roberto seba – numb

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Roberto Seba


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Numb is an ongoing series I started last year.

I’ve always been very fond of storytelling and narrative formats:  movies, literature, music, painting and photography. For me, it didn’t matter whether it was “real” or not, as long as it told a story I could relate to. This is what I wanted to do for this project. To create bits and pieces of incomplete narratives that kept the story going outside the single frame.

The main theme here is the absence of feelings, a particular numbness towards these objects of desire. Sometimes one can get so obsessed about certain things, that he/she does not notice the very world that surrounds him/her. Every aspect of life is reduced to a single objective. It then becomes very goal-oriented, and once this goal is achieved it loses its meaning.

The entire “mise-en-scène” is clearly staged in order to communicate a sense of artificiality and lack of real emotions. The actors and the compositional aspect suggest a stiffness from the characters, as if they were paralysed to the real world, locked inside their own minds. This essay wasn’t meant just as a critique. I’m not just an observer looking down on these daily events. The pictures reflect not only the outside world, but a world which I am also part of.



Roberto started as an Art Director for and Ad Agency but after a short period quit and decided that it was time to pursue another passion: moving images. So he experimented with some shorts films. But it wasn’t until very recently that he found his true passion.

Photography has made it possible for greater experimentation, blending the narrative and creative aspect of movies and staged scenes into the contained frame of a single image. Most of his personal work is based on staged photography. This is where he experiments creating scenes from everyday life.

Roberto Seba was born in Brazil in 1981. He currently lives in Sao Paulo and works mainly as a portrait and travel photographer for several magazines.


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Roberto Seba


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

28 Responses to “roberto seba – numb”

  • Numb is my reaction to these photos. Trendy conceptual stuff. Life sucks. Life is meaningless. Blah, blah. Come on David, was this the best you could find to post?

  • JIM…

    laughing….it was the best i could find to just twist you in a knot…..

  • I liked the weightlifter best, because it looked real. The interpretation is up to the viewer. I liked the woman with the Mary images, but I was less clear on what was going on. Is she burning herself? The first three are so much more overt about their messages — well done, but easier to ignore.

  • i like the concept quite a lot. But the essay seems incomplete to me. Too few and too obvious. God, i hate obvious. It makes me feel like a stupida being led by the hand. For this to work, for me..for me i’m talking about, i want some mystery. For example, i like the lead photo, of the girl in the wedding dress staring down at her wedding ring. With the religious figurines, most especially the Virgin Mary. Phew.. Very good mind goes in fifty directions and there’s a resounding jolt in the pit of my stomach that i really understand her conflict and how deep it goes and how impossible it is to resolve. The others i am less intrigued by, the worst example the being the girl by the pool and the guy so hooked on TV he doesn’t notice the place is on fire. But the overall concept, Roberto, is brilliant. It’s very exciting to me. The challenge is not making it too easy, too obvious. Amp up the complexity via subtlety, make it so much like real life that we get a vague stirring of discomfort but don’t know quite why. Make us work a little harder to get it. Keep going..i think you’re onto something!


  • I’ve no problem at all with conceptual work but I don’t think this is an essay at all. That’s what confused me because I thought it was only essays that were shown here. I was trying to find a story that connected them all to each other, not just a connecting theme. And it wasn’t really working. lol. Thank god for the artist’s statement.

    Yes I have no trouble now. I am glad to see that cleared up. I have no trouble at all taking the story outside of the frame. You’ve achieved that. I like pictures #1 and #5. These are mysterious and interesting pictures. The others are fairly obvious and lack a sense of the uncanny which I think is needed in this sort of work, unless you are going after some other feeling. But it’s early days in your project and no doubt it will get better the more you go on.

    In your statement, I think you are trying to explain your work too much though and I don’t think you need to do that at all. It’s obvious the shots are staged, it’s obvious there’s a lack of emotionality and one would have to assume that that is intentional also. I think the first paragraph is all you need here in this forum.

