Adolfo Caminha, Domingos Olímpio, José de Alencar, Aluisio Azevedo and Machado de Assis. Photo: reproduction

The relationships between nineteenth-century Brazilian literature and photography still need to be described and analyzed. Brought to Brazil in 1840 – a year after its “official” discovery in Paris – photography was soon disseminated here, both in its materiality as “real” photography (business cards and their albums, postcards, etc.), and by the photographic image translated into woodcuts and lithographs, which quickly flooded the journalistic publications of the period.

I would not be able to specify which novel or story written by a Brazilian author in which the photograph or photographic image appears for the first time, although I believe that this phenomenon occurred more strongly from the 1870s onwards. The presence of photography and photographic image in Brazilian literature is certainly one of the most accurate indices about the relevant role that photography gradually took on in various sectors of Brazilian life, whether with the white layers of the population, or in the daily life of free or freed black people (case of the character Amaro, from Good Creole, by Adolfo Caminha). It is not a matter of saying that the literature of the time directly mirrored the presence of photography in Brazilian society, but that this reflection appears worked and transformed by literature itself, understood as a cloudy mirror, which will grant photography and the photographic image not only the position of an example of “modernity” in Brazil at the time, but, in some cases, it will give him the role of an important character (in the mulatto, by Aluísio Azevedo, for example) or a fundamental character (as in Dom Casmurro, in Machado de Assis).

On the other hand, to think about literature and photography in Brazil during the XNUMXth century is also to reflect on the contradictions of a country in which unavoidable indices of archaism – slavery – coexisted with explicit signs of modernity: photography itself and its multiplication via the reproduction media. As much as it was naturalized, it is difficult to understand how such a modern means of reproduction of images, so in tune with the technological advances of the XNUMXth century, could have served to document slavery in a country like Brazil.

It is clear that this article does not and could not have the purpose of exhausting such a complex subject, to be carried out not by one, but by several scholars. He only intends to draw the attention of readers to this very seductive subject, so that their mouths water and look (or look again) in the Brazilian literature of the XNUMXth century, now in search of all these peculiarities that modernity constituted in Brazil.


Pension House, by Aluísio Azevedo, published as a feuilleton in 1883, can be a good start for what I want to discuss here: how XNUMXth century Brazilian literature absorbed and filtered the presence of photography in the daily life of the population. The novel tells the story of Amâncio Vasconcelos, who leaves his parents in São Luiz do Maranhão to study medicine in Rio de Janeiro, where he gets involved with people who lead him to disconnect from his studies, starting a bohemian life. With the death of his father in São Luiz, his mother, d. Angela writes asking him to come home. However, the lady learns that her son had been arrested and, worried about Amâncio, she takes a ship to Rio de Janeiro accompanied by an enslaved woman. However, what you don't even suspect is that, at that time, her son had already been released and, soon after, murdered.

Aluisio Azevedo. Photo: reproduction

During the trip, d. Ângela meets a man who, when he learns that, as soon as she arrives in Rio, she intends to walk through the center in search of her son, he decides to accompany her when they dock there. When they arrive, he checks the luggage and asks the lady's slave to follow the transport with the suitcases, while he accompanied Amâncio's mother.

When they arrive at Rua Direita, in the center of the city, a window catches the attention of D. Ângela: hats “à la Amâncio de Vasconcelos” were for sale. His companion says that merchants tended to name their wares after famous people. Let's go to the text:

[...] It's unique!… stammered the lady.

- Why?

“That's just my son's name.

– Oh! There is not only one Mary in the world!…

But d. Angela had escaped […] from his arm to run to a new window. It was now walking sticks and ties “à la Amâncio de Vasconcelos” that held his attention.

They had just entered Rua do Ouvidor.– See?… she asked, very worried and trying to hide her emotion. Still!

- Ah, said the companion, already impatient. Your Excellency you will find the same name throughout. It's the tradition! Look! If I'm not mistaken, there's the portrait of that Amancio! Have the goodness to see!

  1. Angela approached the portrait, running, and immediately let out an exclamation:

- But it's him! He is my son! my Amancio!

And she began to laugh and cry very upset.

The old man, half moved and half vexed by that expansion […], was perhaps beginning to regret having been such a gentleman with Angela, when Angela, who had been walking like a madwoman through other dials, ripped a piece from her chest. formidable scream and fell face down on the pavement.

