Flavio Cannalonga’s deeply absorbing, monochrome images distill the unique essence of his homeland.
Though not a household name, Flavio Cannalonga was one of the most discerning photographers of his time, a profoundly perceptive humanist, who captured his compatriots with honesty, sensitivity and skill.
Born in São Paulo in 1953, Cannalonga came from a poor family and thus began working at an early age. One of his first jobs was at a small photographic studio, where he was gifted a camera by one of his older colleagues. He went on to work at a small film studio focusing on documentaries, before leaving to pursue his photographic career in earnest.
He spent these early years working as a photojournalist for some of the country’s leading magazines and newspapers, before turning freelance in 1992 and focusing on documentary projects in his homeland.
He documented settlements of the Landless Rural Workers Movement, the struggle of indigenous peoples for the demarcation of their lands, and most notably, embarked on a long-term project – entitled Children of the Kingdom – exploring the complex religious syncretism of his home country.
Brazil is one of the most diverse countries on earth, and this is reflected in the country’s heterogeneous religious composition. Though officially Catholic, for large swathes of the population, their faith is imbued with elements of indigenous and African belief systems, born out in a variety of unique rituals, festivals, and practices.
Brazil’s distinct religious configuration has been explored by some of the country’s leading photographers over the years, including, the great Sebastião Salgado, but few have done so in such depth as Cannalonga, who spent over a decade exploring the complexities of the subject.
As is the case with much of his work, he focused not so much on the specific rituals, but on the individuals, their unique sensibilities, personalities, and emotions, as well as their subtle interactions with one another. It is a body of work that embodies his approach, one rooted in a profound humanism and a deep respect for his subjects.
Often captured at closer quarters, as to emphasize subtle details and create a sense of intimacy between viewer and subject, these images are both beautiful and absorbing, rendered with an artistry and sensitivity every bit as potent as those captured by his more iconic contemporaries.
At once, poetic and informative; dynamic and thoughtful, these are powerful images that permeate with a distinct intensity, and at times, a subtle melancholy, testifying both to the rich cultural diversity, and the complex and often dark history of his homeland.
Throughout the course of his career, he garnered recognition from industry insiders, (receiving a host of awards, and an Icatú de Artes Scholarship which allowed him to live and work in Paris for one year); from Greenpeace, for whom he began working on commission in 2002, and from his peers, including, Elliot Erwitt (who invited him to the annual Magnum meeting in 2004) Cristina Garcia Rodero and Christian Caujolle to name but a few. Yet, much of his renown came not long before his untimely death in 2007, and thus the full extent of his talent was never truly realized. However, his son Francisco, who now administers his estate, is continuing his legacy, and further unveiling his prodigious artistry to the world.
All images © Flavio Cannalonga