What can I say about Joao? We’ve met via work and mutual friends and he’s a very charming man. Ever since I’ve known him I knew he’s always had an interest in magic and mentalism. I’ve seen him perform and do tricks at the dinner table and it’s just crazy when you see things happening right in front of your eyes! It was obvious that his talent would take him far and it was no surprise to see his career evolve over the last couple of years from doing small live performances in Lisbon to becoming a TV personality. Watch his showreel at the end and you will see what I am talking about.
1- When did you first become interested in magic, was there any specific moment you recall made you feel this was what you wanted to dedicate your life to?
Although I started learning magic at the age of 9, I always thought that being a magician or entertainer would be a job with little value for society (not as useful as a doctor or a teacher or any other “normal” job). But as I grew up I became more and more involved with it and I realized that being an entertainer is actually much more meaningful and useful for society than I thought. I was in the 3rd year of college (20 yo) when I decided “this is it. As soon as I can I’m gonna leave physiotherapy behind and dedicate myself 100% to mind-reading and Entertainment”.
2 – Who is your main influence and why?
Well there’s no “main influence”. I could definitely say I have a special admiration for certain entertainers. Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Noel Fielding, Jimmy Carr would definitely be at the top. And then of course when it comes to mind-reading: Andy Nyman, Derren Brown, Max Maven would be the coolest living mentalists right now.
3 – what has been the most important moment in your career thus far?
It was definitely performing at the Magic Castle (Hollywood) for a full week, back in July 2011. 21 performances and always an amazing audience.
4 – You’ve had a lot of success recently, doing a stage show in Lisbon and multiple appearances on Portuguese TV. As you’re mad talented I am pretty sure this is not stopping here, where can we expect to see you next?
Haha thanks for the compliment. Well I’m planning to take my show abroad namely the States and the UK. Coming soon I hope. I’m also producing some TV related stuff but I can’t disclose much about it right now.
5 – How was the change from the stage to the TV screen? Is there a huge difference between the two for you? Which one do you prefer?
I think you can’t really beat the feeling of being in front of a live audience doing what you love the most and messing up with their brains forever (or at least for a week I hope). As for the TV I love it specially because I can reach a huge number of people at the same time and I can also hopefully show them something they haven’t seen yet and again defy their brains. I’d love to have my own TV show where I could show something truly original and different from the usual tv crap.
6 – What would you recommend to the youngins that might be inspired by you to pursue magic and mentalism?
I’d say the biggest cliché ever: Work harder and harder and never quit believing in your talent. Self-belief is definitely the biggest key to success. If you believe in yourself you’ll make others believe in you too.
7 – How was for you to change from a 9-5 job to a career you are actually passionate about?
It was and it still is an amazing feeling of relief and luck. I feel really really lucky that I can do what I love the most and get well paid for it.
8 – Who was the most interesting famous person you’ve met so far on your shows and why?
It’s hard to say. I’ve met so many interesting people that I used to admire as a kid. Herman José for instance was my biggest influence as a kid. He was and he still is the greatest Portuguese entertainer of our time!
9 – I remember our conversations about fashion, style and shopping and I think you are a very stylish man. What do you remember as being something you would be embarrassed to be seen in today, that you wore in the past?
Haha nice question. I used to wear a lot of military jackets for instance and now I can’t wear them anymore. I feel kind of self-conscious. But I did love them back then.
10 – What is your favourite place in the whole world and why?
Lisboa. If I hadn’t moved to Lisbon at age 15 I wouldn’t be here today talking to you about being an entertainer. Period. And also Lisbon’s got it all: the weather, the people, the places, the arts, and so on and so on.
If I had to pick a city outside Portugal that would be New York. Perhaps the biggest cliché in the world but you have to live it to understand. And hopefully that will be my next stop for some time.
Sara Maia is a Portuguese artist who has amazing work I think my blogging friends will enjoy. I met Sara Maia through friends and was immediately fascinated by her work. It’s so interesting and to me it conveys a lot of feminine strength. Much like the artist herself, who is an intelligent and strong woman! I thought I’d ask her a few questions for our enjoyment, so here they are.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very small my first dream was to be a ballerina or astronaut. In fact, it would’ve been much more original to be an austronaut ballerina performing on other planets.
