Recently, I was walking out of a hotel in Cascais, Portugal. It was early, a cold, unseasonable bite in the air. I was there for a contest called the Perfect Chapter, which was to be followed by a week of trekking around the country with Clay Marzo, Mikey February, Pedro Boonman, Ace Buchan, Nic von Rupp, and, for a few hours, Adriano de Souza. I was there to follow along, drink the wine, eat the food, do the things Visit Portugal had lined up for us, and put words on paper. As we walked out of the Oitavos Hotel, a slight man with a huge smile and a set of yellow sunglasses greeted us. He looked familiar, I was sure of it. He shook my hand and told me his name was André Carvalho. Of course I knew this man.
André Carvalho is one of the best photographers in the business, and I’d laid eyes on his work countless times. He’s not so much of an action guy, although he’s certainly not not an action guy. You likely won’t see his photos on a World Surf League press release filled with action shots from the water. No, André’s work is art. He sees beautiful moments in life that escape most of us. Sometimes the action is there, but it’s almost always not just an image of the action.
Different angles; different tricks of light, and he is capable of transferring those moments to a still image that tells an entire story. For the purposes of our trip, he was there to focus on surf — an area in which he certainly excels — but his photos are wide-ranging, from cars and music to travel and advertorial and everything on either side and in between. That morning in front of the hotel, André handed me a book of surf photos titled Salitre. It was the second edition. “Have a look,” he said. “See what you think.”
What I found in those pages was not only one of the most stunning collections of photos from an insanely talented group of photographers from all over Portugal, but an inspiring story about why they decided to make the book. Salitre features the work of Carvalho, Joao “Brek” Bracourt, Pedro Mestre, Helio Antonio, and Tó Mané, all of whom are some of the best photographers you’ll find anywhere.
A few days later, as we drove to yet another wonderful place (I don’t remember where, exactly, we were going, but I do know it was wonderful because Portugal is wonderful), I asked André a few questions about how the book came to be.
What made you decide to publish Salitre?
It was really frustrating when all the magazines died, because sometimes it seems that we only work for social media to see a picture 1,000 pixels. During the pandemic, we had more time to think. I thought it would be cool to create a collective and try to make a book about the year. That’s how the project began.
The the first one was kind of a pandemic issue?
Yes, we sold out quickly, so we decided to make one book a year. This next edition is almost out. It will come out in September.
You’re a graphic designer as well as a photographer, right? Salitre is a beautiful book. Was the layout your doing?
I was a graphic designer for years, but I’m tired of it. The last five years, I only do photography. We keep the design simple. It’s minimal. We don’t want the design to be stronger than the pictures. We want the pictures to speak for themselves, so the design is stark. We want you to open the book and feel the image.
Do you ever think about adding articles to it so it’s a more like a magazine?
Yeah, the first year, it was cool. We had the legend with the day and a little story. You could check by the date if it was a yellow alert or a red alert — if you couldn’t leave the house or if you had to stay inside certain borders because of Covid — but sometime we broke the rules. Some of the Portuguese surfers broke all the rules and surfed every day. They ran away from the cops and everything. In this edition, we just put the place and the photographer, but we are thinking the next issue probably will have an interview or an article about a surfer or shaper or someone in the surf industry.
Do you guys have plans to expand on the book?
This is a collective, and we want to do not only the book. We want to do podcasts, exhibitions, a website… we want the world, but we don’t have time for that. We have our jobs and so it’s a passion project. A passion project that takes up much of our time.
What was the hardest thing about getting the first one published?
Well, I never had doubts that we could sell the book, but we were all like, “Is this possible or not?” But I had faith in our project. The first goal was to just sell the book to break even. In Portugal, we’re not used to doing a project together. Everyone wants to do a solo project. But together, we’re stronger. If we are together, we can learn from each other. We all have a healthy competition between us, which is really good. I want to take better pictures than the other guys, but always with a smile like when we’re surfing with friends. If your friend gets a good barrel, you are excited. That’s the spirit of it.
Was Salitre your idea to begin with?
It was my idea initially. I invited the others, but I’d never spoken to Helio before. I only met him in person after the book was done. He’s a humble guy. We spoke on the phone, and I just had a feeling about him. I’m glad about my feelings, because all the guys are incredible. We all have different visions, but that’s what makes it work.
I feel as though you picked the five best photographers that you could have. Were there any others that you thought about but ultimately didn’t invite to be a part of the project?
When I started thinking about Salitre, to be honest, I had three or four more guys. It was a bigger collective at first. Then I started making the logo and making it more real, and after two months some of them hadn’t expressed much interest in the group chat about it we had on WhatsApp. So I closed the group and started another one. I’m not earning money off this, so the only thing we expect is the same dedication. If not… well, do your own project.
Do you think there are a lot more of those passion project kind of things in surfing? You wouldn’t see a bunch of basketball photographers getting together and doing this.
Well, you see a similar thing in music. You have rock photographers collective. They sell sweatshirts and t-shirts — lots of merchandise. I think we have time to grow and start making our own merchandise. Surfing has more of a lifestyle. You have the surfers, skaters, snowboarders. It’s more about the lifestyle. For me I don’t need to shoot action in surfing to shoot surfing. You can only shoot the feeling, and in surfing it’s all about the feeling.
When it comes to the actual physical process of making the book, how does it work?
One rule is that we all make our own selections. Everyone chooses the pictures they took that they want in the book. I asked them to send me your 30 best photos for the book. The first one was divided by portfolios — everyone had 20 pages — but this one all the pictures are mixed up. It’s much better this way. I make the first design and I send it to the guys, and they give me their input. Then we work from there. I’m lucky because the guys trust me.
Is it ever hard having a bunch of artistic people collaborating on a single book? Does anyone ever butt heads?
I try to respect their ideas. I’m truly excited to give their work the attention its deserves. To give you an example, I have a picture that I took from a hill in Caparica. I thought it was going to be a double spread. Then Helio screwed me [laughs] because he went on a better day with better light. When I saw the two pictures, I just knew it was the Helio picture that deserved the double spread.
How can people get their hands on Salitre?
We have a website for sales so you can order online, then we ship the book to you. The first issue, we could have published more books and sold them, but we decided not to. If you grabbed it at the beginning, you got it. Otherwise, you have to wait another year. Because it’s not to make money. It’s about quality over quantity.