One country, two perspectives: Brazilian urban photography in black and white from the 1940s to 70s

Thomaz Farkas – The Rhythm of Light
Urban Diaries – Alberto Ferreira and Brazilian Photojournalism

As the Brazil-Austria Cultural Center reopens in 2021, it turns its attention to black and white photographic portraits of Brazilian urban life from the mid-20th century, presenting two individual exhibitions with works by photographers Thomaz Farkas (1924-2011) and Alberto Ferreira (1932-2007). The juxtaposition of these two great names in Brazilian photography exemplifies the two predominant aesthetic trends in the photography of that period.


The years after the Second World War were marked by a new cultural dynamic. The end of the war, the restoration of democracy and the new constitution gave an air of renewal to Brazilian society. Industrial development resulted in a large migration movement from the countryside to the cities, a process which led to the urban population outnumbering the rural population by the 1980s.  New concepts of construction and use of space emerged, with more modern housing and functional public buildings. The trend towards exposed, reinforced concrete spread throughout Brazilian modernist architecture in the period, reaching its peak with the construction of Brasilia. Along with the cities, mass culture and the media grew – more consumers meant that the chains of newspapers, radio and, later, television, quickly became large and influential enterprises.


Thomaz Farkas’s work is embedded in the context of Brazilian modernist photography, of which he was a pioneer. Indeed, Farkas fostered the development of his own language through his visual study of the European and North American photographic avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century, among which the Straight Photography movement stood out for its defense of a specific  aesthetic for photography. Perceiving photography as a work of art, this approach prioritized abstract elements in the composition, such as unusual angles and framings, the exploration of backlight, as well as elements in series and geometry, moving away from the conventional perception of reality. In addition to their focus on the vertiginous transformation of São Paulo’s urban landscape of the 1940s, Farkas’s photos from this period can also be seen as “geometric abstractions that foreshadow the constructivism that would prevail in the following decade”, here in researcher Sérgio Burgi’s words.


At the same time, a different photographic language was being developed in Brazil, underpinned by the desire to register reality through photography. As early as the 1930s, reportage photography – a journalistic form of narrative based on a new type of text–image relationship – makes its first appearances in different publications across the country, reaching its peak in the 50s and 60s, particularly thanks to the magazine O Cruzeiro and the newspapers Tribuna da Imprensa and Jornal do Brasil – where photographer Alberto Ferreira, from Paraíba, worked for 30 years. Endowed with an intuition that allowed him to foresee facts fractions of a second before they happened – Cartier-Bresson’s famous “decisive moment”– Ferreira was present in some of the main photographic coverages related to sport, especially football. His photographic documentation of Brasilia’s construction and inauguration constitutes one of the richest collections on the foundation of the new capital.


Farkas’s and Ferreira’s works attest to the coexistence of two aesthetic currents in Brazilian photography which have become complementary rather than antagonistic over the years. Both photographers captured the same places, around the same time, but with entirely different backgrounds and from unique perspectives. It is this diversity that undergirds the project One country, two perspectives.


Marcelo Cardoso Gama


Exhibition "Urban Diaries: Alberto Ferreira and Brazilian Photojournalism"

Born in Paraíba, Alberto Ferreira moved to Rio de Janeiro at the age of 18, pursuing his dream of a career in professional football, as a goalkeeper. But, dreams often don't come true as imagined. He was not accepted into any team and, as he needed a job and didn't want to leave the field, he started photographing football matches. And that's how his great intuition for special moments and events allowed him to capture some of the most extraordinary moments of his time.


The exhibition Diários Urbanos: Alberto Ferreira e o Fotojornalismo Brasileiro is an excerpt of the extraordinary production of this photographer, from the 1940s to the late 1950s. This small exhibition shows the importance of his photographic work, which earned him much national and international recognition. However, it is not only as a photographer that Alberto Ferreira

marks the history of Brazilian photojournalism. In his activity as photography editor for the “Jornal do Brasil” for 25 years, he inspired and influenced entire generations of photographers and turned this newspaper into a national reference.


The exhibition is part of the Cultural Center's curatorial series on black and white photographs portraying urban life in Brazil in the mid-20th century. This key period in Brazilian social history is presented by two individual exhibitions successively, with the works of Thomaz Farkas and Alberto Ferreira. Both artists photographed the same places, at the same time, from their own perspectives, but with different intentions: while Farkas' artistic language was established by "showing Brazil to the Brazilians", Ferreira's journalistic activity was known for "showing Brazilians Brazil and the world".


The Brazil-Austria Cultural Center

The Center, installed in the Petit Palais Rotschild, built in 1894 and belonging to Brazil since 1987, offers an atmosphere that combines the history of the house with a modern environment for exhibitions and events. The Center hosted exhibitions in its gallery in 2017-2018 by Daniel Azulay, King Leopold of Belgium, Paulo Mariotti, Luiz Martins and Massimo Listri. In 2020, the exhibition "COM.MEMORIA.AÇÃO - faces, homes and stories of Brazilians in Vienna" honored the local community. Besides the exhibition space, which resumes its activities after the pandemic, in 2021 the Cultural Centre will also have musical programming, a pilot project of Portuguese language teaching, as well as projects of cultural promotion proposed by the Brazilian community in Austria.


  • Urban Diaries: Alberto Ferreira and Brazilian Photojournalism

  • From 30.7.2021 to 14.11.2021

  • Cultural Center Brazil-Austria. Prinz Eugen-Strasse 26,
    Tue-Fri 14:00-19:00, Sat-Sun 14:00-18:00.

  • Free admission

  • +43 1 512063217

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