There are eyes peeking out from every corner of Rato Tesoura Pistola. The shiny, silver pan eyes of the ghoul jiving on its cover, the many eyes of the monsters loosely sketched in crayon (amidst the occasional one-eyed cyclops), the bulbous orbs of a SpongeBob Squarepants bouncy castle, the cold gaze of a group of glass-eyed baby dolls (surrounding one very real baby with doe eyes), the creepy clay eyes that peer through a series of masks, the two voids on the face of a pancake, the eyes of a boy rolled back into his head—eyelids forced open by a pair of anonymous hands—and the eye of a large format camera.
Then there are the eyes behind the images we see in the book, of which there are a few: those of Portuguese photographer Pedro Guimarães, his seven-year-old son Nuno Engstrøm Guimarães (who is responsible for the drawings) and his five-year-old daughter Emma-Sofie Engstrøm Guimarães (who is responsible for the monster pancakes). Named after a game—which translates to “Mouse Scissors Gun” in English—the book is an ensemble creation by three family members: the outcome of a summer spent in a camper van by the beach, playing each and every day, stopping only to eat and cook. A period of togetherness and healing in the face of the 2500 km of distance that separates Guimarães from his two kids in daily life.
The game was simple. “We actually wrote down the rules on a sheet of paper. Rule number one is to be nice to everyone around you, rule number two is to make sure you invest energy in making your own life a good experience,” Guimarães explains. “Everyone knows the rules, the problem is not many people actually follow them.” The rhymes and rhythms that evolve across the pages of Rato Tesoura Pistola are born from a special sense of time—the kind that only comes about while you’re very, very busy playing.
The book object itself, designed beautifully by Dayana Lucas, invites readers to be part of the game with its many foldouts, each image becoming a portal into another. To look at it is to become part of the Guimarães’ family adventure into the strange realms of photography, to see anew through the eyes of its authors and the many creations that inhabit the book’s pages. Though hardly didactic in tone, it’s a journey that hints that if we look from different perspectives, we might pick up a few things along the way; about photography and the wafer-thin borders between dreams, reality and nightmares, and how the camera allows us to travel through these territories. About authorship, being together and separation. About imagination, fatherhood, childhood and much more.
In Italo Calvino’s short story The Adventure of a Photographer, written in 1983, the protagonist Antonino Paraggi embarks on a solitary, philosophical journey into what is described as the “madness” of photography. Wryly observing the photographic obsessions of his friends from a distance, he pinpoints parenthood as the germ of their incurable folly. “One of the first instincts of parents, after they have brought a child into the world, is to photograph it.”
For Antonino, this impulse is driven by a desire to arrest time as their children grow and change at an unruly speed; the aim being to reduce them to the “immobility of black-and-white” and preserve them in the safe space of the family album. He sees this as an impossible and dishonest task, one that can only lead to either living photogenically or spending your life chaotically photographing anything and everything. Why photograph your child building a sandcastle and not their tears when the perfect creation falls?
The adventure(s) of the photographer(s) in the Guimarães’ weird and wonderful family album deepdive into the “madness” of the photographic impulse with joy, challenging a few of Calvino’s pragmatic protagonist’s complaints. First off, this father has distributed his authority as photographer three-ways. Secondly, nothing is off limits. There are the playful creations, like the sandcastle of Calvino’s story, but there’s also what usually lies out of the frame: a host of monsters, bumps and bruises, scrapes and grazes, toothless grimaces, deformed pancakes. There’s no “immobility” to be found here, the images bouncing back and forth between three imaginations (or rather four, if you count artist Sara Bichão whose masks crop up throughout the book).
Treading through the landscape mapped out in the book, we come across recurring signs and symbols; things that start in the mind and wriggle their way into waking life, like Nuno’s impish creatures that mutate from drawings into photographs or Emma-Sofie’s pancake faces. It’s a beautiful and lightly haunting terrain that makes the “black box” of the camera—a technology so ingrained in our everyday life that it isn’t even worth discussing—feel like some sort of dream-machine again.
In Rato Tesoura Pistola, the black box becomes a catalyst for play and discovery, for spending time together—inhabiting it, stretching it out, making it as precious as possible. Reflecting on the experience, the oldest Guimarães says: “The one thing that I noticed changing in our relationship is that a sort of horizontality has been established. All of a sudden we are all artists working on a common project. Strictly from the kids perspective I suppose some important little things have changed too… as co-authors, now they know what it’s like to have work done, and who knows what the critics might say? Now they have a reputation to maintain!”
Rato Tesoura Pistola
by Pedro Guimarães
Publisher: XYZ Books