The books and tv series about Space fascinated me but I started with something more grounded – was 5 and asked to be taken to the ballet. I was taken to the local gym and I was very disappointed because it was nothing like I imagined, there was only overweight ladies dressed in tracksuits. I thought that picture killed my dream a bit, I was expecting a super dance school or the Bolshoi theater. I tried to explain my idea better, I even said where I wanted to enroll but as I did not have any alternative, I installed an area in my room to dance. The one who wasn’t amused with the idea was my brother, who shared a room with me. I actually wore ballet outfits every day to try and put some pressure on my family… I was always of fixed ideas 😀 …
I knew I had to go to any creative field, so later experimented with everything I could …
What was your favourite item of clothing when you were a child?
Interestingly my favorite dress was chosen by my grandfather, who ordered it from an English catalog. It very classic plaid, blue and red with a lace collar – too feminine, too classic for my tastes now. Perhaps because it came from abroad and chosen specially for me by my grandfather has made it more special.
What do you regret wearing but thought was extremely stylish at the time?
Ha ha ha my biggest disaster was something called shoulder pads. I remember I sew them in all my clothes – sweaters, jackets etc and we looked like Rugby players, totally ridiculous and inelegant but very popular at my school.
What compels you to create in general?
I do not remember not drawing, for me is as normal as anything else. As I was a super shy girl, drawing became an advantage because the other school kids always asked me to draw things for them and I took advantage of it at the time.
Art for me is essentially the possibility of communication and realization of ideas, the reason is the sheer pleasure of performing, and the adrenaline rush to get to the end result.
So, say it starts as an absolutely selfish pleasure but as art presumes communication, you’re supposed to be an artist and not autistic. It’s anybody’s guess how the beholder will react but it starts with the pleasure and the need for making something.
What are your main inspirations?
Life, without a doubt! And all that is contained therein, ie the engine – it can be a movie, a newspaper story, a political situation, words from a song, etc. I doesn’t matter much – in fact, what interests me is to transform .
For me it’s my space of total freedom, people usually say that my work is violent although I use an ironic sense of humor … (I have been told in openings that I should do yoga or meditation: – D) I do not filter much, maybe this can even lead to something unexpected …
What interests me essentially is the Human Being and hence my work is figurative, but not in the classic sense. I think there are recurring themes, such as the animal side versus rational, the constructed social hierarchies, etc..
Before I read a lot and it always generated enough ideas but I confess that now one of the sources that usually gives me a lot of ideas, not in a direct way, is to watch video clips. Nowadays there videos of amazing quality with very plastic solutions.
Who is or are your favourite artists?
This question is difficult to answer and often because I they have an endless list of artists for different reasons…
On my first trip to Paris I went to the Jean Dubuffet museum and raved, I think it was the first time I thought it might be fun to have this life. I also like painters who can be considered a bit dark Ba, like Bacon, Caravagio or Goya, I obviously like fine art and it would be strange if it were not so. Some more recent – Lucien Freud, Paula Rêgo, Balthus, or other Ron Mueck, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Marlene Dumas, as these that address more directly some part of being human.
The artistic field is so open and diverse and has increasingly less borders. Every day I discover new and good artists, like James Turrell, Felix Gonzales Torres, love some more daring projects associated with the movement Land Art, and I follow some fantastic street art artists in which stands out Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or (Vills).
I could also say that there was an artist who was very important to my training, Eduardo Nery. His work is completely amazing and distinctive, with him I had the best conversations about art and he’s taught me a lot.
What has been your favourite project so far?
My favorite project is always what I’m working on at the moment or the next. What I like most is the fact that each exhibition is a new site, I have to work with new people, so no boredom … it pleases me very much!
Do you have any exhibitions planned for the near future?
My next exhibition will be in early April, I am participating in the festival Belém Art Fest, where I’ll be showing a piece. I will also work with a Gallery Block 103 in May in Lisbon, just a few weeks ago I finished a collective project with the Gulbenkian Foundation and ISEG, and I have three more projects out of Portugal later this year and early next.
