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Rita Lino explores natural beauty, stripping away all that is false to bare honesty and authenticity. Raw and often carnal, her self-portraits challenge social comfort, but her fearlessness and nonchalance at embracing sexuality show an openness that is almost refreshing. She talks to us about her work and her upcoming book, letting us delve into her world only to get a mere glimpse of her enigmatic mind.

Where to begin? Was photography something that was part of your life from an early age or did you kind of grow into it?

No it was the second part. I was studying and I knew that I wanted to do something with images since early on. I would say 14 or 15. And then I just started and I don’t know how but it became a way of living. Step by step. I moved to Barcelona and I did this Post-grad in photography, which was good because it wasn’t very technical at all. It was all about how to create a project and how to defend your work, which was really helpful. And I never stopped. I was always studying and working in different things, and at the end of the day when I got home I would take some pictures just to have fun. Then it just became something very serious. Taking photos of myself was the only way to keep myself real and suddenly it became an obsession and a way of living.

What made you start taking the photos you do?

I started shooting my friends in the south of Portugal where I lived and where there was good weather. I just started shooting and having fun with them, but it was not enough for me. It was the beginning of the beginning of social media: MySpace and stuff like that. I was always around a camera and nice lights. I was lucky to always have had a lot of cameras because of my father. He’s not a photographer, but he’s passionate about photography and he lent me a camera. So it all started very slowly. It’s how I was growing up: I was… not a problematic kid, but you know, a kid trying to figure out how to deal with all of this sexuality and that’s pretty much serious business that no one ever explains! Girl to girl, when you’re 12 or 13, they’ll just tell you, “Oh, a red thing will come out of you one day” and that’s all you know. They don’t tell you about your hormones and how your insides are changing. So I think one day I just became very independent. I don’t know, maybe it was my way of dealing with my sexuality because you know, in the beginning I really liked what I was seeing. Not in a dirty, sexual way but maybe in a naïve way. Maybe in a sexually naïve way. And so it started like that… a research of my body, sexuality, intellect.

Let’s focus on that word, problematic…

No, I wasn’t problematic, but then, I was not an angel either. Like, despite always being really close to him since I was a kid, my father has had some problems with me. You know, the usual, going out too late or disappearing for a weekend. Not because I was mean, but because I was always a bit… well, now I’m a bit calmer. [Laughs] It was just a stop when everything else was going too fast.

What’s it like taking photos of yourself? You have almost formed this other relationship with yourself, right? It must be so different to shooting someone else or having someone else shoot you.

Yes, taking photos of myself is totally a relationship. No secrets, no shame. It’s a perfect relationship. Shooting someone else is another type of relationship; it’s another type of research. I like to shoot other people to understand where the beauty lies and how to make them feel honest and free. Having someone else shoot me… it’s really complicated. Usually if this happens it’s because I really like the project or it’s something special for me.
[When taking pictures of myself] it’s really like having fun. Like when I’m really happy. It’s not that deep. It could be… Like, maybe I could find a better word for it. It’s like, when you have a busy week – because I work and do a lot of crap jobs – it really fulfils me to do whatever I want without thinking about anything and I can just be myself.

That must be so liberating!

It is! It really is. Right now I’m really trying to push myself to go up another level from this liberated, fun moment to something more conceptual. Now, I think I’ve had enough fun and liberation. I need to give a purpose to it all. Nowadays, it’s not about fun anymore; I really take it seriously and want to do something big with it. I just want to feel happy about it, you know?

Have you always been that liberal with your body and with your sexuality?

I don’t know. My way of thinking and my way of looking at life is really easy-going and I don’t think too much. And often, I’m really shy when I’m around people.

Oh, really! (Both laugh)

Not really shy but I’m not used to it. I’m not good with small talk at social events. I am really bad at that!

So your work is really the way in which you express yourself…

Yeah, it is. And it’s funny because the other day when we were printing my new book, we had this huge sheet of all the pictures. Really hard-core stuff! The technical guy is there saying, “let’s put more red, more blue”, and everybody else feels a bit awkward and tries to discretely cover up the pictures. I can’t help but ask why? When I look at the pictures, I don’t relate myself to them. It’s just work, you know? So, I am that person, but at the same time, I’m not. It’s hard to explain. It’s a way of expression but in a social moment, I don’t relate myself to it. I’m not one of those crazy people who’s going to drink and take my clothes off.

This liberal mentality, it’s quite refreshing! (She laughs) Would you say that it has been influenced by your upbringing?

My family is not at all into art. I would say it’s just my nature. I was the youngest kid and I always had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I’m lucky like that. There’s also the fact that I was always a bit far and alienated from the rest of my friends in my village. Eventually, you just start growing and you start learning on your own...

Are your parents quite open to what you do?

More or less… I think in some ways, they are really proud. Some years ago they started seeing me in really good magazines or newspapers or galleries and nice people were starting to talk about me. So they kind of are ok with that. They know everything. Absolutely everything. They probably don’t like to look at my work – they don’t like that for sure! – but I’m pretty much sure that they’re proud. I think that’s the word. Or at least I like to think that’s the word. [Laughs]

There’s something really honest about your work. It’s really raw and intimate. Is there a character that you go into in your photos?

No, it’s just myself. [Laughs] All people are different. Probably when I was younger I was almost playing characters but now I don’t. Now it’s just my moods. It’s searching the different layers of my personality. All my “angles”. Each piece of my brain… It feels like a split personality, doesn’t it? Repeatedly concealing messages. Identity is always a mask — strange and ambiguous out of necessity.

What is your mood when you’re taking a photo? What goes through your mind?

