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Maria Lamas, the photographer who challenged Salazar with her nation of barefoot women


Highlights: Photographer Maria Lamas documented daily life of Sisyphus women in Portugal. Lamas traveled alone to every corner of the country to photograph and describe the work of women. Many of its protagonists are barefoot even though it was prohibited because it was considered unsightly, unhygienic, and gave an image of poverty that displeased the regime. The images of the journalist and dissident are shown for the first time in an exhibition in Lisbon until May 28, 2014.

The images of the journalist and dissident, which document the harshness of daily female life during the dictatorship in Portugal, are shown for the first time in an exhibition in Lisbon

Maria Lamas (1893-1983) challenged many things at a time when challenging did not come free.

The Portuguese woman went through the dictatorship's prison three times and lived in exile for more than seven years.

Neither one thing nor another dissuaded her from fighting for the three causes that she embraced unconditionally: women's rights, the defense of peace and the end of the Estado Novo, the authoritarian regime that plunged her country into a long night for nearly fifty years.

She was already a relevant and marked woman when in 1948 she embarked on a project that has no parallel: traveling alone to every corner of the country to photograph and describe the work of women.

With them she ate and slept in houses and huts.

She saw them pushing coal wagons and lifting huge grains, walking for hours with milk jugs on their heads and toiling with children tied up on their backs with a shawl.

To get to the last corner she traveled in whatever she had at hand, whether it was a train, a truck, a donkey or an ox cart.

“If she had to do something, she did it.

No matter what it costs”, her granddaughter, Maria d'Aires, evokes it.

Both her images and texts demonstrate her empathy toward her models, as seen in the description of a 15-year-old teenager who supplies water to workers building a road on a northern mountain.

“The water is far away.

It is necessary to go up and down a lot.

The floor is difficult, slippery, all covered in splintered stone.

In the middle of winter, the cold there is freezing and it snows many times.

But she fulfills, without faltering, her task.”

On the left, a young mother with her first child in Castanheira, Serra da Estrela.

On the right, a girl sifts rye in the Manteigas region.

(1948-1950)Maria Lamas (Heirs of Maria Lamas)

Many of its protagonists are barefoot even though it was prohibited because it was considered unsightly, unhygienic, and giving an image of poverty that displeased the regime.

Lamas documented the daily life of Sisyphus women, who tirelessly repeated exhausting jobs and who seemed old before they were 25. Nothing to do with the image that the dictatorship, the Church and certain literature encouraged as the female ideology of the angelic guardian of the home, as revealed this text that accompanies a photo of young people in the mines of São Pedro da Cova: “The girls start working at 14 years old.

They carry out the removal, that is, the transportation of the coal or stone, on their heads, in baskets.

Only after they are considered grown women are they employed in dividing, sorting and transporting in wagons.

The coal dust gives them an early hardened air.

They learn to face life prematurely.”

Maria Lamas's work was published in fascicles between 1948 and 1950 in a publishing house founded by herself for this purpose and was titled

As Mulheres do Meu País


“It is a unique project in the world because it is at the same time a literary, photographic, anthropological and ethnographic study of Portuguese women in the countryside, the coast, the mines, the factories, the houses and the schools, from north to south, and on the islands of Azores and Madeira,” Jorge Calado, curator of the exhibition

As Mulheres by Maria Lamas

, which is on display at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in Lisbon, until May 28,

underlines by email .

“To my knowledge, it is the first female portrait of a nation anywhere in the world,” he maintains in the catalogue.

Young people from Azinhal, a village in the Algarve, portrayed for As Mulheres do Meu Pais (1948-1950) by Maria Lamas.


Although five decades have passed in democracy, it is the first time that the Portuguese can see the work of Maria Lamas in an exhibition.

It has been a particular endeavor of Calado, motivated both by professional admiration and by the relationship between his family and the writer born in Torres Novas.

Lamas's photographic work had been relegated to journalism, literature and politics.

Maybe because she was the photographer of only one work.

Neither before nor after

As Mulheres do Meu País

did she take up the camera again.

Calado remembers in the catalog that he asked his son-in-law for help to familiarize himself with some minimal techniques and to get a simple Kodak Brownie.

With it he took some photos that the curator considers “extraordinarily modern, comparable to the best American neorealist photos of the years 1930-40: Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein or Ben Shahn.”

Lamas left only 157 images.

They are enough to symbolize a society and an era.

“She left it as a moral inheritance, humble, but sincerely, firmly confident in the redemption of humanity through love,” the author wrote.

The Portuguese journalist, writer and photographer Maria Lamas in an undated image.

The simple gestation of the work reveals aspects of Lamas's personality.

She may not have applied the label of feminist to herself, but she had the courage of English suffragette pioneers like the Pankhursts.

In 1945 she was elected president of the National Council of Portuguese Women.

Two years later she organized an exhibition on books written by women: 1,500 authors from all over the world and 2,800 works, some banned in Portugal.

A thousand people came to see it every day.

Salazar got fed up and liquidated the Women's Council with the argument that the regime was already addressing female needs through the Mothers' Work for National Education.

Maria Lamas then decides that she is going to tell and portray the reality of the Portuguese women from Minho to the Algarve.

When it was published, she recalls Calado, “it had almost no impact for political reasons.”

The same year that the work began, it also embarked on supporting an opposition candidacy for the elections for the Presidency of the Republic.

Like all the processes carried out during the Estado Novo, it was a pure farce.

The following year she Lamas participates in the founding of the National Democratic Movement and she is detained for a week.

It will be her first visit to the dictatorship's prisons.

Her longest stay will be five months in 1950. she “she was totally isolated during that time.

She was not allowed to receive visitors, nor to read or write.

She developed depression and diabetes, which forced her to be hospitalized,” recalls her granddaughter Maria d'Aires.

She was admired and persecuted at the same time.

“During fascism she was a banned name.

Being her granddaughter was a great burden, I stopped using the name to avoid discomfort.”

Maria d'Aires, who also distanced herself from oppression abroad, realized upon her return that her grandmother “was one of the leaders of the women of Portugal.”

After the dictatorship hindered his work as a journalist starting in 1945 and the three prison experiences, Lamas went into exile in Paris, where he reinforced his work in movements in defense of peace and against nuclear weapons.

“Peace is a revolution,” he said.

He returned to Portugal in 1969, after the opening wind that blew over the dictatorship when Marcelo Caetano replaced Salazar, and attended the Carnation Revolution.

In 1974, already in democracy, he joined the Portuguese Communist Party.

Her name is today on numerous streets and squares in the country, which honor her political struggle and her defense of women's freedom.

However, nearly seven decades had to pass before her photographs could be seen for the first time in an exhibition in Portugal.

Women separate batches of fish on Furadouro beach in Portugal.


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Source: elparis

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