Between the long curves of sand that define the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema is an outcropping of rocks called Arpoador. At the top, there is a panoramic view of the most popular beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Everything swirls around Arpoador. The weather from the rocks is always an event in itself. And the colors constantly shift towards that violet hour of twilight. Everyday, people from all parts of the city are drawn to Arpoador: to surf, to play on the beach, to fish off the rocks, to meditate and stare at the sea, and to photograph the setting sun.
Most of these photographs were taken on Sundays. The transition from afternoon to evening on Sundays is different from other days at Arpoador. The passage of time seems suspended. There’s a special lingering on the rocks, a not-wanting-to-go-home kind of pause. This Sunday kind of feeling seems to bring out the melancholy and mortality inherent in all personal photography. Working with a 6 x 7 camera, I’m trying to trace this nostalgic shimmer of summer light, the ephemeral nature of beauty on the rocks, and the impulse to hold onto memories that compel people to photograph each other.
For editorial inquiries, this project is represented by Agencia Olhares in Brazil.
Or see the page for Arpoador:
In 2005, I found 200 hundred small black and white photos at a flea market in Rio. Most of the pictures were women on the beach at Ipanema. Although we did not know who the photographer was at first, he took two self-portraits of himself in the mirror. He also dated his pictures on the verso. The time frame of 1962/1963 correlates with that golden period just before the 1964 military coup in Brazil and represents the “Last Hour” before the change.
With some clever research in Ipanema we eventually found people who were able to identify the late Orizon Carneiro Muniz as the photographer. Muniz was not a professional photographer, but a local weekend photographer with a deep love for women and the beach. In an attempt to find the people in the pictures, we mounted an exhibition in 2007 at Casa Laura Alvim on the beach in Ipanema. With substantial press coverage of the show, we finally met many friends that Muniz photographed. Over 45 years later, most of the people in the photographs are still living in Rio. The book about the initial 200 found photos: The Last Hour of Summer: The Lost Photos of Ipanema with essays by Peter Lucas and Mauricio Lissovsky is forthcoming on Casa da Palavra Press in Brazil.
Among the people we met at the exhibition was a friend who had the remaining photos from Orizon Carneiro Muniz. There were 5000 more photographs. I purchased the photos and negatives in 2010. Using the entire archive as a visual base, we are planning a feature-length documentary film. There are several stories in the pictures but the essence of the film will be documentation and remembrance of those incredible years just before the coup when Ipanema emerged as a global cultural sensation.
To hear Peter Lucas talk about the Last Hour of Summer archive, see:
It seems that what he regrets from his childhood is not the joys but the tranquil sadness, the sadness without cause of the solitary child. Life disturbs us only too often from this radical melancholy. - The Poetics of Reverie,
The Melancholy of Summer portfolio was shot over a period of ten years. Using old Polaroid cameras that leaked light, the yellowing photos are homage to the Kodacolor snapshots of the 1960s – the square four-inch prints with white borders. Today, these faded Kodacolor snaps with their pale colors are increasingly abandoned to the flea markets. Many years ago I started to collect Kodacolor photos because they reminded me of my childhood.
The more I collected the more I wondered if there were not some common archetypes found in family photos such as the ephemeral nature of beauty and youth and the passage of summertime, which are some of my favorite themes when searching for photos. When we look back and re-imagine our younger selves in pictures there’s a certain beautiful sadness in our summer snapshots. Summer especially brings out the melancholy and mortality inherent in all personal photography. With these generative themes in mind, I began to photograph my own children, their cousins, and their friends in the waning days of August each year as we gathered at the beach. I wanted to evoke the close of a summer’s day, the end of summer, and the loss of childhood as the children became teenagers.
