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MEET: João Cabrita Silva on Curiosity, Chasing Waves And How Chicken Flyers Kick-Started His Photography Career. 

By: Better Mondays 

— His IG feed chronicles life in the Algarve and his work is characterised by a sharp eye for light and movement but mostly, by the desire to play. Training under Sergio as a junior with local legends Miguel Mouzinho and the Belem brothers, he developed his taste for surf early on. He’s just completed a film on the rise of surf culture in Portugal, is a regular shooter for Alex Botelho + Marlon Lipke and has an epic year coming up.

Joao Cabrita Silva by Better Mondays Creative Agency

Photo by: Better Mondays Creative Agency

This man has an undeniable zest for life, an infectious smile and these words say it all. ‘It's in every book I read on how to make your dream into your profession. They all say it takes balls. It's hard work. I live simple. I don't have a nice car, I don't buy a lot of shit, and I try to minimise my costs so that I can live my dream.'

Go on, read below. 

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

[YST] What's that like, when Marlon [red. Marlon Lipke] is in a Barrel?

[João] [laughs] When a good surfer drops a wave and is in a barrel and I'm photographing that person, I feel like I'm in the barrel as well. I also need to swim hard to be in that place. I'm feeling that same release of energy, of happiness of the person that’s in the barrel. My friends sometimes ask me: ‘Don’t you want to come surfing? We’re having fun and you’re just taking pictures.’ 

 

And I say: ‘why? I get all your energies. You're smiling at me, he's smiling at me, everyone is sending their energy to me.’

 

[YST]  Spoken like a true photographer. When did you start? 

[João] I always liked photography. But I had a friend who had done photography since a young age, and because I always was an outdoor guy, I started going out on adventures with him. We started doing long exposures outside with a car, and experimenting with the creative process. At first I was his model, but I was more interested in learning how the camera worked than me being in the pictures. So I started investing. My first camera was a Nikon Coolpix that my parents got me, and I started from there. The first proper pictures I took were on a Nikon D3-1000.  At the time it was one of the cheapest DSLR cameras around. 

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

I remember when I was 17, I worked at a beach bar and would come home at five, completely beat. I just wanted to sleep and relax, but then a cloud would come [grins], I would see the light change and just had to go out. ‘I need to go, because maybe we don't get this for another two months. Let's go, let's go’ - it's the strongest fuel.

 

[YST] We heard you had a brief stint as a graphic designer?

[João] Yea, I went to Lisbon to study graphic design. It was fun, I learned the academic process there. Afterwards I did an internship in an agency, just doing flyers for chicken companies and stuff like that [laughs]. I didn't want to be in an office so I ran back to the Algarve and on my first day back, I went to NahNahBah. A friend of mine was a chef there and said  'we need new people, do you want to work?' and I said, ‘yes, let's do it!’ That summer I started making good money, working hard, but making good money. I bought my Nikon D3-1000 and went to Costa Rica during the fall.

 

[YST] Your first solo trip as a photographer. What was that like?

[João]  I was just travelling by myself and I started taking a lot of pictures there. I was taking pictures of nature, surfing, birds, the biodiversity, the world. I was really fascinated with everything, and then I met a girl who was a Human Rights lawyer. She was trying to make a participatory documentary there, on the human rights aspect of property laws for the Afro-American community there. And then everything was stolen from me from a hostel on that trip. The girl told me, 'next year I will be here again to start the documentary, if you have new equipment, you’re on the team as the photographer', because we connected and she liked my vibe.

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

[YST] But no more camera to work with…

[João] No. So I thought, ok, I went back to Lagos, worked again all summer. And prepared for round 2. I bought a slightly better camera, and I went to Costa Rica again. Worked on the documentary for 3 months. It was a bit amateur, but it was good, the experience to connect and to be a part of something bigger than you. When I came back to the Algarve, I met up with Alex Botelho again.

 

"Alex Botelho was going to Indonesia for two months and he needed a guy to film. And he just said, want to go to Indonesia next week?”

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

After two months of travelling and filming there, I decided, okay, now I'm going to do this for real. And from there on I started investing. I went to Australia for a year, and worked hard at every job that came along to save for a better camera. 

 

[YST] While we’re on the topic, let’s have a quick insight into your kitchen for starting surf photographers out there. Current gear set-up?

[João] Nikon D8-10 full frame and a Liquid Eye waterhouse. I like to use mostly because of the water, I want to give you that wide-angle perspective, and the water amplifies everything. So I use the 16mm, 24mm lens, 35mm most. I go as wide as I can and I usually want to be as close as possible.

 

[YST] Gear speak aside, what sets you apart from the rest? The Algarve is filled with budding surf photographers but your work really stands out.

[João] I know the area, I know the people, and I know the sport. I grew up here and put all my time and love in this place. I want to be the best at this. The camera is just my way of sharing this experience with people. It’s not about the technique to me, it’s about living my life, surfing, being in the water, and sharing that through my camera. I usually know the people that I'm photographing. If I think someone is captivating, I want to work with them, and the rest just flows organically. I just love the energy of someone being happy in the water. That’s what makes me good, it pushes me to be the best. It’s what I really love and where my focus is.  