    I find #1 funny actually. What I particularly like about #1 is the brightness. I think that’s what makes it funny and uncanny at the same time. I didn’t know you could even do that in one photograph. Or maybe I’ve forgotten if I’ve seen it before. Of course the fact she’s doing her nails is also funny and uncanny.

    #5 is beautiful. I wouldn’t say she looks numb though. I think she looks like she’s questioning something – it could be any number of things about her marriage but it doesn’t really matter what. The man in #2 looks blank. not numb. I think other expressions seem to express more. He just looks like he’s staring into the mirror. You can’t see any emotion whatsoever, not even numbness. This picture has no emotional impact whatsoever to me. The man watching television looks like he’s concentrated on watching television. He’s not numb either. I like the flames. I found this one the hardest picture to interpret. I can’t quite find an interpretation for this image and yet its not really mysterious. The bodybuilder: this image works fine for me. Since I thought all these images were about depression before I read your statement, I interpreted the bodybuilder guy as one who thinks happiness lies in building a perfect body. And yet having it, he’s still not satisfied. I think that’s what you said in your statement. But even though you achieved your intention here, the picture is not as aesthetically successful as #1 and #5 for me.

  • I love the mood of 1 and 5, if you consider them like single shot, but these photos are not consistent, so they are not an essay. cheers. GB

  • I like the concept but, like Kathleen, I feel some of the images are a little too obvious. The weightlifter and the woman looking at her ring/burning her hand (?) are the most successful for me as they allow me space to question and make my own interpretation.

  • cool stuff- could have been a bit longer though. this conceptual work is fine, but it just didn’t scratch my documentary/essay ‘itch’ that burn usually helps me with!

  • sorry david
    what is interesting here?

  • although it is indeed very difficult to immerse or drown (in the best sense) in an essay comprised of only 5 photographs, there is, for me, a very interesting element to each of these that stikes after repeated viewing. Of course, the style and the concept comprises now a large part of contemporary conceptual photography, partly to do with the influence of the 2 magnificent photographers Sherman and Crewdson (Crewdson the magician, for me, of ‘cinema’ tableaux) and an aesthetic and conceptual idea that is remarkably prevelant, what it sill sits well with me. When i see work like this, I try not to think of all the pics i’ve seen before, but for Roberto’s unique take on this world.

    I really LOVED the first image. I love the opaque, milky light of the first image and the weird/fucked-up approximation of this backyard pool to the sea. It’s spell binding and the questions: why there, why doesn’t she go to the sea, this light/color saturation as if the print had been left outside in the back of a car…and although i’ve seen the ‘dead guy in the pool’ alot, what was interesting to me was her obliviousness to the sea, not to the guy…and i also really enjoyed the weight lifter alot, the sense’s of isolation and Narcissus’ story…the bride reminded me of Karenina (then again, im re-reading it) of i thought less about the immediate marriage of this pic then about the ‘other’ guy who wouldn’t be her groom ;)))…

    but what i did like about this series (though i wish for more) is that it seemed odd about Brazil…it took me AWAY from all the cliche’s i have of Brazil/brazilian life and put me into another relm…that was the real mystery for me…and what made me hunger for more…

    it’s hard to contrive ‘authentic’ (as in unique) moments, who among us is sui generis??…but what i always loved about photography (all schools, all styles, all concepts, all techniques) is that it is still a reminder to me of who important it is we want/need to share/make/tell/break stories….

    thanks for sharing Roberto…and that 1st picture just totally knocks me out, the iconography and the light and this bathing of turquoise blue all over the picture… :))…as well as your use of color for each….


  • roberto … first, i love the colors and the framing. basically the theme is also good.
    i take it as an uncompleted work… so heres some constructive issues.

