Marcel Gautherot

Top 10 Brazil in 10 iconic images

© Marcel Gautherot

In 1840, French optical scientist and aristocrat Louis Comte appeared before an expectant audience of Rio de Janeiro’s elite to demonstrate the daguerreotype process. The 14-year-old Brazilian emperor, Pedro II was immediately enamoured and so began a nation’s lifelong passion for photography.

─── by Elizabeth Kahn, February 18, 2019
  • Before this Brazil had been a canvas upon which to project European fantasies. However now, local artists had the means to produce faithful representations of their country, unencumbered by preconceptions, engendering some truly captivating images that captured the essence of this remarkable land.

    color portrait photo of Yawalapiti tribe in Brazil by Diego Baravelli
    © Diego Baravelli

    1. Diego Baravelli – “Kuarup”, Yawalapiti village

    This striking portrait by Diego Baravelli depicts members of the Yawalapiti, an indigenous tribe in the Amazonian Basin of Brazil. The Kuarup funeral ritual commences immediately after the death of a family member, with the bereaved family responsible for a series of ceremonies involving the entire local community for about a year. This image beautifully captures the essence of these ceremonies, paying tribute to the Yawalapiti’s enduring culture.

    black and white photograph of Fishermen at Ilha Mexiana, Chaves, PA. Brazil, circa 1943 by Marcel Gautherot

    2. Marcel Gautherot – Ilha Mexiana, Pará, 1950

    French-born Gautherot became fascinated by Brazil after a brief period positioned in the military in Senegal. Such was his connection to the country that he stayed there until his death over 50 years later, rarely returning to Europe.

    Traveling around his adopted home he discovered rainforest and coastal cities, relishing meeting the indigenous populous of the country, and returning to the vast Amazon region repeatedly. As a trained architect, his sharp gaze often fell on the harsh lines of landscapes and buildings, for which he is most famous, but his broad ouvre also covered everyday life and festivities. His work exists almost exclusively in 6×6 square format, and is thus instantly recognisable.

    Brazil Sebastião Salgado
    © Sebastião Salgado

    3. Sebastião Salgado – The opencast goldmine at Serra Pelada, 1986

    Sebastiao Salgado worked as an economist before becoming an activist and photographer. Influenced by his past he became drawn to the struggle of workers all over the world, determined to raise awareness about their poor working conditions and low wages. His attempt to uncover pre-industrial working conditions in a post-industrial world are typified in his work at the Serra Pelada mine in Brazil.

    The gold mine, which Salgado spent months living next to and photographing, employed approximately 50,000 workers who were paid as little as twenty cents to carry sacks that weighed up to sixty kilograms up precarious ladders. Often workers would make sixty trips like this per day. Salgado’s groundbreaking work depicts scenes which are hard to believe could exist within modern society and highlight the disparities between western wealth and those who are truly behind it.

    Brazil Joel Sartore
    © Joel Sartore

    4. Joel Sartore – Saving Madidi National Park, 1998

    The Madidi is one of the most remote places in the world, straddling parts of the Andes and Amazon basin, it holds 1,000 bird species and half of the world’s mammals. In 1995, Brazil agreed to establish 1.8 million hectares of tropical forest there as a national park, as part of a Debt-for-Nature Swap which would reduce its debt in exchange for not developing the rainforest.

    This was immediately met with controversy and counter-action from bordering countries. Due to local opposition, the project was halted in 1998, in which time National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore entered to document the project. Twenty years later, today, the park is once more in jeopardy as the Bolivian government reconsiders building dams that would dangerously jeopardize the water-levels in the park, thus endangering hundreds of rare species of plants and animals.

    color landscape photograph of a mine in Brazil by Kyle Hofffmann
    © Michael Naify

    5. Michael Naify – “Aerial view of mine”. Southern Brazil

    This powerful image by Michael Naify portrays a mine in the Minas Gerais region of southeastern Brazil. While Brazil is a major producer of various minerals, the mining industry has led to significant destruction of the country’s natural landscapes. Tragic incidents, such as the 2015 failure of the Fundão iron mine tailings dam, have resulted in catastrophic consequences. This disaster saw 50 million tons of mud and toxic waste pour into Brazil’s Rio Doce, claiming the lives of 19 individuals, contaminating the river, decimating croplands, devastating fish and wildlife, and polluting drinking water with toxic sludge along a staggering 650 kilometers (400 miles) of the waterway.