What’s your favourite hangout in Lisbon?
What I like most is when you go out at night and don’t make any arrangements with anyone and always meet friends. I enjoy doing the circuit Bica and Bairro Alto, and you hop to Cais Sodré, the usual round …
If money was no object, what would be your favourite place to be?
I’d go around the World several times without a doubt. The best thing I can think of is getting to a place and not knowing anyone or anything, having to find my way and get to know new people. I do not know if it is a syndrome of someone who grew up in a familiar city like Lisbon, I’ve been to Africa but would like to know better the entire America, India, Australia … well I think I’ll end up saying everything, but there is indeed a place that I always go back to in the Azores that is Sta Maria Island ..
When you travel, what do you always take with you?
Thank you Sara for your time and thoughtful answers! If you want to see some more of Sara’s work click here.
Before I left to catch my flight back to England I spent 30 minutes with Henry Grossman in New York. The name might not ring an immediate bell but his subjects definitely will and I am sure that you have all seen some of his photos. His career spans through a great part of the 20th century and has been photographing every famous person on the planet ever since he picked up a camera while still studying in university. More on his bio here.
I had met Henry for the first time back in 2009 in New York, through mutual friends. At the time he showed me some of his work and some contact sheets he had lying around – photos of miscelaneous famous people, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s wedding… as well as some of the Beatles photos, that were taken when they were recording Sgt Peppers album at Abbey Road studio, as this edition had just come out.
Since I am now close to London and will be visiting the exhibition that will be opening tomorrow with a different set of photos of the Beatles, my friends arranged a meeting so we could have a little chat about it.
Here is the transcript of part of this conversation, as my phone wasn’t playing ball as it should!
(We were talking at this point about how to get people to open up and how you can be surprised with the stories you may learn when you talk to regular people on the street. Henry mentioned an example of someone he spoke to and found out had been on death row for 20 years for a crime he did not commit.)
Some months ago I was volunteering at Oxfam and people would come into the shop and sometimes the books they bought were conversations starters. This one lady for example, was a Victorian garment specialist, these encounters can be very surprising and rewarding. A lot of the people can come across as boring and uninteresting, especially the younger ones around where I live.
The one thing I would say is one thing at a time one question at a time. When you are riding to the airport, maybe think in your mind if you were to meet someone who is 23 in your little town, what question could you ask them to get them talking about something they really like.
The other thing is… Look, maybe I shouldn’t be saying this but a number of times people love my passion when we are talking about photography and posing people and doing this kind of thing. I never think about it as a passion, but what most involves these people? “What if you had to be by yourself for a long time, what would you do?”. Just come up with a question that you can put away in your mind and then you can come up with other following questions. Strangely enough you will find that if you were to write a newspaper column for your local town paper… I thought that if I had no money and just a little brownie box camera I could go along and take pictures of fine houses and the people. Spend a lot of time on that and taking pictures; make a print in the dark room (in those days), sell the prints and gradually build up something.
I actually wanted to do something like that for the local paper, after working in the charity shop I realized not everyone around here was entirely uninteresting. Everyone says Grantham is dull and boring- it is, but not entirely. Every time I go out I carry my camera with me as there are always details that catch my eye that sometimes will go missed by the majority of people.
I have a friend who is a painter and is now also a photographer, she just published a book – she goes around photographing reflections on cars, buildings… Seeing these little details it’s fantastic and it’s opened my eyes a lot.
You were saying earlier that you have learned something about yourself when you saw your photos put together by someone else, new relationships between them. Do you feel there is a big difference between what you wanted to do when you started photographing and now? Hmmm, that is a hard question to answer…
I mean, you learn something and when you start something it may then take you in a different direction , do you feel you have gone in a totally different direction?
Not at all, when I was a boy I wanted to show people how good they looked. I don’t mean visually necessarily but what I saw in them, what I saw that shone through, I always like to get that and what pleases me when I look back at my old work is how much that still shows.