    – u r very literal. the works/concepts has the tendency to ILLUSTRATE words and phrases literarily. it is not interesting at all, and even with elements i love in the photograph, it suddenly disappoints. this level of “sophistication” is good if and only if u dont expect the viewer to go beyond the immediate level … this is especially obvious in the 1st and 3rd frames.
    – another issues – adding one more element too much… 2nd photo… if there was no face in the mirror, u would be left with the low-angle frame of men’s upper body, giving a feeling of strength etc, and all this dramatically contrasted with scene in front of him… the additional mirror and face drops even that thing… the same thing with other mirror photo, u give a good frame and then add one more elements that i think ruins it – the confrontation of the guy with himself in the mirror is not interesting there, and also, there is less space left for the viewer.

    i love the 5th frame, and i think it stands well too. love the color differences, the double face, and also, through the sitting pose and gestures, the time is not clear, could be now, and could be tolstoy’s roman.
    anna karenina. the girl looks cool as well…

  • roberto,
    i see where you come from, you are still young, so please open the window and tell us what you see. Brazil is a very interesting country.

  • Though I usually don’t like the ‘overproduced’ look, I really enjoyed these images. The obsessions of health, body, fashion, consumerism and organized religion are also very real in Brazil, especially São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

    Parabems por ter largado a vida da propaganda, Roberto! A verdade é uma terra sem caminhos…


  • Not sure if someone has said it before in this context: Great photography is like pornography; you know it when you see it. In this regard this work is photographic pornography, pure eye candy and I love it.

    Great job Roberto.


  • Is that a dead body in the pool?.. the girl in the foreground seems happy to ignore the floater while she paints her nails. I also like the image of the man staring vacantly into the medicine cabinet..very suggestive..

  • This just doesn’t work for me on two levels. As individual photos some are just too obvious and have a single layer of interpretation. The one with the TV and fire for example. On an essay level, 4 or 5 images don’t make an essay.

  • Well, I sort of expected a lot of mixed reactions to this material in here. I myself was very surprised and curious when David said he wanted to publish this. Not particularly because of the quality of the material, but because most of the things I see here are documentary style.

    The first picture I send was number 5 and I submitted as a single picture. David asked me if I wanted to share the other pictures from theseries and I was glad to do it.
    It was great reading all your reviews and suggestions. I myself do not think this is a perfect or even a final product. And I often question myself about it.

    This was an exercise of narrative and storytelling and I think I can learn a lot from what I’ve been reading here.
    Alot of you had some very interesting points and I’d like to thank David for providing this space for not only showing the work, but also to get an opportunity to hear the input from other photographers with verydifferent backgrounds.

  • Roberto, I am delighted that you shared this work with us. Yes, it is in its early days, yet there’s something intriguing about it. The idea is fascinating, and, even though some of the images are more successful than others, you are following your own path and I say, go for it! As many have mentioned, where there is mystery and ambiguity, the pictures keep our interest. Don’t give us too much. Make us work it out for ourselves.

    I look forward to seeing where you go with this…


  • 2+2=4
    I want questions,
    these photos seemed
    posed as ads,
    for a specific ‘thing’…
    I didn’t read any narratives
    in the frames,
    only the concept for what you wanted with each shot…
    narrative, in a still image,
    for me,
    needs to let the viewer create their own story with the photograph….
    but I do like your images,
    on their own,
    for their message and thoughtfulness…
    and in that,
    I find their strength…..

  • Roberto…

    well done and congrats for getting your work onto burn.

    firstly i really like your ‘title shot’ /#5 it’s very strong i think. full with intrigue, interesting perspective, nice colour (the colour reminds me very much of an old ‘back-in-the-day’ cross processing style of developing slide film (E6) in C41 (neg) chemistry… cicra late 1980’s… – the peachy skin tone split against the blue shadows, rich blacks…the contrast…)

    yes, when i see this image i want to know more, see more…

    so i was a little disappointed by the others (particularly #1 which has a very different style)
    mainly because they are so much more obvious… as others have said.

