Lands of wind, fire and solitude


In 1432, the Portuguese landed on the coast of Santa Maria with a vessel commanded by Gonzalo Velho, one of Henry the Navigator’s most faithful explorers. Gaspar Frutuoso, a priest and ship’s rubricist, was the first to record his impressions. In his notebook, he described that raw, uninhabited, and raptor-dominated place as “lands of wind, fire and solitude.”

I visited the Azores on three separate trips, two years apart. I scoured them far and wide, photographed their rugged recesses and grassy hills, recording stories like a chronicler, filming not the people I heard from but what their gazes rested on.

The nature of these islands, western summits of Europe, can be as fertile and tame (so much so that they resemble verdant gardens) as hostile (storms, earthquakes and eruptions are almost a habit), and the humanity that inhabits them is rarefied, residual. Farmers and fishermen, whose physical and mental horizon is determined in a few square kilometres of land surrounded by ocean, coexist with a meager community of retired old smugglers, hippies who landed without a penny to fix the boat and leave again, undercover drug traffickers, pilots who have lost their way, and sailors adrift, circling around looking for the right rock on which to land or against which to ruin for good.

Outside the taverns where tales mingle with the smell of gin and the cackling of newly landed, windswept crews are the silent landscapes that the human imprint has shaped over the past six centuries. If Gaspar Frutuoso could see them now he would not recognize them since they have changed so much. One thing, perhaps, has remained the same: an indefinite and poignant melancholy, as if these shreds of emerged land were just an idea, the illusion of an archipelago just spit out of the marine depths or about to sink at any moment.