On display at MASP until October 1, 2017, the show Miguel Rio Branco: Nothing I'll Take When I Die presented a selection of 61 photographs from the famous series Maciel, registered in 1979, in the homonymous neighborhood in Salvador. Considered a landmark in Brazilian photography, the work investigated the ambiguities between public and private, in addition to presenting the female figure as a symbol of resistance.

In 2011, life in the studio located in Araras, in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro, a space that since 2006 has become Miguel Rio Branco's home, was the subject of a report in the 11th edition of ARTE!Brasileiros, which also portrayed everyday life in the creative strongholds of artists José Bechara and Bete Jobim.

Escorted by roosters, hens, a dachshund couple that goes by the nickname of Café e Cacau, and a basset named Capuccino, the artist welcomes us on the threshold of his gate, on a cloudy Sunday morning that reduced the beautiful path up the mountain range. to a frustrating continual sight of clouds and bursts of rain.

Tired of the routine of big cities, the photographer, painter and multimedia artist, famous for the profusion of colors in his works, found refuge and serenity in the midst of a bucolic valley of predominant green, which culminates in the giant Maria Comprida, a rocky mountain of almost two thousand meters high, which, according to legend, was inhabited, at its summit, by sacis-pererês and headless mules.

As he brews a coffee in the basement of the house full of wood and glass structures, Rio Branco argues that he has always been on the sidelines of conventions: “In a way, I am marginal in essence. A person who works with photography, painting, drawing, cinema, is also an outsider, because the system itself, all the time, tries to define you as a single thing”.

Unlike his photographs, paintings, films and installations, which stimulate broad poetic subjectivities, Miguel Rio Branco is direct, without mincing words, as we can see in the following interview, recorded at the time the 2011 report was published and hitherto unpublished. , in full.

ARTE!Brasileiros - When did you start living in Araras and how has this new phase been, Miguel?
Miguel Rio Branco – I've lived here since 2006. I wanted to get away from the city a bit, but it's still something I have to improve on myself. I have to disconnect even more from the issue of cities and stress…

And you still go to Rio a lot?
No, I go very little. On average, twice a month.

Does your youngest daughter live here with you?
Yes, Clara has lived here with me since she was 13. Today, she is 16. I also have Laura, the oldest, who is already 21 years old and is studying Production at Art Exhibitions – I still think she should study Cinema (laughs). Clara lives and studies here in Araras. She goes to Rio on Saturdays and goes back to school on Monday morning.

You've had a very busy life. What was it like to live in so many different places and particularly in Brazil?
I was born in Spain and arrived in Brazil when I was 3 years old. Shortly after, we moved to Buenos Aires, lived for a while in Portugal and returned here for a brief period, until, from the age of 10 to 14, I lived in Switzerland. I learned to read and write in Portugal and came back to Brazil with a hell of a Portuguese accent, and everyone joked about it, it was called “Bacalhauzinho”. Then I went to Colégio Santo Inácio and things there didn't work out very well either. I was threatened with being placed as an intern in Freiburg and I was lucky that my father was transferred to Switzerland, where I lived a very rich period. That's when I started painting at the Flaureamont Institute, a college in Geneva, where there were drawing teachers who encouraged us a lot. It was there that I prepared for my first exhibition, at the age of 18, in 1964.

And shortly after that exhibition you left for the United States…
Yes. In New York, I also lived a very good period, between 1964 and 1967, times when Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones emerged, a very culturally powerful time. I returned to Brazil in 1967, and in 1968 I joined the ESDI (School of Industrial Design). It was then that I had a lot of contact with the visual arts people. I had my first exhibition at Galeria Relevo, but my painting work was no longer so intense, it was more connected to photography and cinema. I followed other paths, although, some time later, in the 1980s, I returned to painting.

Signs of maturity too, since in Geneva you were still very young… 
Yes. Then I realized that everything was connected, that there was no question of just doing this or that. Some people sometimes say to me: “Oh no… You're a photographer!”. Then the guy goes to Inhotim and realizes that my stuff can be much more related to cinema and installations than photography. I work with several connections: cinema, music, photography. The problem is that there are still curators who are very orthodox and want their exposure divided. There was a French curator who came to tell me: “Oh, I understand your work, you want to do painting with photography, you want to do paintings”. Well, but that's obvious, because I'm part painting too! Painting is part of my essence and training. This orthodox thinking is something that, in terms of art and creation, is profoundly negative.