    but, no doubt, you have a good eye and ability and are trying to say something, just keep going…
    i think you can un-earth a very strong essay by simply focusing your style and being more subtle. (perhaps? it’s your background in ad world that you need to ‘un-do’ ; ) this project ‘numb’ is surely your antidote…

    all the best,


  • I agree with some others here. The concept is great…and I think it’s especially relateable. So many people are just walking around, taking up space, instead of grabbing life by the balls and living it like it’s the show, not the dress rehearsal. So, to show the unsatisfied, the mundane, the bored and the numb is going to be easy (b/c it’s everywhere) and challenging (b/c it’s everywhere) at the same time… a perplexing dichotomy to say the least. To shed new light on this typical state is the challenge…what do you seek to achieve by showing us this story/idea? Is it to point out that there is so much more, or is the point to show how commonplace this state is and how many people are simply choosing to exist…or are in an emotional and motivational rut?
    I guess I have these questions because it’s hard for me to see your connection to the subjects in the photos…as in, they feel detached. Perhaps that’s the point…but, in my personal experience and style, even when I’m shooting something that is tough or numb to me, I have an emotional connection to it, and it shows in the work. So, I guess that’s what I’m looking for here. Where do you fit into the work? Is this how you felt and where you were before you found your passion?
    I think that this story has a fantastic start, but may benefit from some more abstraction and/or blur in the photographs. Maybe some close crops to really get into the emotions and the eyes of these people…this should be easy if this is staged. I’m really interested to see where this goes. Thanks for showing us this…

  • I’m going to make an attempt on saying what I have to say in five sentences (this one included). The positive thing is that there is a lot of stuff going on in only five photographs. The negative stuff is that it reminds me too much of Erwin Olaf. The concept is too obvious, try to go darker, deeper and crazier in the future. The stories are revealed too quickly, add more of those details that makes us wonder on what we are really looking at and what’s really happening.


    i think about 50% of our essays here on Burn could be loosely classed as “conceptual”…some of the “documentary” (bearing witness) work is presented in a conceptual manner as well along with totally constructed work…in any case, i welcome all photographers and all that they have to say regardless of methodology…


    i like to show here on Burn all photography “types” that are currently being produced by young photographers…most are “work in progress”, hence the valuable discussions/comments from all of you…i do not expect for all work to speak to all people….if you do not find something interesting in this work, then neither i nor anyone can make you “see it”…and this is fair enough……however, i do find that many purveyors of photography and other arts get an idea locked in their head about what fine photography “should be”…i would like to open minds just a bit here on Burn….this of course does not always happen…

    by the way, i love your classically photographed La Fiesta and think we could do a short essay on Burn if you so desire….

    cheers, david

  • RAFAL…

    how many pictures are “supposed” to be in an essay??? or, a book?? or an exhibition??


    yes, this work is very referential to Olaf…let’s see in the coming months how Roberto evolves

  • Great work. The photographs really had me craving for more, which is ideal when it concerns work in progress. Generally speaking I wouldn’t want to see an essay submitted here as “work in progress” with a great number of photographs. Here you manage to convey a very good feel of a bigger essay in only five distinct photographs. Very good.

    Um abraço,


  • The first image is sublime, but I struggle with #3. Seems too obvious in its showing of lack of concern. Take the flames out of the picture and have the man leaning back, relaxed, could work in a more subtle way.

  • ok david
    I accept your explanation. you are right.
    if you dont give chance for young talents to show their work
    (even when some of us dont like) then else
    ,, right, place does not exist.
    thanks for the offer about , la fiesta, pictures. of course !
    I accept and will be my honor to be published on the burn.
    Un saludo

  • Roberto Seba – This work is great (if brief). Fantastic muted tones and quirky themes. Not the usual (whatever that is), not the ordinary (whereever that comes from), but a different approach. I’m not familiar with your other work so i don’t know whether to describe you as an emerging talent or and emerged talent, but one thing is for sure – you do display outwardly in this brief essay (I actually wish there was more) the skills of an accomplished artist. The future can only hold wonderful creations from you. Congratulations on your burn.


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