On the path of João Francisco Camacho’s photographic gaze


Main Researcher

Emanuel Brás


03.07.22 — present

This project is a photographic research on the landscape body of work carried out by the photographer João Francisco Camacho (Mr. Camacho) in Madeira island, during the 60s and 70s of the 19th Century. The aims are as follows: i) to comprehend the photographer’s motivation and endeavour to photograph the physical landscape of Madeira, which enable him to achieve a vast body of work of landscape pictures – an achievement that required such an exertion and investment which is difficult to understand just by a pure commercial interest; ii) to take that body of work as a survey of the island’s landscape, hence establishing a reference point for identifying the changes that have occurred in Madeira’s physical landscape over the course of 140 years.

J. F. Camacho (circa 1863-77) “Funchal from Loo Rock”. Dimens. 16 x 22,2 cm. Albumen print.
Emanuel Brás (07 February 2023) “Re-photograph of ‘Funchal from Loo Rock’”. Gelatin silver print.

From the vast range of landscape photographs that Mr. Camacho did in Madeira, this research focuses on a collection of albumen prints recently emerged, without attribution to any author, but which we can now confidently attribute to J.F. Camacho. The extent and dispersion of locations depicted on those albumen prints turns the collection almost like a photographic survey of the island’s landscapes. In addition to their iconographic interest, the photographs as a whole reveal a singular coherence in the way they were framed, because they induce in the viewer a remarkable visual experience of depth, caused by the interplay throughout the planes of the image. There’s a progression of forms, as if an element placed on foreground resonates and is progressively “projected” onto more distant planes until the background, establishing an affinity of shapes, masses, and textures. The photographic landscapes created by Mr. Camacho show the landscapes of Madeira as a coherent and cohesive whole, capable of inducing a particular aesthetic experience in the viewer. Thus, this collection of photographs constitutes a body of work that embodies a dual interest: aesthetic-formal and geographical.

The research is based on a re-photographic methodology. This approach consists in, as much as possible, photographing today with identical options to those taken by J.F. Camacho in the past: the equivalent vantage point coordinates; with similar frame and pictural space, hence using the same type of lens; the corresponding lighting/shadow modulation.

Locations of Madeira island depicted in J. F. Camacho’s landscape photographs, to re-photograph in its contemporary state


This project is financed by national funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, I.P., in the scope of the Programmatic Funding allocated to the Research Laboratory in Design and Arts (LIDA) with the reference “UIDP/05468/2020″.