A Vibrant Peace - Could Porto be Our Next Living/Working Destination?

Portugal, a country that has long been overlooked or overshadowed by its financial turmoil, is quickly becoming a new spotlight of Europe as an alternative living/working/creative hub/start-up destination. The country’s second largest metropolis Porto, some call it the Portland of Portugal, is catching up with Lisbon and have become a new chic central with its burgeoning food scene,  design stores, historic architecture mixed with contemporary interiors, and more importantly, a much lower price point for those who are in search of a higher quality of living.

TOTEM COLLECTIVE took a trip to Porto recently and met up with Swedish photographer Victor Staaf, who has found himself at home in Porto after living in mega cities from the likes of Stockholm, Berlin, London, Mexico City. We walked through some of the unknown neighborhoods of this seaside city with a TOTE 01 and explored some of Victor personal tips and thoughts of this gem he calls home.

 TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

1. Could you tell us about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do? And why do you live in Porto?

My name is Victor Staaf, I'm originally from Stockholm, Sweden but I have lived abroad since 2004 in several places: Berlin, London, Mexico City and now I live in Porto.

I'm a photographer and at the moment I'm spending most of energy on street photography. To me, street photography is a way to create images of what you have in front of you without giving directions to anyone.

When I'm not photographing I am probably in the darkroom, developing or printing. I'm running a little darkroom here in Porto called GREY Darkroom, with workshops and rental space for other photographers to print color and B&W.

My girlfriend and I choose Porto because we were looking for a place to settle down in Europe and Porto was a contrast from the cities where I had lived before, like Berlin and London. We had been in Porto for my birthday a year earlier so we knew we liked it. Plus, you have the best seafood and the beach is around the corner. I'm an unsettled person but I feel pretty settled at the moment.

 TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

2. Porto has a lot of different identities today. It’s creative, relaxing, entrepreneurial, affordable, vibrant… What are the key words that speak to you? And why?

Quality is a word that comes to mind. Porto is geographically a small city but the quality of restaurants, museums, galleries and events are very high. Also, quality of life living here.

 TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

3. Could you name your favorite bar, favorite restaurant, favorite shop and favorite cafe in Porto?

Bar: Passos Manuel.

Restaurant: For a low key date night dinner would be Nabos da Pucara. It's a deli/ shop/ wine bar that has a menu of small dishes that are great to share.

Cafe: If I go to a café by myself I just stand at the bar, downing my coffee in less than a minute but for a weekend morning breakfast and read, and my favorite café is Pastelaria Cana Doce which is close to where I live. They have an amazing 'Torrada', which is just toasted white bread, cut really thick, smeared in butter and then cut lengthwise. Go there and order "torrada, pastel de nata, café e sumo de laranja" and you're in for a treat.

Shop: I don't really like shopping much but I do love the old small Portuguese shops that sell home and garden stuff (and pretty much everything else). These shops are spread out around town but my favorites are around Rotunda Boavista. Most have over the counter service, so no browsing, which can be hard, but the idea is to ask the shop keeper because they keep most things in the back anyway. Every time I enter one of those shops I usually leave with something I never knew I wanted.

 TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

4. You also took pictures backstage at Porto Fashion Week. What was your impression of it? How are the creative energy in Porto or in Portugal in general and what insights can you give someone who might be interested in participating?

When I photographed Porto FW, I was very much in my own world. I had only lived in Porto for about 3-4 months and didn't really understand any spoken Portuguese plus I had never met any of the people working backstage before. I took that to my advantage and I felt very free to move around as I pleased. I could shoot more aggressively than out on the street without getting too much attention. The event had great energy throughout which made it very interesting to photograph.

 TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

TOTE 01 - PORTO  Photo: Victor Staaf

5. We love the pictures you took. Which camera did you use?

Thanks, I used a Mamiya 7 with a Metz flash shot on Kodak 160 Portra. This is what I mostly use for my street photography at the moment.

 Mudança de Cidade, Victor Staaf, 2016

Mudança de Cidade, Victor Staaf, 2016

6. How does the Portuguese mentality influence your way of photography?

Portuguese people are very social so I find myself spending more time talking to people when I'm out photographing than I've done in other places. I'm very easily distracted so when I'm out photographing I go out specifically to take photos, with no other goal in mind. Sometimes, when I feel like I am getting nowhere, I can get very impatient and I try to force myself to take a good photo. That usually never works. I just end up doing the same mistakes over and over. So I have discovered talking to people more helps me slow down and it's a good way to practice my Portuguese.

 Mudança de Cidade, Victor Staaf, 2016

Mudança de Cidade, Victor Staaf, 2016

7. Your photographs in Porto have a feeling where time stands still. Is that also the feeling you get in Porto?

Not at all. Porto still has an old look to it but I can see a difference just in the one year I've been here. Especially in the center, buildings are being restored and new shops and restaurants are popping up all the time.

One of the reasons I like photographing with film is that it makes the photo harder to establish when it was taken. I find that with digital, especially when shooting street photography, you know that it can't be older than like 10 years. I love that mystery of film.

 Mudança de Cidade, Victor Staaf, 2016

Mudança de Cidade, Victor Staaf, 2016

8. If you have to name one thing you don’t like about Porto, what would it be?

Since I walk a lot and I walk fast, sometimes I get really annoyed by the narrow sidewalks, especially when it rains, when most people have umbrellas which block the whole path and it's impossible to pass. Argh!

 

Check out more of Victor Staaf's Photography at:

http://www.victorstaaf.com/