And reductionist... 
Reduce and impoverish. And there are few critics with a broad view. Paulo Herkenhoff – perhaps the most interesting I know of – is one of the few that has this. A person who was once a conceptual plastic artist and has a very interesting open-mindedness. He has Mário Pedrosa, who is an interesting guy, but very held back. Paulo is rich in ideas. I did a book with him (Notes on The Tides, 2010), and I could see it up close. We had ideas that led to others and revealed this generous side of art, which is very necessary. We cannot think of art only in terms of the market and say “I'm not going to do that, because it won't deliver what I expect”.

His return from Switzerland took place on the eve of AI-5, amid a whirlwind of events. Before we started this recording, you mentioned that, due to the constant protests, you only had three months of classes at ESDI. What was your degree of engagement in the sociopolitical issues of that period?
I was always very politically aware, but I was never a partisan. I am perhaps a person much more connected to the anarchic system than to this system polarized in right and left. You can be totalitarian right and you can also be totalitarian left. I thought all this movement around here was interesting, but I confess that it all seemed to me to be a lot of bullshit, a lot of debate and wasted talk. At ESDI, classes stopped to discuss the possibility of redesigning the curriculum and making it more appropriate to the Brazilian reality. With that, the entire design project based on Bauhaus experiences would simply dance. I don't think you can have this mentality of throwing one thing away to build another. It is necessary to absorb the richest things from every part of the world. In 1968, repression was on the verge of entering its darkest moment around here, and at its heaviest, during the Medici government, between 1970 and 1972, I was in New York. I've always been very individualistic, and my protests, my anger against social injustices were always put in my photographs and in my films. My way of showing my political convictions was this. It was not a pamphleteering, partisan thing. The wealth of the individual must always be maintained. You obviously have to respect certain issues in the society you live in, but I think there are smart ways to protest, I don't think it's necessary to take a revolver and go around shooting.

Miguel Rio Branco and the dachshund Cacau, in his studio. Photo: Luiza Sigulem

Does the fact that you isolated yourself here in Araras have anything to do with your sense of individuality?
I, in a way, am marginal in essence. The fact of being the son of a diplomat, in itself, already attributes to someone the marginality of nationality. Being a person who works with photography, painting, drawing, cinema, is also a marginality in relation to the system itself, which all the time tries to define you as one thing. I'm here and I still feel marginal. I'm surrounded by upper-middle-class people with whom I have absolutely nothing to do with. When I did the work with the Caiapós and other Indians, I wanted to expose a society that offered alternatives to the established society. Several ideas I couldn't make, but I did photography for several films by a guy named Alceu Massari. Very political films, denouncing absurd situations in the villages. In 1983, invited by the chiefs, I managed to enter a village in Caiapós because I had already gone there to photograph gold mining in the region. It was a very rich experience in terms of societal contrasts. Ten years later, there was an internal split in the village. In that previous period, they were like imperialist warriors and they survived like that for a long time, but ten years later there were Indians traveling by helicopter and plane.

It is inevitable to talk about what is happening in Belo Monte, with various tribes at risk of mass dispersion.
Obviously, the issue of clean energy is fundamental. It is not even possible to find solutions that always imply the devastation of natural resources. I think it is essential to develop and invest in alternative energy research. But it is a great violence to want to take concepts of a society like ours, which is already so decadent, to one that still has such different notions of what living in a group is. What is happening in Belo Monte is an extremely bad thing. I don't see anything positive about that. And there is another fundamental question: generate more energy for what? To power more refrigerators and appliances?! We live in a wasteful system, and this obsolescence is one of the worst habits we can have. I, for example, who worked a lot with photography, learned the language by practicing and never had a fetish for machines. Today, there is a huge obsession towards digital cameras. I even have problems talking to other photographers, because of this fetish.

Is the subject recurring?
Yes, there's always someone ecstatic because a new camera came out that does this, another that does that. In my professional life I have never discussed these issues and I will not go into them now. This is something that is closely linked to this rampant consumption. Equipment is a basic thing that you need to have to produce what you want to show or say. He is not the end. It's a simple middle and end point. I started to paginate in the first Photoshop and, shortly after I mastered everything, Adobe came along and released a new version, with all the tools changed places. A tremendous trick, but, of course, a way to take our concentration, because we are living in the era of deconcentration. So, going back to Belo Monte, building a power plant to generate more energy in a place that implies disrupting the life of several villages is a criminal idea. The population had to have access to these issues and participate in the debate and decisions. You can't start a project like that already knowing that there's a shitload of gimmicks, a lot of people involved that will take a lot of money with it. Our public and private services suck. There isn't a book of mine that has the logo of big companies and I intend to keep that until the end. There are people who want to produce my books, they propose me a sponsorship, and I say frankly: “I'm not going to put this guy in my book, no way! My phone doesn't work, how can I accept his support?!”. I remember one occasion when my light box burst and the guys came the same day to “solve” the problem. They made a cat and took three months to actually change it. Of course, they replaced it with a worse electronic box which, on top of that, increased my consumption. In other words, it was better with the cat! How can I receive money from such a company on a project of mine?! It just can't!