Passing (called Instantaneous in Brazil) is a film about the last café photographer in Rio de Janeiro. For over 40 years, the late Sergio Silvira, otherwise known as Gaucho, photographed the patrons of samba bars in Rio. Every night from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. he walked the streets with a large instant camera around his neck. Everyone recognized Gaucho but few people knew anything of his life. He cut a dashing figure with slicked back silver hair and his suit and bow tie. With camera in hand, he walked in and out of clubs and restaurants in the infamous neighborhood of Lapa, known for its streetwalkers, one-hour hotels, and late night samba bars. Gaucho saw everything. He would silently slip into a bar and skirt around the tables hoping to catch someone’s attention. Occasionally a party would wave him over to their table where they hired Gaucho to take their picture.
Only 20 years ago, dozens of street photographers combed the bars of Lapa. But with the rise of affordable digital pocket cameras and camera phones, this kind of snapshot photography is quickly dying everywhere in the world. Gaucho was the last café photographer left in the city. Filmed in the twilight of his career, just before he died in March of 2010, we shadowed Gaucho as he walked the streets and worked inside the bars. Using a classical observational mode of filming, we wanted to capture the visual poetry of his walk and picture taking. From the moment Gaucho stepped into the streets, he was in constant motion. We filmed him drifting from one position to another, close up and at a distance, in the middle of a vast crowd and isolated on the periphery, surrounded by revelers and pausing to be alone. Save for the occasional conversation with customers, Gaucho said very little while he worked. The street sounds of Lapa and the music from the bars are the soundscape of the film.
In 2009, we won grant from the State of Rio in the short film category that allowed us to take our footage into post-production and make a 15-minute film, transferred to 35 mm with Dolby sound. This version (co-directed with Andrea Capella, the director of photography during production) played in several film festivals in Brazil. All along I’ve wanted to edit a longer version of the film. My original idea was also to produce a photographic book along with the transcript of a long interview we conducted with Gaucho. The film would come packaged with the book. With this idea in mind, I invited a few other photographers based in Rio to shoot stills when we were in production with Gaucho and to photograph Lapa by night. The photos posted here were taken by myself, Walter Mesquita, Vincent Rosenblatt and Felipe Varanda.
Passing is more than a film about a chapter of photography that is coming to a close. It’s also a view of Lapa, the main nocturnal gathering place for Rio’s bohemians. After decades as a seedy red-light district, Lapa is now undergoing a cultural renaissance. But through the years, one person chronicled the nightlife there and the changes. But Gaucho had virtually nothing to show for it at the end of his life. Because he sold all of his instant photos to his customers, Gaucho had few snapshots or keepsakes. His nightly walks and picture taking were about the melancholy and mortality inherent in all personal photography, the ephemeral nature of time and memory, and all that disappears.
To see Passing: https://vimeo.com/17131130
To see more of Walter Mesquita’s work: www.vivafavela.com.br
To see Vincent Rosenblatt’s work: http://riobailefunk.net
To see Felipe Varanda’s work: www.estudioliquido.com
The Hotels of Lapa
There’s nothing lonelier than a one-hour hotel on a Sunday night. That I know from walking the back streets of Lapa in the downtown section of Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evenings. Searching for what? Nothing in particular, except wandering with a camera is always a way of being in the moment. What I found was more of an atmosphere, a kind of stilled time different from any other moment of the week. The sobriety of Sunday evenings is always heavy but in the back streets of Lapa there was a strange haze lingering over the hotels. Walking alone, the streets were nearly empty and I thought I should document these hotel signs because they were disappearing. Many of the neon signs were broken, some didn’t even light up anymore, and many of the entrances were hidden with potted plants.
They reminded me of the one hour joints in Times Square when it was once a red light district. What a scene that crowd once was, the stream of tourists, Broadway theatre goers, hustlers on the corners, preachers and buskers, sidewalk vendors and hawkers, runaway youth and homeless beggars, drug dealers and streetwalkers, the scavengers and the showgirls, wealthy patrons out for the night and common New Yorkers passing through on their way home. The mix was just right, too much of any one tribe and the whole thing might have collapsed. And if you stood still and looked around, there were neon hotel signs, pale beacons of desire, where it was cash only. What happened to that world?
