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Mapping Brazil - Photography: Photojournalism in Brazil (1940-1960)

Mapping Brazil - Photography: Photojournalism in Brazil (1940-1960)

New mapping on photography in Brazil (2015) - by Sérgio Burgi


Photojournalism in Brazil (1940-1960)
Cruzeiro, a magazine launched in Rio de Janeiro in 1928, became Brazil’s primary visual communication channel in the twentieth century. Based in the capital and part of Assis Chateaubriand's Diários Associados business group, it was conceived as having a national footprint from the outset as part of a communication strategy to cover the political transformations in the country after the 1930 revolution. It was actually devised in the context of the 1920s political movements that ultimately brought to an end the cycle of oligarchies that had reigned for four decades since Brazil became a republic.

Initially created as an instrument to serve the needs of the debate and interests associated with the political transformations sparked by the 1930 revolution, the magazine changed its profile many times in the following decades. By the 1950s it had a more humanistic stance, adopting a form of socially engaged photojournalism that was much in line with the printed media in other parts of the world at the time. In the previous decade, upon the hiring of Jean Manzon in 1943, O Cruzeiro had incorporated into its pages the European-style photoreportage typified by Vu and Voilá: photo stories conceived and structured mainly as exciting or adventurous reports that were often voyeuristic and sensationalistic in nature. It was only in its second phase, after the Second World War, from 1947 and into the early 1950s, that O Cruzeiro’s photographic coverage became more humanistic, putting more emphasis on objectivity and the documentary and journalistic nature in the photoreports produced. This phase was marked by the work of photographers like José Medeiros, Luciano Carneiro, Flávio Damm, Luis Carlos Barreto, Henri Ballot and Eugênio Silva, who joined O Cruzeiro’s team of photographic reporters in this period.

The contributions of this new generation of photographers largely reflected the international photojournalism scene in the post-war years, marked by events such as the founding of Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Capa’s Magnum agency in 1947, as well as ground-breaking photo essays by W. Eugene Smith for Life magazine, by Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis in France, and by many others, all of which reflected human interest and were produced by known photographers. Many were later brought together in a 1955 exhibition called The Family of Man produced by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

A new school of photojournalism gradually took shape at O Cruzeiro that opposed the recurrent use of sensationalist photo stories and supported a form of photojournalism that showed a greater commitment to an objective, documentary perspective. It increasingly incorporated more cultural topics and more coverage of Brazilian people, as can already be seen in José Medeiros’s early work in Alagoas about the culture and popular festivities in that state, which was still published under the editorial and layout structure established by Manzon in 1943, as well as the major reports from the 1950s, which included some iconic work by Medeiros, Luciano Carneiro, Flávio Damm, Luis Carlos Barreto, Henri Ballot and others.

José Medeiros, who joined O Cruzeiro in 1947 on the invitation of Jean Manzon, produced articles on topics about the Brazilian people and their cultural roots. His work is marked by portrayals of black people and culture for articles on candomblé [an African-based religion], samba and black theatre in Rio de Janeiro, when Black Orpheus, a play by Vinicius de Moraes was staged. He also travelled the country to capture pictures of indigenous peoples and urban and rural workers. His sensitive portrayals of the common man set his work apart, making it a benchmark for other photographers and reporters who joined the magazine, many on his invitation or professional judgement, like Luiz Carlos Barreto, Indalécio Wanderley and Flávio Damm. José Medeiros had a huge influence on photojournalism in Brazil in the 1950s at O Cruzeiro and beyond. He wrote periodically for A Cigarra, a monthly magazine that was also part of Chateaubriand’s Diários Associados, covering the techniques and languages of photography. A Cigarra also republished pieces originally from O Cruzeiro, such as Luciano Carneiro’s piece on Cuba, with a text by Rachel de Queiróz. In the 1960s, José Medeiros left photojournalism to work in film. Together with Luiz Carlos Barrreto, he helped create the new style of film photography adopted by cinema novo, much of which was a direct legacy of both men’s prior experience as photojournalists with O Cruzeiro. It is marked by a quest to produce direct, objective images, ideally using natural light, giving expression to a world view geared towards subjects that epitomised the country and its people.

Medeiros also wrote an important book on candomblé, which was part of a trend at that time to publish volumes by individual photographers, such as Jean Manzon, Peter Scheier, Pierre Verger and Marcel Gautherot.

With Jean Manzon’s exit from O Cruzeiro in 1951 and the expansion of the team of photographers at the same time, the magazine started to be more strongly influenced by this new vision of a more socially engaged, more objective type of photojournalism. When Enrico Bianco, a painter and assistant to Portinari, joined the magazine in 1952 as its artistic coordinator, the editorial line was reviewed and photography was highlighted by adopting a new graphic design that sought to create more generous, ample spaces for the photographs, which now often appeared on double-page spreads. The images now stood out for their formal qualities and also for their spontaneity and the habitual use of natural light, characteristics of the photography then produced using the Leica 35mm rather than the Rolleiflex.

