Gaudêncio da Conceição during the Feast of Saint Benedict, Conceição da Barra, ES, c. 1989. Credit: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection.
Gaudêncio da Conceição during the Feast of Saint Benedict, Conceição da Barra, ES, c. 1989. Credit: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection.

As of April 30, 266 photographs by Rio de Janeiro photographer Walter Firmo will be exhibited on two floors of the Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo (IMS Paulista). The images date from the beginning of his career, in the 1950s, to the present day, showing different regions of Brazil, with records of rites, popular festivals and everyday scenes. Most of the works in Walter Firmo: in the verb of silence the synthesis of the scream comes from the photographer's collection, which has been in the custody of the IMS since 2018 on a lending basis. On the opening day (30/4), at 11 am, there will be a face-to-face debate with the photographer and the exhibition curators at the IMS Paulista cinema.

The exhibition is curated by Sergio Burgi, photography coordinator at IMS, and assistant curator Janaina Damaceno Gomes, professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj) and coordinator of the Afrovisualities Research Group: Aesthetics and Politics of the Black Image. The retrospective is also curated by curator-restorator Alessandra Coutinho Campos and biographical and documentary research by Andrea Wanderley, members of the IMS Photography Department.

The exhibition presents Firmo's photographic work from seven thematic nuclei. In the first one, the public finds about 20 large-format color images, produced by the photographer throughout his career. There are photos taken in Salvador (BA), such as the record of a young bride in the favela of Alagados, in 2002; in Cachoeira (BA), such as the portrait of Mãe Filhinha (1904-2014), who was part of the Irmandade da Boa Morte for 70 years; and in Conceição da Barra (ES), where the photographer portrayed the quilombola Gaudêncio da Conceição (1928-2020), a member of the Comunidade do Angelim and the Ticumbi group, a dance with African roots; among others. The retrospective shows how, throughout his career, Firmo began to distance himself from documentary and direct photojournalism, based on the idea of ​​photography as enchantment, staging and theatricality. About his creative process, the artist comments: “Photography, for me, resides in those magical moments in which I can freely interpret the imponderable, the magical, the enchantment. In which the dazzle can be done through lights, backgrounds, endless subtleties, managing theater and cinema in this game of seduction, true simultaneous translation built in the blink of an eye in which the intellect and the heart come together, materializing atmospheres”.

Maestro Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1967. Credit: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection.
Maestro Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1967. Credit: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection.

As one of the highlights, the exhibition features portraits of musicians produced by Firmo, mainly from the 1970s onwards. Gilberto Gil, Martinho da Vila, Maria Bethânia, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Djavan and Chico Buarque. The exhibition also features photographs taken for the article. 100 Days in Nobody's Amazon, published in 1964 in Jornal do Brasil, for which Firmo received the Esso Reportage Award. For the article, which featured texts and images of his authorship, the photographer traveled through cities and riverside villages in Amazonas and Solimões, documenting the landscapes, political disputes in the region and the population, which included some of his family members.

Born in 1937 in the neighborhood of Irajá, in Rio de Janeiro, and raised in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, the only child of people from Pará – his father, from a black family living on the banks of the lower Amazon; his mother, from a white Portuguese family, born in Belém –, Walter Firmo began to photograph at an early age, after receiving a camera from his father. In 1955, at the age of 18, he joined the team of the newspaper Última Hora, after studying at the Associação Brasileira de Arte Fotográfica (Abaf), in Rio. He would later work at Jornal do Brasil and then at Realidade magazine, as one of the magazine's first photographers. In 1967, already working at Manchete magazine, he was a correspondent for about six months for Editora Bloch in New York.

During this period abroad, the artist had contact with the movement Black is Beautiful and the discussions around civil rights, which would mark all of his later work. Back in Brazil, he worked in other press vehicles and began to photograph for the music industry. He also began his research on popular, sacred and profane festivals throughout the Brazilian territory, towards an increasingly authorial production. “I ended up putting black people in an attitude of reference in my work, photographing musicians, workers, folkloric parties, in short, everyone. Vertigo is upon them. To place them as honorable, as working men, who exist. They helped build this country to get where it got to,” he explains.

For more information about visiting the exhibition just click here.

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