By David Mendonça, Feligénio Medeiros and Paulo Martins

University Crossing, Lowell, MA

On Wednesday, March 6th, the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell presented the US debut of a groundbreaking photographic exhibition showcasing Portugal’s Azores islands. The photos, all in large format, capture the people, customs and natural wonders of the Azores like no others. The exhibition has never been shown outside Portugal.

The exhibition, an initiative of Estação Imagem with support from the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, is part of the fifth anniversary of the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies and is supported by UMass Lowell’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Featured speaker Pedro Letria, one of the photographers on the project

In the exhibit, entitled “The Azores | 9 Islands | 9 Photographers,” each of the nine islands is presented through the lens of one of the nine participating contemporary Portuguese photographers.

The exhibit is a unique opportunity to witness the customs and the natural wonders that have shaped the Azores’ more than 500-year history. “Exhibits like this one are critical activities in our mission to bring the best of Portuguese culture to this region,” says Dr. Frank Sousa, the Saab Center’s Director. Indeed, until recently, the Azores islands have been known mainly to its inhabitants, the relative few who have visited there, and the hundreds of thousands who emigrated from them during the last century.

The reaction from the general public has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, the exhibit is being shown in one of the university’s most public spaces, University Crossing, through which thousands of people pass every week. “It’s been amazing to see the photos stop people in their tracks as they walk to work or class every day,” said the exhibit’s curator, Anna Isaak-Ross.

A unique model of photographic collaboration led to the project. The participating photographers–all experienced professionals from Portugal–were assigned to each island by lottery. Many spent weeks wandering the islands, speaking to inhabitants, and learning about the patterns of life. At the conclusion of their work, they met to discuss their experiences and to choose the final set of photographs.     

“So many Azoreans have come through the exhibit and said they’ve been shown things they never noticed from their own island–as well as many familiar sights,” said Dr. Sousa.

In an interesting parallel, the exhibit is also serving as something of a crash course for a group of UMass/Lowell photography students who will visit the Azores this summer, in a trip led by curator Anna Isaak-Ross.

The opening reception featured speaker Pedro Letria, one of the photographers on the project and a noted artist and professor at the Escola Superior de Artes e Design in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal.  Letria (who covered the island of São Jorge) discussed how the steady rhythms of daily life on São Jorge found their way into his work, so that “the sense of time informed the sense of place.” This attention to the detail and context of Azorean life is present in all the photographs, providing an encompassing view that is both new and familiar.

Pedro Letria at UMass Lowell

The exhibition covers every island of the arquipelago–Corvo, Flores, Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Faial, Pico, Santa Maria and São Miguel–through more than 50 photographs.

The exhibit includes works by photographers Luís Barra (Santa Maria), Luís Ramos (São Miguel), Daniel Rocha (Terceira), José Manuel Ribeiro (Graciosa), Pedro Letria (São Jorge), Bruno Portela (Pico), José António Rodrigues (Faial), Gonçalo Rosa da Silva (Corvo) and Luís Vasconcelos (Flores). Together, they produce a portrait of Portugal’s most mysterious and enigmatic territory, revealing the enduring legacy of the Azores and its people.

The Azores | 9 Islands | 9 Photographers
Os Açores | 9 Ilhas | 9 Fotógrafos|
University Crossing
220 Pawtucket St.
Lowell, MA
6 March – 17 April 2019
The exhibit is free and open to the public. Hours are 8am to 9pm, seven days a week.
For more information, contact Natália Melo at the Saab Center (phone: 978-934-5199 or email:

Elisia and Analise Saab with many of the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies Advisory Board

The exhibition is part of the year-long fifth-anniversary celebration of the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies. The next event is a concert by the Portuguese fado superstar Mariza on Saturday, April 20 at 7:30 PM. The event is the fifth annual “Sounds of Portugal” concert and will be held at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.

By David Mendonça, Feligénio Medeiros and Paulo Martins


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