 

“Blue Horizon [movie, 1994]; free surf v.s. the win. Rastafarick's dad said 'you think it, you feel it, you do it'. I always took that advice.”

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

No doubt that there are guys that are better than me technically, but I bring all my cards to the table. I can swim against the rip. I just do it.

 

[YST] So you don’t have to be a competition level surfer to shoot them?

[João] Not necessarily, but you need to bring something, an energy. Sometimes you are not as good technically as the surfer you shoot, but you do have the energy to wait until the sunset. To join the sunrise trips, or to join on a wave where you might not feel comfortable.You have to want to shoot that image. 

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

[João] I don't think I push the boundaries as much as the surfers do. The sea I swim in as a surfer is the same one I swim in as a photographer. I'm not an amazing surfer, but I can surf.. I've been surfing since I was twelve, when I started learning with Sergio’s group.

 

[YST] We heard this name before, Sergio, did he play a big role in your life?

[João] He’s a strict guy, but he has always been inspiring. He always kept us away from drugs, and made sure we respected people and lived a healthy life. For all of us, although in different ways for everyone, he played a major role for us growing up. He teaches his own kids now and runs a small junior group. When our generation moved on he didn’t teach for ten years. And now he has a new upcoming kids generation, and he looks happier now, since he’s had kids of his own. I've seen him again recently and he looks very happy. [laughs]

 

[YST] You seem like a spiritual guy.

[João] Education is the only road to spiritual awareness, you need to attain knowledge. [curious now] Would you like to teach?

[João] My grandmother, my grandfather and my auntie are all teachers. My aunt taught French, Portuguese and history. My girlfriend is an English teacher. I’d love to teach Philosophy [laughs], but no Kant or Aristotle though. I would like to teach people

what I'm always trying to learn. Thinking, awareness. To be aware of things, of your surroundings. This is what I would like to teach, because by teaching I would learn too. 

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

[YST] Favourite beach to surf?

[João] Zavial. It’s the wave where you can really push yourself. The waves are really aggressive, it's more challenging. 

 

[YST] So no Meia Praia surf for you?

[João] No, I love it. But Zavial is the only wave that really barrels, that allows you to push. And for shooting it's also one of the better waves. You can get into more intense images there. 

 

[YST] Alright then, who’s an inspiration to you?

[João] A classic one that I take as a reference is Sebastian Salgado, because his stories have balls and attitude. He travelled the whole world; he covered humanitarian crises, he chronicles environmental change, the devastation of the polar caps, the ecosystem, and landscapes. I really feel inspired by him. And in terms of surfing, I like guys that go hard in a barrel, but I'm a more sensitive guy, I'm the guy that wants to help you feel something. I want to transport you into the place where we surf, make you really feel it.

 

"As a surfer, I also like the aggression, the rawness of the barrel. But what I like more is the sensibility, the simplicity, the love."

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

[YST] Favourite time of day to shoot?

[João] Sunset. I like the sunset in winter. Because it's at 6 or 7 o'clock. During summer it’s too late, sometimes at 21:00 o’clock, and that’s dinnertime. 

 

[YST] Digital or film?

[João]  Digital. I love film though, I used it in university. We did two semesters of film and we had the lab and we had to reveal the film. But now I have a lab, and I don't really like that it gets expensive quickly. But I would like to do it more. 

 

[YST] Next topic then. Is there a surfer that you would love to work with?

[Grins] Stephanie Gilmore. She's the style queen. She has that sensibility, she smiles at you and you don't know what she's thinking. I like that mystery.

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

[YST] What makes the Algarve so special?

[João] Here in the Algarve, we have the clearest water. I think we have the best opportunities here, compared to other photographers in Portugal, to really become the best; because we have the best conditions. When there is Northern wind, which we have most of the year, the west coast is all messy. But it clears the water here. After 5 days of Northern winds, the water is crystal clear. We have a special condition here. It's an untaken opportunity, and ’'m taking it. 

 

[YST] On your website we spotted that you take people on cave diving photography tours. Sounds rad!  Can you tell us a bit more about that?

[João]  I’n the last years I've started doing three types of guided outdoor photography tours. I’m sharing the experience that I've researched for years. I'm sharing my world with you, and I'm taking you on an adventure. I do photography sessions with couples inside and outside the water; it’s all about the experience. I also do an extreme tour, where I take people into a deep swimming experience, I give them wetsuits, fins, masks and we go swimming into the caves. And I also do this for bigger groups. The third tour is the light version; swimming in Luz. We take pictures underwater but without the extreme swimming. 

 

 
 
 
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A post shared by João Cabrita Silva (@joaocabritasilva)

 

We def can’t wait to join João on one of his extreme tours into the caves. If you can’t wait to have a swim with him pop over to his IG! Thank you for your time and see you in the water.

 

Interview & Content by: Better Mondays Creative Agency

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