Alice Bernardo is the author of Saber Fazer, a documental project started in 2010, with the goal of preserving the artisanal and semi-industrial production tradition in Portugal. “I understood that a lot of the knowledge these makers held wasn’t being passed on to anyone,” Alice said, “and it was going to be lost very soon.”
Alice has been featured on her own TEDx talk for this evolving project. She took a break from her travels in Brazil to talk with me about why the stories of these makers in particular seemed so necessary to preserve. The photos here are all by Alice, with more published on her blog.
1. Why did you decide to focus on Portuguese craftsmen (and women)?
During my architecture internship in architecture school, I got to accompany and document the work of a few craftsmen that collaborated on the renovation of a historical building. Although that moment sparked my interest in artisanal production and also on the possibility of documenting it, it wasn’t until after I developed my own online projects that I started Saber Fazer.
These makers became my focus because I believe that what they make is much more than just a product. It’s the sum of their experiences, their dedication, of the place and conditions they live in…I understood that a lot of the knowledge they held wasn’t being passed on to anyone, and it was going to be lost very soon. Understanding and documenting their craft through photography and my own experience seemed like a way of helping to prevent this loss of information.
2. What would be lost?
I believe that production chains have become so long and complex that it has created a sort of detachment between all the elements involved in the process, and this brought about a lot of manufacture related issues, involving quality standards, raw matter sourcing, working conditions, cheap labour, worker’s rights, etc.
Being so focused on manufacturing processes and on connecting the final product to its creation process, I would like to see companies and designers take more responsibility on how their products are made and on making sure that whatever they put out there embodies their principles.
3. How do you discover new makers you want to photograph?
I’m always paying attention to everything that is related to the topic.
If I find something I like, I’ll track down the person who made it or if I’m interested in a specific topic, I’ll start investigating until I find someone who works on that. I also get a lot of tips from the makers themselves and from people that read my blog.
My investigation is always made “on the field,” talking to people and traveling to find out something interesting.
4. If you had one message for consumers, what would it be?
Buy less, buy better.
I believe that for someone born in my generation and younger this is an important thing to learn, because we grew up in a time of consumerism where the focus was on buying more for less, and not investing on quality. In the process we lost the ability to tell apart good production from bad production and we became helpless faces to big stores full of products that look the same, and powerful advertising.
Be more demanding: look at the composition, learn where it is made, pay attention to the details and try to understand if it is well built and worth your money.