The same thing was happening in Lapa, the traditional bohemian Rio where there was only a vestige of the old red light district left. On Sunday evenings, it seemed about to disappear forever. The mix in Lapa had shifted too far and something essential seemed lost. I walked the streets with Polaroid cameras in those days. I guess I wanted to stop time, the name of a hotel out on Avenida Brasil near Complexo da Maré. It’s one of those many drive-in places where you can escape for an hour. Like many love hotels in Rio, it has an English name; it’s called Stop Time Hotel.
A film by Peter Lucas and Garry Waller
Every year over 30,000 people are killed by small arms in Brazil. How can we begin to visualize these deaths? On July 7, 2000, people from all parts of Rio de Janeiro tried to evoke such a collective tragedy. For one day, they created a long wall of personal photographs of those who had died in a public square in downtown Rio. People were stapling pictures to the plywood backing, taping them side by side, wrapping precious wallet-size photos in cellophane and gluing them to the boards, and writing messages for the departed. The finished mural was a collage of portraits, family photographs, posters, letters, personal journals, prayers, news clippings, violent images from the press, and notices of the disappeared. The wall was called The Mural of Pain.
Walking along the mural that day, I began to photograph the photos and I was struck by the interplay of family photography and the ethical act of witnessing. All the dramatic and sensational press photos of public violence were mixed in with humble school pictures, snapshots from birthday parties, candid portraits, vacation pictures at the beach. Instead of the usual postmortem crime scene photos, families were choosing to exhibit their loved ones as healthy and sexual beings in the prime of their lives. The overlap of images blurred the lines between personal and collective memory. It also evoked the sensation that each death was connected to a larger culture of violence. Suddenly, one could begin to visualize thousands of homicides a year in a city.
On the 10th anniversary of the event I decided to make a short film about the mural focusing on remembrance, memorization, and the right to memory. When I located the panels in Rio, they had moved through several different storage situations over the years and the photos had succumbed to the weathering of time and imperfect warehouse conditions. At the end, they had been moved outdoors into the sun, the heat, the wind, the rain, the cold, and into the natural desiccation process by insects. As the photos began to peel apart and breakdown, their scars seemed to bring out the fragility of life itself. And even the fragments of language that were left took on an almost found archeological dimension where the traces of memory had been pared down to their poetic essence.
In this advanced state of decay, the photos seemed more essential. This bittersweet acceptance that all things are impermanent, that everything is either in a state of becoming or dissolving, did not lessen the collective tragedy of the Mural of Pain. The disappearing photos remind us of our own mortality, our connective relationship with those that have gone before us, and our ethical responsibility to work for change in what little time we have together. This tender sadness of time passing inherent to photography, this ephemeral nature of beauty in the world that we were once young and alive, and this existential destiny we all share, seems more evident in the distressed nature of the photos. As I photographed the mural again 10 years later, I began to understand that eventually everything returns to the earth and the closer these photos get to nonexistence, the more we all exist, before and after nothingness.
For the film, I collaborated with motion graphics designer Garry Waller. We used field recordings from the night when the wall was up, Tibetan bells to ground the piece with a sacred tone, passages from Maurice Blanchot’s book The Writing of the Disaster to evoke the impossibility of describing such a collective loss, and the decayed photos with their residual fragments of language. We wanted to create a memorial film, where the photographs together have a spiritual valence, like one of those shrines in the Himalayas where pilgrims leave behind scraps of clothing as prayers in the wind that can only be received when constantly in motion.
To see more of Garry Waller’s motion graphics work: http://www.momentist.com
But your life then was with the stars and the sea. It’s a line from one of Giacomo Leopardi great poems written around 1820. I thought of this poem when I found this small bundle of pictures tied up with rubber bands at the Saturday flea market in Rio. Leopardi takes us back to an earlier time when we ventured out into the infinite ocean under the fading light of the sun, already disappeared with our vanished dreams. Leopardi calls out: Where have they gone… Come back, come back among us… Lamenting forgotten ancestors and the memory of heritage, Leopardi searches for lost stars. But even when faced with nothingness and the shadow of death, even when the mind traces a thousand empty vagaries… the wind still lifted countless sparks of inspiration...
