand rather than in advance. You may know it from minute steak, for example. Literally, it translates as "at a minute" but literal translations are machine-like in their nonsense. So, unhappy with the literal Photographer in a Minute or even Minute Photographer, we've taken liberties liberally to get across the rather interesting idea.

As for the photographer, he's called Rafael in the video and the filmmaker thanks Rafael G. Antunes at the end. So you'd think that would settle it for inquiring minds. But the board advertising his services says "By Mancha."

What we do know is that Rafael had wanted to be a photographer since he was about 13 years old. His father had cameras and lenses and a friend asked if he'd shoot some images in a museum for her anthropology project.

He liked doing that project, so when it came time to pick a career, he studied photography and became a photojournalist, a job he held for 17 years. When the newspaper business went off the tracks and he lost his job, he took the opportunity to start a little business shooting portraits of people in public on demand.

It's a street photography studio where you can put on a costume and pose for your portrait.

But it isn't street photography or instant photography or even anything you could do in a selfie. It's a street photography studio where you can put on a costume and pose for your portrait.

And in 10 minutes you get a print made to order, so to speak, that you can take away with you.

Part of the charm of this experience is that Rafael, with the help of a cousin, built his own camera. It's a big box with an antique bellows camera attached to the front. Rafael himself focuses by cranking the front standard with the lens on it back and forth as he looks at the image on the ground glass under a hood that blocks the sun out.

This wasn't his idea, though. He found a guy who had been doing it for years in the town of Évora. Ananias José Pardal is his name and he was 87 years old when Rafael phoned him and his described his plan to start an on-demand street photography studio. Health willing, Pardal said, I'll help you.

Rafael went to Évora, learned how to do it and got to work.

He's shy, he tells us, but he explains to the customer what the process is, lets them pick props and poses them. He makes the photograph on paper he develops on the spot that creates a negative image.

We see him washing the negative print in a small bucket of water and squeegeeing it with his fingers. As soon as it's dry, he puts it in a small copy stand that swings in front of the same lens he used to take the original image, refocuses and makes another negative print -- but this time, of course, the image comes out positive.

And that's what he gives the customer for €10.

If you look closely, you'll see a little birdie hanging just off the old folding camera he has attached to his box. It's a Compur shutter but we can't make out the name of the lens.

He loves the light, which appears to be a small, shaded public square where he always sets up. And he loves the job. He can be who is, he says.

No props needed for that.

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