To avoid repeating past mistakes, you must know and understand them.

Photographer Nuno Perestrelo’s poetic images of a time that once was, was born out of the need to rescue a forgotten time.

– I am not politically active, most people do not consider themselves to be, but everything we do and all of our choices become politics – even when we choose not to choose. 

How will young people be able to maintain a democracy when they barely understand how it works, barely know it’s history or even understand it’s fragility, says Nuno when we first make contact through Skype, shortly after seeing his exhibition Lost Empires at the Panoptikon Contemporary Photographic Exhibition Hall on Skeppsholmen in Stockholm.

Nuno’s images bear traces of a Portugal with large vibrant industries in steel, chemistry, cork and shipbuilding, active during the 50s, 60s and 70s – with the intention of development of the rural areas – (farming and fishing villages), at a time when Portugal still had colonies. 

Lisnave, a supplier to major shipping companies around the world, employed 10 000 people during the period of Europe’s most technological revolution. Nuno’s pictures bear traces of the political activity that prevailed during the 70s, where the individual worker’s decisions could affect the entire civil society. During the Carnation Revolution in 1974 – a democratic peaceful revolution led by a group of radical officers and supported by most workers  – the Salazar dictatorship ended after 48 years in power, resulting in the confiscation of several shipyards and industrial complexes in this area south of Lisbon. 

From a world of censorship where 60% of the people could not even read or write, Portuguese citizens stepped into the world of globalisation, market forces and The Cold War – a period of sharp disagreements without conventional war, primarily between the USSR and USA.

Nuno has captured a time in his strong images of the now abandoned Lisnave and other industrial complexes – portraying them as monuments from the bankruptcies and rampant unemployment. The Portuguese government continues to sell-off important and strategic companies in the hope of being able to repay their enormous debts to the large EU banks, which are owned by wealthy families who also happen to be the owners of the large farms and corporations. 

– It feels like history is repeating itself … where did democracy go wrong? asks Nuno. Has the fear of a new crisis removed the desire for change? 

Nuno, born in 1988, has an MA in Photojournalism from the Mid Sweden University and a BA in Audiovisual Communication from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona, Spain and a BA in Communication Studies at the Universidade da Beira Interior Covilhã, Portugal.

His documentary Lost Empires has steadily grown from an abstract base of colourful images of abandoned walls and buildings, resulting in an exhibition at Panoptikon which included 30 images.

Essay by Nuno Perestrelo 2014/05
Film Interview by Panoptikon Fotografins Hus