    In few other places is the evidence of human impact on the planet so stark and potentially devastating. This image powerfully illustrates this reality, aided by its slightly aerial perspective and wide shot, which emphasize the scale of the post-apocalyptic-like scenery.

    Brazil Mario Cravo Neto
    © Mario Cravo Neto

    6. Mario Cravo Neto – Man with bird tears, 1992

    Bahia, the Brazilian point of entry for millions of African slaves between the 18th and 19th century, whose capital, Salvador, was established by the Portuguese in 1594, still bears the scar tissue of this painful heritage. Born and raised in this city was  Mario Cravo Neto, a little known photographer internationally, but one of Brazil’s most acclaimed fine artists.

    Cravo Neto’s work honours Brazil’s diverse ethnographic landscape and is informed by the colonial and diasporic legacy of the nation. Using themes borrowed from African spiritualities and European Catholicism, Cravo Neto focused his work on Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian form of worship born from African Yoruba rituals. The use of animals in his photos each bear their own symbolic and spiritual meanings.

    color travel photo of Huaorani tribe in Amazonio by Marios Forsos

    7. Marios Forsos – “Nature worship”

    Marios Forsos‘ stunning group portrait captures members of the Huaorani tribe in Brazil’s Amazonia region. For the Huaorani, their custodianship of the jungle and its enormous trees is deeply ingrained in their psyche and way of life. Weekly, groups of warriors patrol the jungle to safeguard these giants, some towering over 100 feet tall, from illegal logging by encroaching companies. This striking group portrait, with tribe members set against the verdant backdrop they protect, pays tribute to their strength and perseverance amidst ongoing struggles.

    Gordon Parks The Flavio Story, Rio da Janeiro, 1961
    © Gordon Parks

    8. Gordon Parks – The Flavio Story, Rio da Janeiro, 1961

    Gordon Parks‘ seminal photo essay about the life of the da Silva family who lived in a hillside favela near a wealthy district of Rio de Janeiro, focuses particularly on the young Flavio da Silva; a resourceful twelve-year-old suffering from crippling asthma. Published in Life magazine, the story elicited nearly $30,000 in donations from readers, whose money was put towards administering rehabilitation of the favela. One of Parks’ most deeply personal assignments, the story also speaks of the uneasy relationship in journalism between intervening in the life of one’s subjects.

    Color photo of woman dancing in Brazil by Alex Almeida
    © Alex Almeida

    9. Alex Almeida – Untitled. Bahia. From the series “Brazil Tropical Light”

    Alex Almeida is a Brazilian photographer, whose work explores themes of development, environment, culture, and ethnicity in his homeland and abroad. Over the years he has travelled extensively across Brazil, from the Amazon rainforest to urban centers, documenting indigenous Amazonian communities and African diasporic groups, capturing candid moments of daily life, cultural celebrations, and children playing, all imbued with vivid colors and bathed in tropical sunlight. Almeida’s images serve as evidence of these communities’ existence and celebrate Brazil’s unique diversity, exemplified in this wonderful image which beautifully captures the essece of the scene.

    See more of Alex’s work here.

    Pierre Verger Candomblé Opo Afonja, Salvador, 1950
    © Pierre Verger

    10. Pierre Verger – Candomblé Opo Afonja, Salvador, 1950

    Pierre Verger was a French-born, self-taught ethnographer who devoted most of his life to the study of the African diaspora. His remarkable ability to get to know people intimately reached its height in 1953 when he participated in the Babalao initiation ceremony in Ketou (today Benin) and took on the new name of Fatumbi. In this ceremonial act, he was “reborn” as another, a transformation that made a number of his European academic colleagues doubt his intellectual credibility.

    Yet despite this, his newfound Babalao title and association with the adjoining Yoruba cult brought him great esteem in Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian religious communities. As a result, he was able to document Afro-Brazilian communities in an extremely intimate context in comparison to his white counterparts. His photographs are an astounding testament to the intricate practices and rituals of various religious and social communities.


    All images © their respective owners

              Article updated March 2024