It’s almost noon, and a corner café in the working-class Lisbon suburb of Povos is buzzing with conversations. Photographer Cristiana Morais, sporting sunglasses and her trusty camera, navigates through the local crowd. “I’ve been coming here with my film camera, to give voice to the marginalized. […] Whenever I return, I am welcomed as one of their own,” she explains before catching up with her friend Patrick for an impromptu shoot in the street.
Inspired by the hip-hop and rap music videos of the 1990s and 2000s, and the world of filmmaker Gaspard Noé, the young Portuguese artist has developed a sensual style that combines urban cool and high-contrast colors. Her work is often guided by the lyrics of a song, an aesthetic choice that has caught the attention of the music industry. Most recently, she has been commissioned to photograph internationally acclaimed musicians such as Souls of Mischief during their Lisbon concert and Anna Prior, the drummer for Metronomy, during her solo show.
But it’s Morais’s editorial work that has put her on the map. Not least because she oversees the entire artistic direction of her projects, consistently imbuing them a sense of empowerment for her subjects. “I try to work with models that society doesn’t consider ‘beautiful,’ or who diverge from beauty norms.” The photographer has also been experimenting with self-portraits.
This introspective journey holds particular importance for Morais, who grew up feeling unrepresented in a society where her body didn’t conform to conventional beauty standards. “My self-portraits may align with the Body Positive movement, but that was not my initial aim. My intent was purely artistic, a way to express the fact that I’ve never seen myself in a negative way,” she reflects, cautioning that Body Positive, like any other trend, is bound to pass.
Morais possesses an uncanny ability to establish an immediate rapport with her subjects, creating a bond that allows her to capture what she’s after: the very essence of an individual. Marta Costa, an artist manager who has worked with Cristiana, summarizes the photographer’s unique approach: “While most photographers freeze a moment in time, Cristiana captures the very soul of that moment. […] Her insight into the people she photographs is unparalleled.”
Young European Photographers. Episode 5: Cristiana Morais (Portugal) was shot in April 2023 in Lisbon and Povos. It is produced by Blind Magazine and Phantastica Pictures. It was directed by Charlotte Jean and Quentin Molinié, with music by Real Guns.