In Rui Palha’s Lisbon

All images Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summilux FLE.
John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy.
His photo site is John Buckley In Black and White and Color.

There are very few photographers who have as complete a grasp of, or association with, a single city as Rui Palha has with Lisbon. Sure, many of HC-B’s images of Paris are what first come to mind when you think of him, but Cartier-Bresson was equally associated with Mexico, China, Spain, even New York. Rui has pictures from other places besides Lisbon, but to those who follow the world’s preeminent street photographers, Rui Palha is Lisbon.

Rui Palha in his element.

He’s a joyful, engaging task master, curious what his new friend is interested in before heading to various neighborhoods, clear at the outset that he expects to see, and critique, his work.

Lisbon, we learn, is a city of hills and textures, stairs covered in graffiti, squares inlaid with patterned stone, street car tracks that reflect the afternoon light, pigeons everywhere, buildings festooned with tile. Though its literature is rich, there is to Lisbon an air of Garcia Marquez, of magical realism within portions that have seen better days, even as Rui would take me to places that are modernist and futuristic. It has a Metro and a station designed by Calatrava, and the possibilities for picture making are endless. Why, a master such as Rui could create a world from these possibilities. Could I?

If, as Rui prefers, you choose your background for the image first (another thing he has in common with HC-B), waiting for people to come on stage, as it were, there are neighborhoods in Lisbon like few others, and his work shows he knows them all. He’ll gladly take the Metro or drive through neighborhoods filled with people, but lacking the required stage setting, he moves on. Like all street photographers, he wants people in his images, but people alone aren’t enough, and in Lisbon, you don’t have to settle for any background less than the ideal.

Friends have left tickets for him at the Metallica show that night, but he doesn’t really want to go. He takes me near the site of the Metallica show anyway, to that area of the city with its Calatrava-designed train station, modern and mysterious with interesting possibilities for photos. It’s magical, the possibilities for photos in Rui Palha’s Lisbon. Ancient and modern, textured and streamlined, dark and light.

There are some cities made beautiful in prior centuries that rest on their laurels. Lisbon is not content to leave things as they were, to simply preserve under aspic what was built in the halcyon days of empire. It’s a charming, living city still in formation from the center to the docks. A culturally rich milieu, with book stores for readers and thinkers whose imagination is not limited by living in a comparatively small country on the water’s edge of bigger empires, of Europe.

On this day, as Rui takes a new friend around, he keeps a Leica Q suspended on his upper body by a small leather half-case and straps, but it’s only later that we see that, even as he so casually lifts his camera to his eyes to take pictures, he really is a master. My pictures below are pretty good; Rui’s version of the same scene — even granting that he knew just where to stand — is breathtaking.

A gentleman comes up to him. “Are you Rui Palha?” He knows him for what he is, Lisbon’s finest chronicler of the street. As it turns out, the man who greets him is one of Lisbon’s finest painters, and they had never before met.

Rui Palha is a poet in the camera sensor’s etching of black and white. He’s quite vigorous despite a back that is sore, leading the occasional photo workshops, including one this past March for the Leica Store Miami. (Hint: keep an eye on that calendar.) The next day, prominent photographers from Spain are coming to greet him over coffee, for if you are a street photographer, and coming to Lisbon, Rui looms like a giant, the man with the keys to his city.

Late in the day, in the bright sunshine and tourist ambiance of Chiado, we prepare to part. “Make sure you show me your five best pictures,” he says, and then reconsiders. “No, ten. Send me ten to look at.”

A maker of gorgeous images in a gorgeous city, and one of the nicest, most generous people you will ever meet.

Here are a dozen images, Rui, and an extra one of you in your element. How’d I do, my friend?

3 Responses to “In Rui Palha’s Lisbon”

  1. Thank you so much John. A wonderful chronic about my beloved town.

  2. with an excellent work made by you. My congratulations!

  3. Haroon man Says:

    I am interest s your pic amazing pic

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