Luciano Carneiro, one of the youngest and staunchest defenders of objective photojournalism at O Cruzeiro, worked as its international correspondent. He covered the Korean War, life in Japan and Russia, the Africa of Albert Schweitzer, the Egypt of Nasser, the Yugoslavia of Tito, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, as well as pieces done in Brazil on jangadeiros [traditional fishermen who use jangada sailing boats], squatters, the drought in the northeast, the legacy of the cangaço [early twentieth century outlaw movement in the north-east of the country], the student movement and others. He also did features in the “from a correspondent’s archive” section, where he revealed the influence of post-war humanist photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Robert Doisneau.

The stories also record the life of the man on the street, as Stephan Lorant, editor of Picture Post, called for when he said the magazine should appeal to the “common man, the worker and the intelligentsia”.

Luciano Carneiro also wrote a lot of the articles that accompanied his photographs, something that became increasingly common at O Cruzeiro throughout the 1950s, where other photographers like Jose Medeiros, Luiz Carlos Barreto and Flávio Damm also produced images and texts. Carneiro’s career came to an abrupt end in December 1959, when he died in an aeroplane accident on his return from a job in Brasilia at the age of 33.

While photography was marked by this more expansive, humanist posture immediately after the war and its horrors, the press as a whole gained a new boost by the climate of reconstruction and democratisation after the Allies’ victory. The number of publications rose in every continent, as did the number of photojournalism agencies. This scenario would change as the Cold War deepened and conservative, authoritarian attitudes became entrenched on both sides of the iron curtain: those aligned with the United States and Western Europe, and those allied with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

This geopolitical impasse was what triggered the wars in Korea and Vietnam, both documented by war photojournalists under strict military censorship, yet still with a degree of independence and critical distance, such as Luciano Carneiro’s extensive coverage of the Korean War for O Cruzeiro in the early 1950s. In the next decade, the Vietnam War was covered widely by illustrated magazines, the press and television channels, whose images ended up having a decisive influence on the outcome of the conflict. This commitment to civil rights and to covering the consequences of war on troops and civilians alike – a typical feature of the photographic reporting of the 1960s – was severely curtailed by the commanders of the armed forces involved in subsequent wars in the Middle East and Central America, through censorship and the prohibition of independent photographers in the field of battle, so that conflicts could only be documented by photographers sent with the troops and as part of a strict censorship apparatus. This control over the critical content of reports was not so comprehensive in the revolutions and uprisings after the Vietnam War, like the revolutions in Central America recorded by photographers like Luciano Carneiro in Cuba or Susan Meisellas in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s.

Meanwhile, socially engaged, humanistic photojournalism also developed as a form of resistance under dictatorial regimes, such as the military dictatorship in Brazil and other parts of Latin America in the 1960s and 70s. Another significant ramification of this branch of photography after the Second World War was the emergence of photography linked to humanitarian actions, like the photographs of Sebastião Salgado in Africa covering the work of aid organisations like Médicins Sans Frontiers, which had a big impact on the media in the 1980s.

All these developments of ethical photojournalism, which grew inside and outside the country from the 1960s through to the 1990s thanks to the resistance and awareness-raising work of photographers, was directly linked in Brazil to the photojournalism done at O Cruzeiro in the 1950s by that group of photographers committed to a humanistic, objective view of the country, reflected in the quest to develop the press in a socially responsible way and to somehow portray the essence of human life in the various representations of the Brazilian people inside the magazine, even if this meant clearly contravening the interests of the publication itself and its basic structure as a general-interest magazine.

A legacy therefore grew up during the 1950s that also influenced a whole generation of photojournalists who came to the forefront the following decade, like Walter Firmo and Evandro Teixeira, both declaredly influenced by the work of José Medeiros, Luciano Carneiro and the other O Cruzeiro photographers. Firmo and Teixeira’s work in the 1960s with Jornal do Brasil newspaper and Realidade magazine reflected the style of photojournalism that had been built over two decades inside O Cruzeiro, which in the 1950s became consolidated as a clearly humanist line.

It was also in the 1940s and 50s that French photographers Marcel Gautherot and Pierre Verger settled in Brazil, each documenting the country in their own particular way. Verger was fascinated by Afro-Brazilian culture and religion, while Gautherot, with his background in architecture, documented folk culture in different parts of the country and also produced the most extensive set of photographs of the country’s modern architecture, including comprehensive photographic coverage of the building of Brasilia on the request of Oscar Niemeyer.

Continue reading Mapping Brazil - Photography: Contemporary photography in Brazil