My father was an etcher, he did etchings, did portraits of Gandhi, Mussolini, from life on copper plates and then printed. So I grew up with that sort of portraiture. When I first started taking pictures for Time magazine they would run a photo, somebody would be on the news and I took pictures. I photographed Ben Gurion at Brandeis University when I was a student in New York. Took it to the New Yorker, took it to Newsweek and took it to Life Magazine. In Life Magazine there was this ruthless woman who was in charge and she said: ‘if you want to work for Life Magazine you need to show us 5 more interesting pictures. 5 less good pictures but more revealing of what is going on’. So I had to force myself to do that, to learn how to see what was going on. I forget who was the one that said ‘ an artist sees not only what a situation is but also what a situation is becoming and that way it becomes interesting to watch’. If you go to the Museum of Natural History and you see a stuffed lion ready to pounce and you look and look and you suddenly walk away. If you saw a real lion like that you would sense the intensity of the situation and would sit there and look at it for a long time because there is intention behind it. You recognize that. That is what a good photographer sees a lot. Revealing is a good word.
Anyway, 5 more storytelling pictures was what I had to do to learn to work to Life Magazine and over a couple of years I started dabbling and that’s what I ended up doing and I wasn’t posing pictures, very rarely I did posing pictures, I didn’t ask them to pose. I wish now I had posed more pictures to get them to look a certain way.
Ha well, that’s hind sight for you! (laughter)
A young kid asked me when I was exhibiting in Washington about 3 years ago ‘you didn’t have digital then did you?’ and I said ‘no’. ‘If you had had digital then what would you have done?’. I looked at him and said ‘I would have taken a lot more pictures’. But you see, sometimes you only are given a chance to shoot 3 pictures with a president or somebody, you know? I was photographing president Johnson in his office, the Oval Office in the White House and my appointment got from the morning to the afternoon. My light was going and we started opening the windows, the light wasn’t good so I took him across the room to where the light was. ‘Mr President, that speech you made this morning was fantastic when you said bla bla bla’ and he melted and sat down on the chair and leaned in and then in 2 minutes I got perfect pictures, these strong yet gentle pictures, it was all the time I had, I wouldn’t have had time to set up lights.
Sometimes the unexpected can also lead to some very interesting results, isn’t it? Serendipity.
Yes, exactly! It can even be beautiful. I went to Wales to photograph the boys, the Beatles with the Maharishi. That’s what I expected to do but incidentally I got pictures of them having dinner in the kitchen in a house in Wales, all seated around the table, John pouring tea and stuff like this. I never expected to get that. Who ever saw that before?
Yes, all those private moments… I have pictures of John sitting on the floor with his son Julian who must have been half 2 years old, almost 3 years old, playing.
I’m very looking forward to seeing the exhibition in London, the last time I saw you you showed me the other book. I’m curious to see these other photos, showing a more human side, not just the musicians.
There are a couple of surprises in this book, pictures of people you didn’t expect to see, that is interesting and exciting. The book is going to be an expensive one, only available on the web in a limited edition. Later on it will come out in a different edition, maybe more accessible. (See it here)
I sure hope so! Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to buy it myself (laughter). However for people who really love the Beatles and have to know everything about them is a must have collectors edition.
What type of photography do you enjoy doing today? I photograph dress rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera. I know so many of the singers and I love being there. I used to shoot a lot of theatre, the Broadway and the such because I wanted to become an actor. I love doing portraits, I like it all! Pretty women…
That’s always interesting! (laughter)
You know when I took a picture of you I said I don’t need anything from you and I saw an expression that was very interesting to me, you’ll see in the photograph, I hope. how fast it is to get something as simple as that, it’s lovely. Time magazine sent me to photograph Rita Tishingham, a British actress and I was enchanted with her eyes when I was photographing her at her hotel here in New York. I went back to the magazine, I couldn’t wait to see the contact sheets and when I saw them I was looking at where were those pictures. I almost couldn’t find them because I was so enamoured of what I saw in the eyes that I forgot all the rest…
At this point I had to leave as I had a plane to catch back to England… the conversation was very interesting and I wish I had all the bits. Maybe next year or so we can continue!
Thanks to Henry Grossman for his time and to my friends for making it possible.
If you are in London over the next couple of weeks don’t forget to stop by at the exhibition, see all the details below: