On March 27, in the Bookstore Sá da Costa in Lisbon, I had the pleasure to assist to a conversation about photography, which guests were members of the collective 12.12.12. Failing the presence of all elements, the conversation developed with José Carlos Carvalho, Adriana Morais, Vasco Célio, Nuno Fox, Rodrigo Cabrita and José Manuel Ribeiro.


José Carlos Carvalho, José Manuel Ribeiro, Adriana Morais, Vasco Célio, Nuno Fox.

The themes that dominated the dialogue between the guests, the host and the audience were the nature of the project, its development and its outcome. It seems an objective perspective and a closed one, but it was not the case. As, indeed, it is not the project as developed by the collective, despite the widespread and pervasive design by ‘media’: in any research, article title or reference to a term 12.12.12 raises an inevitable term: the crisis. In fact, the group does not deny the importance of such reality for the start of the project. It was with a certain willingness to portray the year (2012) they believed to be the most acute of the Portuguese current economic, financial and social situation that the group formed up and the work of each other began to gain form. But they also quickly realized that that was not the perspective and they wanted to imprint.

Stepping back a little to the roots of the collective, the idea arose from the will of José Carlos Carvalho and Nuno Fox, to gather material for the contest “Picture Station | Mora” in late 2011.

Unable to select images already made they decided to create new ones and to subvert the original purpose. Now what interested them was to bring together people from different generations and backgrounds and with diverse experiences documenting the crisis for 12 months in 12 districts of Portugal. But, as José Carvalho stated several times, “Who are we to tell what the crisis is?”. They preferred, then, to register the images of the realities they were finding and discovering throughout the country.

José Carlos Carvalho

Thus, assembled the “12 belly buttons”, in the words of José Manuel, who wanted to create a document, an heritage, of the day-to-day reality of the present. First, the group knew that this heritage would have the form of book: a resistant form which survives the contingency of the year depicted. The publication went outlining with many choices and exclusions of images (some rescued on the website), in which each of the 12 photographers had a space of 12 pages, and in which relations with written impressions were established – introductory texts by writers, sociologists, artists …

So it was that on 12.12.2012 the book was launched. The stories of Mr. Albino, a 60 year old man living alone for thirty years, without a proper house, without electricity or piped water in the interior of the country; of Lisandro, a child diagnosed with trisomy 13, the only known case in Portugal, who died in May 2012; of the deserted roads of Alentejo and the abandoned tourist complexes in Algarve, the “modern ruins”; of the people living in Mechanics Setubalense, an old factory and source of employment that is now in its decline, housing unemployed; among many others stories, came to the shelf of bookstores and readers a year later hoping that in 12 years they will be reviewed and reread as images of a year in Portugal.


Text: Sandra Bettencourt

Pictures: Miguel Von Driburg

*This text has been previously published on Prata, in Portuguese.

Read more

LX Factory in Lisbon

A long long way: Irish history in popular media

Familiarizing the World with Assam


About the author

Sandra Bettencourt holds a research fellowship in project CILM – City and (In)security in Literature and the Media at the University of Lisbon. She holds a degree in Art Studies (specialization in Film Studies), as well as an MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. She obtained formation on Digital Journalism, at CENJOR (Center of Professional Formation for Journalism). She’s addicted to movies, passionate about literature, and a music lover.