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Book Review: Águas de Ouro by Sandra Cattaneo Adorno

© Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno: Águas de Ouro (Radius Books).

“Synonymous with paradise and glamour, Ipanema was once an exclusive provenance of the wealthy elite, where songs of love and splendor were written to the tall, tan, young, and lovely girls passing along the waterfront. Today, all that has changed and Ipanema now welcomes Brazilians from all walks of life to partake in the pleasures of sun and surf,” the press release informs me.

Sandra Cattaneo Adorno began photographing at the age of 60 – and that is what primarily caught my interest in this book. The other reason is that I have a special fondness for Brazil, a country that I’m visiting regularly. However, I’ve never been to Rio but have heard of course of Ipanema, one of the world’s most legendary beaches.

© Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno: Águas de Ouro (Radius Books).

Does one look at the world differently when over 60? “When I was young,” a bus driver recently told me, “I was always in a hurry and had no time for the things by the side of the road, now I see more often what’s in front of me.” Since my experience is similar I tend to agree. The other day, however, this thinking of mine was challenged when I showed my younger brother a fence near his house that I had photographed – he had no clue where the photo was taken but his young girls knew without hesitating what it showed. Differently put: Some people simply see things that others don’t, regardless of their age, or so it seems.

So what did Sandra Cattaneo Adorno see when at Ipanema? Well, I can’t really say, I only know what she decided to show us – mostly young people, sometimes playing, sometimes posing as well as moving in and out of the water. She did not depict real life as it unfolds but opted instead for her aesthetic version of Ipanema and in doing so gave expression to saudade, the bittersweet yearning so typical of Brazilians.

As the title Águas de Ouro (Portuguese for “waters of gold”) suggests, we carry our myths and images inside us for, needless to say, waters of gold do only exist in our imagination. Photographer Sandra Cattaneo Adorno saw to it that we now also see them in front of our eyes. Her aesthetically appealing photographs I understand to be an invitation to dream.

© Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno: Águas de Ouro (Radius Books).

From her brief elaborations I learn that the pictures were taken at dusk hence the people portrayed appear as silhouettes. They also remind her that “going to the beach as a little girl was different then; we weren’t allowed in the sun. To my British mother the sun was alien, unsafe, harmful even. It would burn our light skin. But I could look.” And, this is also what she was doing when she took these photographs that represent and radiate saudade, the typical Brazilian longing.

Richard Rorty’s dictum “Existence with all its horrors is endurable only as an aesthetic fact,” comes to mind for I experience these pictures above all as an aesthetic pleasure.

© Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno: Águas de Ouro (Radius Books).

It is one of the human mysteries that our minds are constantly on the move, that nothing is forever fixed, that the only permanent thing is change. I find it miraculous that I can sit in an apartment in Eastern Switzerland, look at photographs of a Brazilian beach thousands of kilometers away and to experience sensations of being there.

Yet my restless mind does not stop at Ipanema and the folks depicted there, it transports me to other Brazilian beaches in the South and the Northeast. And then – my mind does what it wants! – to beaches in Southern Thailand and and and …

The power of photographs lies in their ability to direct our attention. Returning to the ones by Sandra Cattaneo Adorno in Águas de Ouro brings me once again to Rio and Ipanema. Contemplating them not only makes me dream but also fills me with the wish of going there … “… must we dream our dreams and have them, too?” Elizabeth Bishop asked in Question of Travel. Sometimes that would indeed be nice …


Águas de Ouro book cover


Águas de Ouro
By Sandra Cattaneo Adorno
Radius Books, Santa Fe, NM, 2020
Available at: radiusbooks.org

Sandra Cattaneo Adorno: https://www.sandracattaneoadorno.com

About Hans Durrer

Hans Durrer is an author and addiction counsellor based in Switzerland. www.hansdurrer.com/, 12-step-addiction-treatment.blogspot.ch/. Two of his books are in English: Ways of Perception, Bangkok 2006; Framing the World, Houston 2011.

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