It really depends because like on my website, I have titles and I usually work through series. Sometimes I can do a series in one day; sometimes I can take 4-5 years. [Laughs] Some parts of my mood have carried through from 2008 until now. It really depends. Sometimes it could be more emotional and personal. Sometimes it could be really dirty or kinky. It’s just always a way of looking. And it’s funny because when I have the pictures on my computer, I really like to look at them, even if they are really ugly because sometimes they are too raw [laughs]. I don’t know… I just started with myself and now I don’t feel like shooting anyone else.

What inspires you? Is it your mood: how you’re feeling at that particular moment?

Well, you know, everyday life! Or travelling. Travelling is one of my biggest inspirations. Knowing other people. Cinema. Books. Nature… everything you need from which to take notes and develop yourself as an artist while staying true to yourself. Artists too, but I don’t usually get inspired by other artists. I just like what they do. But inspired? I don’t know. It’s something that comes from very deep inside me.

How do you find people react to your work?

It depends. Usually very well. I always think people are expecting a different kind of person and people get really shy to talk about it. There was a moment when it was bad, but now people are nice. Believe me. People are really nice with me.

What’s the strangest reaction you’ve had to your work?

The weirdest? I don’t know… I get some weirdoes. Usually, my work is really easy to hate and really complicated to like. But, I don’t get hate messages.
It’s really weird with this age of Instagram and the selfie… The other day, a guy had said: “she puts a selfie on Facebook or Instagram and gets millions of likes and when I post something, I never get any”. That, for me, is weirder than a kinky, horny message from a man saying, “Oh, I saw your naked pictures”. This is ok. I don’t mind it at all. It’s nice having people feeling things, even if they’re bad things.
It’s just that now, people are almost mixing what I do with what everybody else does. I’m not saying I’m special, but I don’t call what I do a “selfie”. This is the strangest place to be right now. It’s like, “man! I don’t do selfies to get likes!” It makes me think: you should search a bit more because it’s not about that at all. It’s not about attention. It’s more than just a picture; it’s all about the work.

You’ve related your work to vomiting in the past… How does that work, exactly?

[Laughs] It’s like what I told you before. It’s about having fun. At this point, I’m trying to build something and trying to control that vomit, but before it was just like I arrive home, I’m tired and sick of everything and I think: “let’s do something impulsive”. This is the connection with vomit. I could relate it to a scream, but it’s not a scream. It’s much more like vomit. [Laughs]

Is anyone else ever there while you’re taking these photos?

Yes, Pedro, my boyfriend. He’s present almost all the time. Before, I would use the self-timing camera but since we are together, it’s just easier for him to take the photos. Especially outside: street shots and stuff like that. He’s like my lovely human tripod. [Laughs]

What’s your chemistry like on a shoot?

It’s just natural. We met through work four years ago. We started shooting from the very first day, so we didn’t need to explain anything. It was just there. If he’s taking a picture of me and I’m doing the most crazy or strange or horrible position, he will not say a thing. We just work perfectly and he respects everything I do.

Now you’re working for other brands and doing a lot of commission work. How do you inject your own personality and style into those shoots?

It depends. Some stuff I just do for money and I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t know how to put it into my life right now. Then there are editorials in fashion and magazines where they usually ask me to do commission work because they know what I’m doing.
I always try not to shoot many models. I always try to put my own work in a fashion way. Fashion is related to everything. I don’t want to turn my back on beauty and fashion and I’m ok with that. I am learning so I just want to shoot everything and my way to put my mark is just by being honest. I don’t retouch pictures. They are pretty much raw. I shoot with film, that’s really important for me. Not because it’s trendy but because of the feeling. For me, shooting is everything. It is really where I put all of my passion.
When brands contact me now, they know it’s going to be my way of doing things. It’s going to be very natural. I like to look at the beauty of people. I don’t care if they’re skinny or not. I need something that’s really natural. If I take my clothes off – which is almost all the time in my pictures – it’s because clothes and fashion are such social things. If you put on a red dress, it says something more. If you’re wearing a grey sweatshirt [points to herself] it’s like pyjamas. I take my clothes off because I just want to be true and real. I like to be authentic.

Your book is set to be launched in a month’s time by Éditions du LIC. Tell us more about it.

Entartete (the title of the book) follows the experiments of my photographs in some years through many different self-stagings. Through a series of photographs and films I explore the possibilities of my body with an uninhibited sexuality and a playful, stylized shamelessness.
This book creates a perfect assembly of isolated images that together create a new and unique series. A natural obsession with the self. A continuous “work-in-progress” that re-creates many layers of my identity.
Nowadays we live in a society that has such a square mentality of beauty. Everybody says that we are more free, but for me it is as if we’re going backwards. So it’s kind of pushing the boundaries. I know that it’s not going to be an easy book to like. It’s not minimal. It’s not about having a beautiful image on a white background. It’s going to be hard and really rough. But I think maybe we need that. With everybody being so fake and everything being about perfection and trends: I just don’t care.

Are you ready for the controversy that will inevitably come with the release?

Yeah, I am. I don’t care.  I probably won’t get too many likes on Facebook. But I try not to care about that.

What else is in your future?

Looking at the past 10 years, I can really see myself getting old and I stop for a moment and think about it deeply. Like, what the fuck do I want to say? What do I want to do and express? And I don’t come to any conclusion. Now I need to put an end to this paragraph and start a new chapter. Not start shooting, I don’t know, birds… or something like that. I still have a lot to search and to know about myself and my body: about how I can look from my profile doing something new and strange. There are still a lot of things I want to do and show. My conclusion is just that if I was real up until now, I want to be even more real.


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