She had seen her son, depicted on the morgue table, bare-chested, his body in blood.

And underneath, in bold letters:

“Amâncio de Vasconcelos, murdered by João Coqueiro at the Hotel Paris, in so many ways”[1].

sorry for the spoiler, but what stands out in this end of the novel is how Aluísio Azevedo underlines the complexity of Brazilian society at the end of the XNUMXth century, divided between the archaic institution of slavery – d. Angela had traveled accompanied by an enslaved woman – and the modern precession of the media interposed between the lady who arrived to save her son and the news of his murder. With this strategy, Azevedo places the character Ângela in the midst of mass society, in which social relations are no longer carried out only by people to be mediated by images produced through mass communication (which is no small thing, in a country like Brazil at the end of the century).


Joaquim Marçal Ferreira de Andrade, in History of photo reporting in Brazil, states that, in the second half of the XNUMXth century, it was common to use photographic portraits of people involved in crimes. As techniques of direct printing of the photographic image for the press had not yet prospered, these preexisting photographs were copied via lithography so that they could be published.[2] This is what seems to have happened in Pension House: in addition to the portrait of her son, Angela also saw the image depicting the corpse in the morgue. Aluísio Azevedo does not specify the origin of this image, but we can infer that it was a forensic type photograph, translated into lithography. As will be seen, this same type of photographic image processed by the litho will be the character of another important Brazilian novel of the period – the aforementioned Good Creole. But Brazilian literature has not only explored this type of photographic image. She was lavish in approaching photography with other characteristics.


The romance Lady, by José de Alencar, published in 1875 – therefore, a few years before Pension House –, describes the penetration of photography in the daily life of Rio's white elite. An interesting part of the book is when the heroine, Aurelia, explains to Fernando Seixas (her husband, a sort of hero/anti-hero) the place occupied by the three types of photo albums in her house. There were two in the living room: the first, dedicated to European personalities, and the second, in which the photos of Aurelia's acquaintances were placed. After this explanation, she comments: “The album of the people of my friendship, I keep it with me.” In other words, the photographs of people who were dear to them, Aurelia kept them in an album that was not visible to those who visited her socially. She continues: “These are living room albums, a sign similar to the ones that photographers have on the door”[3].

Jose de Alencar. Photo: reproduction

In Aurelia's house, therefore, there were three types of albums: one that kept photos of international celebrities; another that archived the images of acquaintances and a third, dedicated to their loved ones, kept in a private space in the house.

This description by José de Alencar registers a common practice of the most privileged strata of the Carioca population in the second half of the XNUMXth century: collecting and storing photographs to display them (or not) publicly. On the other hand, Aurelia's mention of the signs that used to be at the doors of the photographic studios, full of photographs of clients, is interesting, as it broadens our understanding of the presence of photography on the streets of Rio de Janeiro at that time.

Another interesting fact in this dialogue is that, at a certain point, the characters comment on the inexistence of photographs of national celebrities, capable of forming a specific album. Fernando makes the following statement about the fact:

It's true, European celebrities, because we still don't have Brazilian ones; that is, in photography that has nothing left over. It is astonishing that in this land so prone to speculation and charlatanism, nobody still thought of getting albums of national celebrities. For he would earn a lot of money; not only in the sale of albums, but above all in the admission of suitors to the list of celebrities[4].

The inexistence of albums of local celebrities, in the mid-1870s in Brazil, did not mean that some people did not use the photographic image to publicize their own image. Within this group, the main Brazilian figure of the XNUMXth century, Emperor D. Pedro II, stands out. In the emperor's beard[5], Lilia Schwarcz presents much of the iconography of the second emperor of Brazil, in which lithographs produced from daguerreotypes and photographs stand out. This material was distributed or sold as inserts in magazines and newspapers so that the public could keep it or frame it to decorate the rooms of the house.

