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Brazil‘s striking economic growth of the last decades has impacted drastically on the country’s landscape. Many Brazilian contemporary photographers have consequently made the landscape — both the beautiful forests and the booming metropolises — the centre of their photography, either documenting it journalistically or turning it into the object of their artistic research. Discover where Brazilian photography is at through our list of Brazil’s ten best contemporary photographers.
Sebastiao Salgado is not simply one of Brazil’s best photographers – he is among the world’s greatest contemporary photographers, a leading figure whose work has already made the history of the medium. A documentary photographer, Salgado mostly works on long-term projects; he has produced excellent photographic essays about the Indians and peasants of Latina America (Other Americas), manual labour (Workers) and the mass migrations from the countryside to the cities (Migrations), among others. For the last eight years, he has dedicated his work to the environment, showing us Earth’s most beautiful corners and animals as a wake-up call against the exploitation of our planet. Images from this project, meaningfully called Genesis, are now on show in Stockholm’s Fotografiska museum until 14 September.
Originally a sculptor, Sao Paulo born contemporary artist Vik Muniz has started experimenting with photography down the years. Today, he creates his sculptures with the main objective of turning them into photographs, which have been exhibited in some of the world’s top museums. For example, his ‘Sugar Children’ series — a group of drawings of children made with sugar, and based on original snapshots — have been on display at New York’s MoMA. Another noted work of Muniz’s, Pictures of Garbage, includes portraits of men and women working in one of Rio de Janeiro’s garbage dumps, made with materials culled from the dumps themselves. The making of Pictures of Garbage is the central subject of 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary film, Waste Land.
Brazil’s magnificent natural landscapes — and especially its verdant forests — have been the main subject of prominent Brazilian photographer Caio Reisewitz’s work for the last fifteen years or so. Inspired by the well-known (and well-selling) photographs of Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and the other artists to have come out of the influential Düsseldorf School of Photography, Reisewitz produces large-scale prints that only emphasise the grandiosity of Brazil’s nature. Lately, however, Reisewitz has experimented with no less captivating, small-size collages in which the country’s landscapes are overlapped with cut-outs from pictures of urban scenarios, interpreting the complex relationship between the countryside and the cities in Brazil.
The name of photographer Càssio Vasconcellos is mostly associated with his aerial views of Brazil’s beaches, roads and parking lots. In particular, Vasconcellos has often put together individual images of parking lots seen from a bird’s eye view, creating the impression of single, gigantic lots inundated with thousands of vehicles, creating an effect at once impressive and puzzling. But one of Vasconcellos’ most noted works, Noturnos Sao Paulo, is cut from an entirely different cloth. For this series, Vasconcellos has photographed corners of the city in Polaroid format, heavily accentuating and even altering the lights through the use of special filters and lanterns.
Born in 1980 in Brasilia, Bàrbara Wagner is one of the most eagerly anticipated up and coming young photographers from Brazil. Her 2007 series Brasìlia Teimosa (Stubborn Brasilia) instantly put her on the map of photography’s international scene: the images show tanned, upbeat and sometimes vulgar members of the city’s lower class enjoying the sun on a stretch of beach called Brasìlia Teimosa. Wagner’s subsequent works all explore forms of popular entertainment and traditions, such as the Afro-Brazilian performance called Maracatu, or the more and more common custom for newly-married Chinese couples to have their wedding photographs taken in studios against fake backgrounds.
Mauro Restiffe started studying cinematography, and only later stumbled on photography, but he would have never looked back to his past as an aspiring filmmaker. Restiffe is known for his large-format photographs of urban landscapes, a theme that many Brazilian contemporary photographers explore, inspired by the dramatic transformations of cities such as Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. In Restiffe’s case, the use of black and white puts a distance from the here and now of the specific depicted scene, transforming his images into metaphorical moments of urban life everywhere. While early in his career Restiffe concentrated on the formal qualities of his subject matter, most recently he has been photographing the dynamics of how people live in their cities.
Claudia Andujar was born in Switzerland and spent her early life between Romania, Hungary and the United States. But since coming to Brazil in 1956, she spent most of her life in Sao Paulo, where she still is based, and acquired the Brazilian nationality. The great part of Andujar’s career was devoted to documenting the life of the Yonomami, an indigenous tribe living in the Amazon. The photographer’s commitment to the cause of the Yonomami has been outstanding: from the early 1970s on, she has taken pictures of them for decades. Many of her photographs were used for campaigns against the negative effects of illegal gold-mining on the forests and the Yonomami themselves, campaigns to which she actively contributed, often in a prominent role.
Award-winning photographer Felipe Dana is one of Brazil’s most promising young photojournalists. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1985, Dana met photography early in his life, when he was only 15, working as an assistant for commercial photographers. He later studied photography and eventually started his career as a photojournalist, which led him to become a staff photographer for top news organisation The Associated Press. Dana’s work focuses on the repercussions of Brazil’s economic growth and major sports events — both this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games — on the lower class and the reality of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
For Claudia Jaguaribe, photography is the central instrument in her artistic research on a range of contemporary issues. Her best known work to date is probably Quando Eu Vi (When I saw), a series of contemplative pictures of Brazilian forests which aim at revealing the artificiality of ideas such as that of landscape. A characteristic of Jaguaribe is her common practice of decomposing and rearranging her photographs; but no such ‘trick’ was used for her most successful, recent series, such as Sobre Sao Paulo, a group of striking urban panoramas of Sao Paulo, or Entre Morros, a unique series of children with Rio De Janeiro’s sprawling shantytowns filling the background.
One of the most interesting Brazilian photographers to have emerged over the last decade, in 2009 Joao Castilho was part of photography magazine Foam‘s annual selection of 16 best new talents, a much coveted recognition among young photographers everywhere. Castilho is a proponent of what has been described as an ‘imaginary documentary’ type of photography, that is a representation of a certain reality through a very personal, almost visionary approach. This is perhaps most evident in his work Vacant Lot, a series of photographs of unemployed people whiling their time away in an empty parking lot, which Castilho portrays as silhouetted, unrecognisable figures.