I’m not sure why these photos sent me to my books of Italian poetry. But this group sailing along the Brazilian coast resembles Leopardi’s lost heroes with their passions (and illusions). There’s a trace of existence in these pictures but it’s not exactly reality. It’s something more concerning happiness. And that rare fleeting joy when one slips away from time. No one wears a watch in these photos, and they seem free from all responsibilities save their summer friendship. There’s also the beauty of the indefinite here as we do not know who these people are which allows us to dream ourselves into their world, realign the stars again, and imagine those primal pleasures of sailing the sea.
When Pompeii was excavated and the Roman city of 60 A.D. was unearthed, several brothels and public baths were found intact among the ruins. There were also frescos of erotic scenes still on the walls. But what surprised archeologists was the graffiti along streets advertising sexual services. The so-called oldest profession in the world has always relied on a certain kind of self-promotion. Long before the advent of print media, sex workers attracted clients through advertisements.
In the year 2010 A.D. in Rio de Janeiro, such advertisements were pasted onto the insides of public phone booths. Most of the small flyers called panfletos were in the old downtown section of Rio where workers and commuters stream out of the central train station. They radiate along the old port and waterfront towards Lapa and Praca Carioca, the historical heart of the city. In Rio, poor people are hired to paste up panfletos in the middle of the night. During the week, the phone companies (and various Evangelical groups) tear them down and then overnight more appear and once again they’re peeled away and this cycle seems to go on forever...
Around 2010, I noticed that the black and white panfletos were being replaced by glossy color advertisements. So I started to photograph the last vestiges of this graphic tradition that always reminded me of erotic charcoal drawings. What I discovered in the corners of phone booths, under the edges of new panfletos, and in between new pictures were all the various leftovers from previous tear-downs. In these tiny spaces there were secrets born out of layers of images, fragments of bodies, and multiple newsprint texts. Their fragile weathered condition only heighted their transitory nature. These leftover pictures were but a whisper of the past, something primal and as old as time itself.
In 1990, the late Belgian poet Francois Jacqmin published a book of 120 poems entitled Le Livre de la Neige (The Book of the Snow). Each poem is ten lines; a classical form the French call dizain, a mode of writing that opens a space for expression but withdrawals from any overt meaning or resolution. With each poetic image, Jacqmin evokes a subtle philosophic query, a deft meditation on the ephemeral nature of existence, and a hushed description of the elemental condition of wintertime.
Using Jacqmin’s poems as inspiration, I began to photograph New York during the winter to find visual equivalents. Since the poems are essentially quiet and placeless, I intuitively chose moments when nothing seems to happen and no location in particular can be marked. Shooting with negative space to accommodate overwriting, I wanted to explore the possibility of opening each photo to a deeper dimension, a fragment of a story, a whisper of something else beyond the visual silence of the city in winter.
Poems: Francois Jacqmin, Le Livre de la Neige.
Translations from the French: Dick Schneider
Graphic Design: Garry Waller: http://www.momentist.com
One Saturday morning along the old downtown waterfront in Rio, I found a few boxes of slides at the flea market. It was one of those days when late summer was turning into fall. The decaying leaves of Amendoeira trees, crimson and amber, were scattered up and down the sidewalks. I opened those little boxes like small gifts and held the slides up to the sky with my loop. The pleasures of found photographs – the patina of time faded with traces of carmine, marine, and sulfur-colored mold now etched into the emulsion. Clearly these were someone’s personal pictures that had passed on. The seller had nothing more and no idea of where they came from. I bought them for nothing and that mysterious exchange occurred when someone’s intimate photographs suddenly passed into my hands and became part of my world.
Given that most of the pictures were of the shoreline, it seemed fitting that the Praca XV flea market was nestled between the docks where people catch the ferry for Niteroi across the bay and the small Santos Dumont Airport that was pictured in the slides. Strange that nearly all the photos were paisagens - landscapes - when most personal pictures of this era were snapshots of friends and family. There were very few clues of who took these pictures, a couple of holiday parties and a few hazy pictures of children. Otherwise, there was nothing written on the boxes except: Paisagens.