Adolfo Caminha. Photo: reproduction

Em Good Creole, by Adolfo Caminha, a novel published in 1895, it is possible to visualize the presence of the image of D. Pedro II in the rooms of the characters (the black man, Amaro, and his lover, the white youth, Aleixo), acting as a kind of a type of god protector of the poorest:

[Amaro] He began to look at the ceiling, the walls, a portrait of the Emperor, already very faded, which had appeared on the front page of an illustrated newspaper, held in bamboo frames, a leaf-pulling chrome, carefully examining the small room. , the furniture – the table and two chairs – as if I were in a museum of rare things.[6]

This passage describes the origin of that image of the Emperor: it had been the cover of an illustrated newspaper, produced to be highlighted, framed and placed on the wall. On the other hand, it is remarkable how, from the description of the room, Pedro II appears hovering over the poor room, becoming a character in the plot. This feeling will be stronger a few pages ahead where it reads:

The Emperor's portrait smiled at him sweetly, with its indulgent patriarch's beard. It was his man. They said bad things about him, the so-called 'republicans', because the old man had feelings and he liked the people...[7]

This is one of the most important parts of Good Creole for making it clear not only the presence of photographic images in the houses of the poorest strata of the Brazilian population in the second half of the XNUMXth century, but also for the fact that the author knew how to integrate the photographic image within the list of characters in the book, making it plays an important role in understanding the personality of the main character of the novel. For Amaro it did not matter what the “republicans” might think of D. Pedro II. For him, the emperor was his protector because he “liked his people” and that was what mattered.


Several artists worked, both in the process of translating photographic images into lithographs and woodcuts – with the aim of publishing these images in newspapers and printed matter in general –, as well as in the process of producing their paintings, in Brazil and abroad. Still in Lady, by José de Alencar, the author presents the process of producing the portraits of Aurelia and Fernando Seixas, pointing out the role of photography in this procedure:

There Seixas went to find two large paintings placed on their respective easels. On the canvas were sketches of two portraits, that of Aurelia and hers, which a notable painter, an emulation of Vitor Meireles and Pedro Américo, had sketched using a photograph, in order to retouch it in the face of the models.[8]

Lady presents photography in two functions: as a collection item and as a visual support for the artist to produce pictorial portraits. In both, it acts as a receptacle of memory and it will be from this primordial function that photography, in this case, the pictorial image of photographic origin, will also appear as an important character of Lady:

Fernando, who was following her with a surprised look, saw her approaching a painting placed on a platform and against the wall opposite.

The canopy's blue curtain drew back; In the gaslight that smote across that side, the full-length portrait of an elegant gentleman stood out from the back of the panel.

It was his portrait; but of the young man he had been two years before, with the touch of supreme elegance that he still retained, and with the ineffable smile that faded under the grave and melancholy expression of Aurelia's husband.

- The man I loved, the one I love, is this one, said Aurelia, pointing to the portrait. You have your features; the same elegance, the same nobility of bearing. But what he doesn't have is his soul, which I keep here in my breast and which I feel throbbing inside me, and possessing me when he looks at me.[9]

Em Madam, therefore, Alencar not only documents two uses that could be made of photography (collection item and basis for the production of paintings), but also presents it in its effects along with the subjectivity of the characters, after having gone through the process of translation into painting. .


Em the mulatto, also by Aluísio Azevedo, published in 1891, photography is assumed to be an important element of the plot[10]. It is through her that Ana Rosa, in love with her cousin Raimundo, becomes aware of the existence of a supposed rival whom she will try to virtually annihilate by destroying her portrait. First, let's see how Ana Rosa gets in touch with the image of the competitor:

When turning a sheet, they came up with a photographic card, which was loose inside the book; a portrait of a woman, smirking in a theater pose; with her very short chambray skirts, forming a vaporous nine around her hips; bare lap, stocking legs and arms.

– Oh! - The girl articulated, startled, as if the portrait were a strange person who came to interfere in her conversation.

And, mechanically, he averted his eyes from that expressive face that smiled at him from the card with a very real impudence and a daring irony. He immediately declared her detestable.

– Oh! Certainly… she IS a Parisian dancer – explained Raimundo, pretending to be careless. – She has some artistic merit…

And taking the photograph carefully, so that Ana Rosa would not notice the dedication on the back of the portrait, she placed it between the already seen sheets of the album.[11].

A little further on, Raimundo finds a photo of the dancer with signs of vandalism, and his own portrait, also a victim of Ana Rosa's outbursts:

[…] he once found the dancer’s face, whose photograph he had so carefully hidden from his cousin, all scratched with his fingernail, because on the back of the card there was the following dedication: A mon brélilien bien-aimé, Raymond…

[…] he was flattered by that interest, that kind of shy and discreet revelation; she liked to see which portrait of him was, of all objects, the most violated, and, like a good policeman, she even discovered spots of saliva on him, which meant kisses.[12].


