Framed-The Festakars of Goa
Iris C F Gomes
The month of January saw a flurry of postings on social media about the portrait photography of Alex Fernandes entitled Festakars. The delicacy and other worldly beauty of these photographs, which captured the essence, the inner soul, of every one of the models who sat for him, is so very evident. This self-taught photographer of Goan origin wields the camera with great artistic expertise.
‘I am actually a product of the advertising and fashion industry,’ says Alex, who began his foray into the world of fashion and advertising as an assistant photographer in 1984 in Mumbai. From 1987 to 1990 Alex worked at his first job as a commercial photographer in the Middle East.
The aftermath of the first Gulf War saw him join the Kodak distributor in Kuwait. He says, ‘During my tenure (1992-2001) I also conducted lighting workshops for the company. The workshops for ‘Profoto’ film and ‘Potra’ paper which were Kodak products used exclusively for portraiture were on behalf of Kodak (Near East) based in Dubai.’ Part of the sales and services included offering equipment and solutions to other photographers. This permitted Alex, as a consultant photographer, to familiarise himself with different types of photographers, appreciating their styles and studio conditions.
In 2004, Alex opened Portrait Atelier in Goa. ‘The aim was to introduce portraiture in Goa that was unique,’ he says. Talking about his style of photography, he says, ‘I like doing posed portraits in the studio. I think I have a special skill photographing people in the studio. Most of my sitters are not professional models and some have never been photographed in the studio.’
Alex has been able to train in Basel, Switzerland and the Middle Eastern countries as part of his job. He has participated in lighting/technical workshops with the Broncolor lighting systems manufacturer Sinar Bron AG, and with Hasselblad and Nikon too.
Past exhibitions that Alex has had include Tiatristes in 2008 and a group show curated by Ranjit Hoskote called Retrieval Systems besides others. His photographs have been part of Goa Photo 2015 which was the first international photography festival to be held at outdoor locations throughout Panaji. Tiatristes in particular won the praise of photographer Dayanita Singh who encouraged him to continue with his unique style of photography. The tribute collection comprised of photographs of 34 tiatristes from Goa as well as Mumbai.
The concept of Festakars emerged from Alex’ scrutiny of the dressing habits of Goan Catholics on days of religious observance. He says, ‘I grew up in Bombay, it was a very cosmopolitan place. My only connection with Goa and Goans was when I went to church on Sunday or on feast days. I noticed Goan Catholics had a very quirky way of dressing for a feast or Sunday mass. People from various social hierarchies would dress in a very typical Goan style. My work is much influenced by Mario de Miranda whose caricatures of Catholics attending a church fest also depict the quirks of a Festakar.’
Alex’ partner in crime, whose job was to select the right models for the Festakar series, was artist Clarice Vaz. Alex became acquainted with Clarice, whose forte is spin painting and fluid painting, when he was hired to photograph the paintings of her second exhibition at Gallery Gitanjali. Clarice spends much of her time in social service, helping people using her training as a nurse. She has been furthermore involved in transforming the appearance of the Saligao cemetery, a task she has dedicated much time to after the death of her son Craig. The respect that the Saligaonkars have for this amazing lady is one of the reasons they were willing to be photographed by someone unknown to them. She was instrumental in choosing the right people for Alex to photograph. From the postman and the lady who supplies pork to the elite of the village, they all appeared equally grand in Alex’ photographs. Alex says, ‘I knew that being an artist she would understand what I was looking for in my portraits.’
(To the left is the picturesque village of Saligao)
Clarice has a high regard for Alex’ photography and the rapport he had with his models. He met these people for the first time and they had never been photographed in a professional setting, yet he put them at ease. This comfort level is obvious in the photographs. ‘Saligao villagers are quite unique. They are very proud of their heritage. Clarice had carefully picked people for the shoot on the 17th of January, the feast at St Cajetan’s Chapel, Saligao. Everyone showed up at their allotted time slots, and though we had planned on doing 30 portraits, we ended up with 60. Even the brass band from Calangute was part of the series,’ says Alex.
One of his models from the Festakar series, Mrs Astrid De Souza, is all set to make her debut in a Bollywood film starring Alia Bhatt. Newton Dias, a model coordinator, was in search of a ‘cuddly grandmother’ for the film. Alex says, ‘I knew Mrs De Souza was the one from the way she photographed. She was a natural, and the rest is history.’
Alex may carry on his Festakar series by shifting his attention to the south of Goa, which he feels will have a different character. Though no certain date has been fixed to exhibit the photographs, he believes it will be soon enough. He is continuing with another series simultaneously which features 30 performers from the Western influenced music genre in Goa. ‘The series features rockstars like Remo Fernandes; percussionist Bondo (Jose Fernandes); Mr Anthony Prabhu Gonsalves, the musical genius from the village of Majorda who made huge contributions to the Bollywood music industry; musicians who are clergy from the Pillar music school; music maestros from tiatr, and also foreign musicians like Goa Gil who pioneered the early Goa beach party and the Goa trance scene since the 70s,’ says Alex.
Alex makes Goa proud with his talent for portraits. We hope to see him win continued renown in keeping with his creativity.