Contemporary Photography in Brazil

By Dave Crossley

Corpo & Alma, Espace Latino Americain, 44 rue du Roi de Sicile.

Going to see an exhibition that purports to represent the cream of all photographic activity in a whole country is a fearsome prospect. You want them to pull it off; you want to know that such and such country produces fine photographs. There is an uncomfortable elitist residue in the back of one's poor fevered brain that presupposes the little countries are going to do something embarrassing.
This Brazilian show cleared away a lot of that nonsense. There was a strong overall concept, an excellent installation, and a bunch of well-made photographs. Slick, almost, complete with separate matching brochures for each of the seven photographers (Vera Chaves Bar­cellos, Hugo Denizart, Jose Oiticica Filho, lole De Freitas, Alair Gomes, Mario Cravo Neto, and Lygia Pape).
The exhibition is called Corpo & Alma — Body and Soul. The curator, Roberto Pontual, explains that the title refers to many things, but most obviously to "the delight of the body" after Brazil's "long and dark winter of repression," this body "seeking with all its soul an identity disturbed by so many detours and blemishes." Apparently the idea and the phrase are widely used in newspapers, magazines, film, and television in Brazil.
So what we have is a lot of bodies. Alair Gomes has photo­graphed muscular young men pos­ing and engaging in acrobatics on beaches. Lygia Pape has done a series on children, three shots of each, tough looking youngsters.
Hugo Denizart has photographed wonderful dark hands, forearms, and elbows as they intrude, leaning and touching, on bright color ab­stractions apparently painted on walls. Mario Cravo Neto has a group of rich portraits that use curious viewpoints and are mostly pictures of neck muscles. Vera Chaves Barcellos has done an almost witty series on feet, printed about lifesize in color and hung close to the floor
This show seems to be a hint that something interesting is going on with photography in Brazil.