I had never actually set foot inside the Palácio Gama Lobo in Loulé before but, as soon as I did, both my feet became extremely happy. I rushed to snap some pictures of them walking around on the beautiful tiled patterned floor and got so involved with that, I almost forgot to look up at the fabulous ceilings as well.
This palace, built for Manuel da Gama Lobo in 1763, is located near the bus station, and for the last few years has become the home of the Loulé Criativo project. However, as interesting as this all is, it's not why I was here. I was on a mission. I came to see an exhibition that’s showcasing one of the most iconic sights that the Algarve has to offer and that usually, like the rather epic ceilings of this palace - you normally have to remember to look UP to see.
Nothing but blue skies
For the last 20 years, local photographer Filipe da Palma has been working hard to capture on film and thus preserve the beautiful old architecture of the Algarve and in this latest exhibition he’s focusing his camera lens exclusively on the beautiful old chimneys.
Making my way around I was really struck by how he’s captured them all how they are ‘meant to be’. He’s been absolutely uncompromising in the fact that he only photographs on days when there isn’t a cloud on the horizon - so that every photo of these elegant (mostly) white chimneys contrast beautifully with that deep blue unmistakably Algarvian sky.
The exhibition also features a collection of beautiful miniature clay chimneys borrowed from the Loulé museum by the late artist Eduardo Jacinto dos Santos, more commonly known (you can understand why) as ‘Eduardo das Chaminés’.
Meet the man behind the camera
I wanted to know more about the photographer and inquired whether it would be possible to meet him sometime? It was then that I found out that I wasn’t the only ‘press on the case’ and that I was actually hot on the heels of RTP who were coming to meet him in two days' time. However, after talking to Filipe, who lives in Portimão, he very kindly agreed to let me scoop the Portuguese TV channel and came a little earlier to sit down and have a coffee with me before the film crew arrived.
Filipe was born in São Brás and grew up in the Algarve. He had a passion for photography from an early age and went on to take a specialized course at ArCo - Centro de Arte e Comunicação Visual in Lisbon. When his son was born he moved back to the Algarve and he now works as a photographer for the Câmara Municipal de Portimão. However, in his free time, he has been slowly but surely capturing this beautiful old architecture and spreading awareness about its importance to the region.
Raindrops aren’t falling on my head
Filipe told me he also has a huge passion for what's called ‘platibandas’. I didn’t know what they were and he explained they are what you quite often find on the front of old Portuguese buildings in the city. They have the function of hiding the guttering that stops the water pouring off the roof and onto shoppers' heads. However, even though they served this function they were also embellished with all kinds of wonderful designs. Indeed, they became such a popular way of decorating the front of a house that they were often used in places where passersby wouldn’t have been in any danger of being soaked anyway.
Filipe was wearing a rather striking and majestic orange jacket that I later found out was emblazoned with patterns typically found on platibandas. Much to everybody's amusement, he later flatly refused to take it off for RTP who suggested he might be more comfortable without it.
Both platibandas and chimneys have a function and so there’s no real need to make them so pretty and that's one of the things Filipe finds so interesting about them.
He explained that nowadays we speed by in our cars, eyes on the road and barely look up. But back in the day, it was a slower pace of life and people had more time to look around and actually notice each other's chimneys.
Before the industrial revolution, it wasn’t possible to create a conveyor belt of copycats and so every chimney was made completely unique. Apparently, the ‘pedreiros’ (stonemasons) would commonly ask, not how much you wanted to pay? But how many days of work would you like? Filipe explained that having a nice chimney wasn’t necessarily a way of flouting your wealth, but more of a way of showing that you were doing okay in life and could afford to make things a little bit more beautiful for everyone.
See it before they go ‘up in smoke’
Filipe told me he was very happy that kids from the local schools would be coming on class trips to see the exhibition as it will hopefully help them grow up with an appreciation and desire to preserve what, let's face it, is one of the most quaint and quintessential hallmarks of the Algarve.
Much to everybody's excitement RTP arrived and, although a little nervous, Filipe did great.
The exhibition is still on til the 31st of March and if you are in Loulé I highly recommend you take a little detour and go and check it out for yourselves. And, in the meantime, don’t forget to look up!