Rita Lee, 1976, Sao Paulo

A reference in the sophisticated world of Brazilian fashion, the photographer presents his retrospective, Bob Wolfenson: Portraits, Porto Seguro Cultural Space, with more than 200 photos, taken in 45 years of work. The exhibition opens on August 23 and remains on view until December 9, 2018.

Bob was born in the neighborhood of Bom Retiro, in São Paulo, and began his career at age 16 as a kind of office boy at the then thriving Editora Abril, at Estúdio Abril, which was, led by Chico Albuquerque, the mecca of fashion photography.

He entered as an office boy and left as a photographer. At the age of 20, he opened his own studio with two friends, Dudu Tresca and Leonardo Costa. Years later, he left Brazil and went to work in New York, at the studio of Bill King, a renowned photographer who, among other mega-celebrities, put Twiggy and Cindy Crawford on the cover of American Vogue.

He stayed there for a while and brought the American experience in his luggage, which made his life here a lot easier. So much so that, having just arrived, he has already been called to photograph for Brazilian Vogue. From then on, his success grew.

If New York was good for his career, Bom Retiro was good for his character.

Today with a more varied ethnic composition, with Korean and Bolivian predominance, when Bob got his first camera from his father, it was the Jewish neighborhood. From a progressive family, owner of knitwear, he attended the College of Application, of the Faculty of Philosophy at USP, and later studied Social Sciences, a course that he interrupted when photography took the reins of his time.

But the humanist training did well.

In a business where egos tend to suffer from gigantism, Bob takes good care of his own. This is evident in personal contact and is verbalized in the book he wrote in 2009 for Editora Campus, Letters to a young photographer.

In the publication of just over 200 pages, he says in the introduction: “… I can and only want to talk about who I am – without any narcissistic affectation, I hope”.  And further on, he emphasizes that he writes “to tell a little about this profession, the environment that surrounds it and the traps, the ego and the market…”.

Critical sense and good humor appear when referring to the post-New York experience phase:

“I don’t really remember everything I did in that period, but some of these photos were really bad.”

In the same spirit, he reports the backstage of Oscar Niemeyer's photo, exhibited in the retrospective. In the architect's office, in Rio, he asked Niemeyer to lie down in an armchair, a project he created. The answer came crooked: “I don't do that. I don't lie down”.  Then Bob suggested that he then sit in that armchair. The answer, even more crooked: "I don't sit." To put an end to the suffering, Bob says that, as he turned to put a white background behind Niemeyer, the architect provoked: “Why do you photograph men? If I were you, I would only photograph women”.

"But it's what I do most," he replied.

Despite everything, the photographer liked the result.

In a good mood, Bob has already said that he left Bom Retiro but Bom Retiro did not.

And, as an unexpected proof of that, now, after a few years, the retrospective of his career is just a few blocks away from where he was born and lived his childhood and youth.

The more than 200 photos that make up the exhibition have Rodrigo Villela as curator and are in the Porto Seguro Cultural Space, a mandatory destination on the cultural itinerary of São Paulo, which is located in Alameda Barão de Piracicaba, on the border between the neighborhoods of Campos Elísios and do Bom. Retiro, and just over ten blocks away from Rua Afonso Pena and Rua Guarani, where the photographer spent his childhood. For Rodrigo Villela, the curatorship work was arduous but enjoyable. To arrive at the chosen photos, more than a thousand were seen. The oldest is by José Celso Martinez Corrêa, from 1973, and the one by Sebastião Salgado was made a few months ago.

“With such an extensive time span, we can also observe in Bob's work a chronicle of customs, a possible bias even for a historical appreciation”, highlights the curator.

And if it is a curious coincidence that the show is just a few blocks away from where Bob was born, it is also interesting that there is another important retrospective in the city with some relationship to him, even if tenuous. In his American phase, to get the job with Bill King,  Wolfenson sent letters with the same request to other photographers such as Richard Avedon, Arthur Elgort, Barry Lategan and Irving Penn. Only King responded.

Irving, one of those who did not respond, also has his retrospective, Irving Penn: centenary, with more than 200 photos, in São Paulo, on Avenida Paulista, at IMS, Instituto Moreira Salles. A little further from Bom Retiro. But also unmissable.

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