Aperture #215—Editors' Note
Was photography invented in Brazil? Possibly, according to the story of Hercule Florence, a tireless inventor and adventurer who pioneered an early form of photography in the 1830s. More likely, photography was invented simultaneously in many places, but Florence’s Herzogian story of entrepreneurial tenacity and Amazonian exploration gone awry is largely absent from the more familiar narratives of European figures attempting to fix light and shadow.
This São Paulo Issue is based on two extended visits to Brazil last autumn and winter. We wanted to expand our purview to find stories like Florence’s, told here by Natalia Brizuela. Working with guest editor Thyago Nogueira, editor of Zum magazine and curator of contemporary photography at the Instituto Moreira Salles, one of Brazil’s leading photography institutions, we visited dozens of photographers, writers, and curators. We came to better understand a history of photography largely untold in the United States—one mostly new to us—and were introduced to a vibrant contemporary scene supported by a growing network of museums, galleries, and emerging alternative spaces.
“Within cities like São Paulo there exist countless worlds that can be peeled away, layer by layer, to reveal hidden lives,” Cassiano Elek Machado writes in these pages. With a population pushing twenty million, São Paulo extends vertiginously in all directions. A single magazine issue can only hope to peel back a few layers of curatorial and research activity, but in these pages you’ll find a cross section of ideas and projects, an almost even split between historical and contemporary.
Waves of immigration shaped São Paulo, and its transnational story is evident in Sérgio Burgi’s panoramic overview of the city’s artistic activity across the twentieth century, and in Claudia Andujar’s extraordinary story of fleeing Eastern Europe during the Second World War. Russian émigré Gregori Warchavchik’s Casa Modernista appears on our cover in Caio Reisewitz’s lush image. Modernism’s enduring legacy and a fluid intersection of photography and design thread the issue—from Geraldo de Barros’s diverse practice (from photography to furniture design) to Mauro Restiffe’s tribute to legendary architect Oscar Niemeyer. With the exception of Bárbara Wagner and Jonathas de Andrade, each artist featured in the issue has roots in São Paulo. These two figures (whose work we discovered on view in São Paulo) may be more associated with the northern city of Recife, but their work taps into important areas of Brazilian culture and history—performance groups embodying Afro-Brazilian traditions and the years of military dictatorship, respectively.
Last year’s social unrest, born out of debates about inequality in Brazil’s fast-growing economy, played out dramatically as large-scale street demonstrations across the country. Politically engaged photography collectives, such as Mídia Ninja, were active in documenting the protests predicted to resume this summer when Brazil assumes the global spotlight as World Cup host. These forward-thinking collectives are redrawing the media landscape. Ronaldo Entler, in his overview of this phenomenon, notes how these groups “prove that it is possible to reinvent photography in times of crisis.” It seems as long as photography has been around, it has been invented and reinvented in Brazil. This is the first time Aperture has embedded in a city abroad to uncover narratives of photography from a different perspective; we hope it will be the first of many.