In addition to these issues, do you also consider that private funding imposes too many concessions on artists?
Fortunately, at least the audiovisual medium today has ways of not depending on it, because film production, for example, has become too cheap. You make a film with a digital camera, mount it on the computer and you can make a quality product. The big problem is distribution. How will this production reach the general public?

An independence that, however, does not reach the sphere of mass culture… 
The problem is that mass culture is also fascist and totalitarian. It serves as control. The United States proves this. Shameless propaganda. Of course, there are alternative means of distribution, such as the internet. These things evolve day by day, but here, for example, the fact that we still have such a slow internet also has to do with this control. There is no interest in people interacting a lot. The less the better. It's the same issue of controlling education.

Returning to the generational question, you, who watched the whole process closely, what assessment do you make of the recent democratic period?
We can pretend that democracy exists, but in fact it doesn't. When George W. Bush was elected in the United States, for example, the whole world realized that even in the United States, democracy is not so democratic. What happened there was a stolen election. To this day I don't understand why Al Gore didn't have the guts to reverse this. The point is that the interest of these people is all linked to money. The American ideal is money. There is a smaller part of the population that really defends the country's ideals of freedom, freedom of expression, to do what they want without being interfered, but since 2001, these issues have been abandoned and all this propaganda in relation to the fear of the invasion of the other. A completely fascist stance, from a country that became fascist by defending the fight against fascists. In World War II, if the Japanese had not attacked them, the Americans would most likely have remained neutral, as they had strong trade alliances with Germany. Here, we managed to institute democratic governments. I think it's cool that Dilma is showing her own personality. There are people who say no, that Lula is still behind, but I disagree. These days I saw her astral map on Globo and I found it very interesting. She is considered an unorthodox Sagittarius, a person of few friends, who is out to do the right thing. I see her approach to Fernando Henrique, for example, as something positive. I, in particular, don't think Fernando Henrique is any saint. The very question of his re-election was already a real blow. But this is all part of a long process. We'll see what's ahead. We don't even know if, in 2012, a tsunami will engulf everything...

You mentioned, a little while ago, about an astral map and now about the world engulfed by tsunamis… What do you think about these things, Miguel?  
All these questions are part of self-knowledge. It's information that you find throughout your life and wondering if it can have any truth or not. These questions don't just come from crooks, no. Some people can say surprising things. It's like Candomblé. You take a pai de santo and a pai de santo and they are able to promote experiences that are beyond our understanding. They stimulate that whole part of the brain that we insist on not learning to use. Society makes us lose these things, but since childhood we know how to use them intuitively. The Museum of the Unconscious, for example, created by Dr. Nise da Silveira, is more important to me than many art museums. It is necessary to find a space that allows the public to see exactly what the collection of the Museum of the Unconscious is. They're now making a bunch of new museums and I'll bet they'll all be handed over to publicists. Why make new museums in Rio, if you have, for example, the Museum of Modern Art, which tries to resume life after a fire and fails?! Why more museums? Of course, because they want to build monuments so they can say “I did it!”, but they will clog these museums with nonsense, like giving courses to teach people how to make art. Okay, that's valid, but they don't even suspect that art is not something that necessarily needs a course. Rather, it is necessary to teach people to think in other ways and to create in other ways. How-to recipes can be a cooking issue, not an art course. You can't give courses solely to teach the fellow how to enter the market. The market doesn't hold so many people trained just for that.

Can this mindset drive the market to a burnout?
I think there is a massive dose of opportunism. And those who make the most money are the producers, cultural agitators and intermediaries who are there just to profit and gain more and more power. Under the Rouanet Law, the artist makes a book and cannot earn money from his work himself, because the counterpart is publicity. The artist is always “promoting” his work and the one who earns the most is the producer and the intermediary. Here in Rio, for example, there was an exhibition about Miles Davis, at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, in which his work was completely diluted. There must have been a third of what was in the original exhibition, which came from France. It doesn't look like an exhibit, it looks like a theme park. There wasn't, for example, an exhibition room that you could go into and spend the day watching Miles Davis videos. Everything is very fragmented, detonated and diluted, because even this dilution is part of people's control. You narrow down the issues and control people so they don't overthink it, just have fun. Andy Warhol opens up this question of putting advertising as an act of creation, but, in my view, 90% of contemporary art today is crap. Can't defend. You enter an exhibition and leave it with absolutely nothing on your mind, a huge void, I don't have the bag anymore. I have seen almost nothing.

