Review by Wayne Swanson •
Densely packed multi-story apartment buildings are a fact of life in today’s crowded cities. Brazilian photographer Letícia Lampert cleverly explores the paradoxes of vertical living by taking a horizontal view in Conhecidos de Vista (Known by Sight).
Lampert adopted the leporello (accordion-fold) book design to construct her own urban neighborhood from the middle-class apartment buildings in Porto Alegre, where she grew up. Typical of the apartment buildings found in cities throughout Brazil, they create narrow urban canyons with no ground or sky in sight for the residents — just the view of the apartments directly across the street. The buildings are so close that residents become involuntary voyeurs every time they look out their windows.
This 2-sided printed leporello literally examines the realities of this type of urban living from both sides. When you open the book you are greeted with a straight-on exterior view of one side of the street, a few stories up from the ground. Lampert has seamlessly stitched together images of numerous buildings to create one ongoing facade. In effect, she has created the widest apartment block ever. The pages themselves, when fully folded out, stretch nearly 40 feet.
As you flip through the spreads, you see the typical architecture of middle-class apartment buildings — a mix of balconies; window shapes and treatments; and stucco, concrete and brick wall treatments. Irregularly placed air conditioning units provide counterpoints to the overall design. You also see occasional signs of life — a dog peeking out beneath a window shade, a face in a window, figures on a balcony, wash on a line. But overall, it’s a fairly anonymous facade.
When you reach the end of the front side and turn to the back, however, the view changes. You’re now on the other side of the street, looking back toward where you’ve just been. This view is more intimate, because you’re inside the apartments. You’re looking out across a dining table, or a love seat, or potted plants on the windowsill, or an unmade bed — all the neat and the messy trappings of domestic life.
Interspersed with the images on this side are text blocks with comments from the residents. They explain what living under constant surveillance is like. As one tenant says, “it’s all very close. There’s no way not to see it . . . You open your window and you’re inside someone else’s house.” Some of the neighbors seem oblivious to what others see, parading around naked, admiring themselves in the mirror, having sex. Others close the drapes whenever they feel anyone is looking. One woman worries about the old lady across the way and checks every day to be sure she has opened her window. Others smile and wave, and even strike up friendships.
The leporello format and Lampert’s creative decisions emphasize the contradictions inherent in this type of neighborhood. From the outside, the banal architecture speaks to the anonymity of city life, yet there’s individuality in the touches the residents add to make their units their own. From the inside, the furnishings emphasize the individuality, yet Lampert does not show any of the residents themselves, subtly reminding us of the arms-length nature of high-rise neighborliness. Both sides illustrate an interesting relationship: residents witness the intimate details of their neighbors’ daily lives, and may even feel a nodding acquaintanceship with some, without ever speaking or being formally introduced.
It’s a playful book, yet as the density of the urban landscape continues to increase, it also provides interesting insights into living in close proximity to one another, without a view beyond the apartments across the way.
Conhecidos de Vista, Letícia Lampert
Photographer: Letícia Lampert, born Porto Alegre, Brazil, resides São Leopoldo, Brazil
Publisher: Incompleta, São Paulo, Brazil, copyright 2018
Text: Portuguese, English
Hardcover book, leporello bound, four-color lithography, 7.5 x 9.75 inches, printed in Brazil
Photobook designer: Letícia Lampert