Pain or Peace
There are some moments in a man's life that are truly capable of changing him in the depths of his being. Whether through pain or peace, sadness or joy. For a photographer like me, the feelings that arose in my heart over the years also became part of my photographic language.
13 Years Old
On February 9, 2020, my younger brother, Pedro Henrique, passed away while battling cancer. He was only 13 years old. At first I felt that I had lost all my motivation as a photographer and as an individual. It was impossible to ignore the pain of losing someone I loved and live pretending everything was fine.
It may seem like an exaggeration, but it was photography that made me appreciate life again. As soon as the Covid-19 pandemic started, I took an old analog camera that I had, and decided to start documenting those ordinary moments isolated at home. I did this without having any big goals in mind, I was just trying to reconnect with the people and environment around me. Slowly, photography became part of my experience of mourning and healing, and it taught me to always put true feelings in everything I do.
Since we lost my brother, my parents and I wanted to accomplish an important expedition in honor of him. In 2022, we made the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. For 30 days, we covered almost 800km, heading to the cathedral which houses the tomb of the Apostle James. We walked, we prayed, and we met incredible people. I consider this one of the greatest healing and faith experiences of my life.
Camera In Hand
I documented our entire journey with a Pentax Spotmatic F and a couple rolls of color and black and white film. ILFORD HP5 Plus 400 and ILFORD FP4 Plus 125 blazed through the mountains and plains of Spain. I can easily say that having a camera in hand made me feel even more involved going on around me. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of contemplating and photographing so many memorable landscapes and scenes. Whether it was while walking through the woods, inside an old church, or even resting in Albergues, I always felt something guiding my camera. I photographed everything that seemed to deserve my attention.
I will never forget the strange feeling of walking all day and the road never seems to end. On the one hand it was exhausting, but on the other, freeing. The truth is, day after day, I experienced a huge mix of thoughts and feelings going through my head. And that just makes it even more meaningful. It was necessary to really want to be there.
The whole trip was accompanied by a lot of enthusiasm and willingness, but evidently, grief and pain were always by our side. No matter how much time passes, longing will always occupy a suffocating space in the chest. We give thanks for life, but also allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel.
Far From Home
Many people, including friends, will never understand why we saw this pilgrimage as a true mission to be accomplished. A month, walking almost 25km a day, sharing room in albergues, far from home. This really wasn't just any trip.
I could say that our purpose was simply to visit the tomb of the Apostle James, or that we just wanted to spend some time disconnected from everyday life. But that would not be true. Placing this pilgrimage as a simple tribute to my brother is not enough either. It goes beyond that.
A Grieving Cowboy
While playing a grieving cowboy, Sam Elliott once said that when you love somebody, an exchange of souls takes place. They get a piece of yours; you get a piece of theirs. But when your love dies, a little piece of you dies too. That’s why it hurts so bad… Thankfully, that little piece of them is still inside of us. So, they can use our eyes to see the world.
My Adventure Companion
That's what I did. I took my brother, my best friend, my adventure companion, to enjoy the forests, mountains, rivers, plains and colorful skies. All through my eyes. During all those days, I was never alone, because he was by my side. I lived every moment of this pilgrimage for both of us.
My photos are not supposed to be artistic or outlandish... I simply recorded everything that made me feel my brother's presence in my heart. I wasn’t looking for beauty, but authenticity. Regardless of the setting, I like my photos to say something. It doesn’t have to be anything complex or philosophical, it can just be “hey, look, I like that”. I really don’t expect people to look at my work and think there’s something lush behind it. My photos are what they are. Records. Memoirs. A piece of me.
A New Chapter
Just as I would in my pilgrim days, today I say Ultreia. Which means forward, let's move on, or even hallelujah. Completing the journey along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela does not mean that the problems in my life will end. Not even the pain of loss will go away. The journey does not end here, but there is a new chapter starting. Life must go on with even more love and meaning.
Santiago de Compostela es el principio, no el final.
*All my photos were developed and scanned by LabLab Analógico, one of the most important film labs from Latin America. I have enormous respect and admiration for their team. A huge and special thank you to Mariana Guerra, Vitor Leite, Maria Mion and Alessa Berti.
About The Author
Born and raised in the city of Curitiba/Brazil, Gabriel Wisniewski is a film photographer, passionate about documenting life as he experiences it. This is also the main purpose of his work. Both in his commercial works and in his authorial projects, Wisniewski always seeks to tell stories through his photographs. At the moment, his focus is mainly on street, landscape and documentary photography.