And what do you think about the photojournalism practiced today?
Today, photojournalism is done by anyone. Anyone who has a cell phone with a camera can do photojournalism. As this too is now fully controlled, what comes out on television is the same as what comes out in the newspapers. I never thought I did photojournalism. For me, what I did was more a kind of “photodocumentarism” with a poetic interpretation, a different construction, as in an exhibition I did at Parque Lage, in 1978, called Negativo Sujo, which was that. I worked for National Geographic in 1979, doing a work on abandoned minors that led me to visit Pelourinho and work with prostitutes. I was living in Salvador, married to Mário Cravo’s sister – with whom I have a son, who is a musician and is 33 years old, Gerônimo Cravo Rio Branco, he is a drummer, lived in Bahia and eleven months ago went to Canada. I've never really done photojournalism. There is a girl, who was a journalist and today has become a respected curator, who once called me a “photoreporter”. Photoreporter is her grandma! I've never done photoreporting. If the person does not have the ability to see this, how can he become a healer?!

The boundaries between the publicity photo, the photojournalism of the daily vehicles and the weekly magazines, defend some critics, seems to be increasingly tenuous. Do you agree?
I agree and say more: these things have been mixed for a long time. It also comes from the pagination of American magazines, which has always been like this. If you pick up one of the first editions of American Playboy, you'll see that even then, everything was mixed up. Naturally, the only thing that didn't get mixed up was that middle folder with the playmate poster. My photographic culture came from magazines like Playboy, Timelife, Elle. That's what I saw in photography. Cartier Bresson, for example, I found out who he was around 1979, 1980, through friends from São Pulo. My first contact with the Magnum agency was in 1972. I did a job for them in 1973, but nobody knows that, because it was a passing contact. I was coming back from New York and I took a portfolio to Magnum, a lot of people saw my work, and Charlie Harbutt, I don't know if he was the president at the time, I don't remember, he really liked what he saw. But I didn’t get to join Magnum at that time, even though they commissioned a work, more focused on a visual anthropology that I did, in 1973, in São Fidélis, in the state of Rio. For a year, I was recording the life of a family. I went there every two months and spent 15 days with them. I studied photography in New York for just one month – enough for me – and in the period I lived there, from 1970 to 1972, I didn't have any contact with people in the field of photography. My contact was with the visual arts people. Americans and Brazilians like Hélio Oiticica, who used to live there and even took me in for eight months.

In that period you had an intense production of Super 8 films that were lost in a fire. How many were there altogether? 
In New York, I made eight Super 8 movies, but I lost them all in this fire. Films made of situations I created and others that were taken live. I had one, three minutes long, with only gloves that I found in the city's winter and then I set them on fire. There's another one I made when I lived on 3rd Street, on top of a Hell Angels base. I lived with my friend Patricia Nolan, who is also a photographer, and one night she was sitting by the window, looking a little languid. Downstairs, a hell angel was trying to get the motorcycle to go, wanting to impress her, and the bike wouldn't start. A three-minute film, but a very interesting thing because it said a lot about machismo and impotence. That movie was beautiful, it was called Waiting for The Man, which was a Lou Reed song.

I know, composed by him in the Velvet Underground days…
Yes, from the Velvet Underground level. By the way, I don't know all of Andy Warhol's work, but I suspect that the best thing he did was just to have launched Velvet Underground, because the films he produced, you just can't see it. Neither then nor today. Those were times when body art also appeared. Today, the body art people are taking those images, works that weren't meant to be commercialized, and they're selling everything. An absurdity! For example, that movie of mine I'll Take Nothing When I Die, Those Who Owe Me, I'll Charge in Hell, is not marketable, but there has been more than one gallery owner wanting to make it a limited series. I refuse. It has nothing to do. The whole world only thinks about money and this thing is still going to go to shit. In fact, it's already giving a lot of shit, which is why I think this is the best time to think – at least for people who are really interested in having a slightly more interesting world – about all these things. One of the great protections that, in my view, still exists, is to stay out of cities, go back to nature and not get into war, because we're not going to get anywhere. It's no use confronting. In fact, I say that, but I confront a lot, precisely because I defend all these issues. That's why I chose to live here… This place is very good for me to try to calm down a little.

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