It seems clear how Aluísio Azevedo, Adolfo Caminha and José de Alencar knew how to use the potential of photography and the photographic image to develop their plots. However, the one who explored this typical element of XNUMXth century modernity, within a single pattern, was Machado de Assis. Although he makes use of photography already in his novel Iaia Garcia, published in 1879, it will be in 1900 that Machado will build his main novel, having photography as an essential character in the plot: Dom Casmurro[13].

Machado de Assis. Photo: reproduction

The doubt of Bentinho (the Dom Casmurro of the title) about the fact that his wife, Capitú, had betrayed him with his best friend, Escobar, becomes certainty when he compares his son Ezequiel, then a child, with the photo of his friend:

A word that I was on the verge of believing that I was the victim of a great illusion, a phantasmagoria of a hallucinated person; but the sudden entrance of Ezekiel shouting: – Mom! mommy! It's Mass Time! – restored me to the awareness of reality. Capitu and I involuntarily looked at Escobar's photograph, then at each other. This time her confusion became pure confession. This was that; there was by force a photograph of Escobar as a little boy who would be our little Ezequiel. By mouth, however, he didn't confess anything.[14];

Escobar's photograph is the certainty of his wife's betrayal, a fact that will become increasingly unmistakable as Ezequiel grew up, becoming even more like Bentinho's friend.


Entering the beginning of the 1903th century, XNUMX, the novel Luzia-Man by Domingos Olímpio, a plot that unfolds during the beginning of the second half of the 1859th century in the backlands of Ceará. In it, the photograph is mentioned and, when in a single opportunity, when a sertanejo remembers the first time he saw a photograph, taken to the interior of Brazil by a group of scientists who were part of the Scientific Exploration Commission, which in fact existed, created by the Instituto Histórico Geográfico Brasileiro who, between 1861 and XNUMX, traveled to Ceará and Piauí:

[…] It was around the age of sixty. I don't remember the year well; I only know that I was a boy; by the top of the twelve. A commission of doctors walked through these sertões, observing the sky with very complicated spectacles, taking measurements of cities and towns and collecting samples of stones, clay, herbs and weeds, which are used for medicines, butterflies, beetles and other animals. . The principals of this commission were men of knowledge, Capanema, Gonçalves Dias, Gabaglia, a certain Frei Alemão, and a medical doctor named Lagos and others. They walked in armor like us cowboys; they gave a lot of alms and took, for free, the portrait of people with a contraption, which looked like the devil's art. They pointed at us the oculus of a box resembling a bagpipe and our faces, our bodies and clothes came out painted, spitting and spitting, in a glass as white as curd […][15]

Domingos Olímpio. Photo: reproduction


There are many places where photography meets the literature produced in Brazil during the XNUMXth century, this very protean period of the country's culture. Whether as an index of modernity or as a true character of this problematic modernity that is Brazilian, photography is commonly present, opening a series of possibilities for reflection on the country and the society engendered here. In this text, only a few examples of this universe were picked, waiting for those who travel in search of other aspects as or more interesting than those mentioned here.


[1] – AZEVEDO, Aluisio. Pension House. Porto Alegre: L&PM, 2002. Page 387/388.
[2] – ANDRADE, Joaquim Marçal F. History of photo reporting in Brazil. Photography in the Rio de Janeiro press from 1839 to 1900. Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier, 2004, p. 157 et seq.
[3] – ALENCAR, José de. Lady. São Paulo: Ática, 1971, p. 130 et seq.
[4] – Ditto. page 130.
[5] – SCHWARCS, Lilia. the emperor's beard🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
[6] – WALK, Adolfo. Good Creole. Publisher Martin Claret, 2003. Pag. 62.
[7] – Ditto. Pages 72/73.
[8] – ALENCAR, José de. Idem. page 171.
[9] – Idem, p. 180.
[10] – AZEVEDO, Aluisio. the mulatto. Porto Alegre: L&PM. 2002.
[11] – Idem, p. 123.
[12] – Idem, p. 138.
[13] – ASSIS, Machado de. Dom Casmurro. São Paulo: Circle of the Book, 1994.
[14] – Idem, p. 152.
[15] – OLYMPIO, Domingos. Luzia-Man. Sao Paulo: Ed. Moderna, 1983, p. 91.

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