I made the Dark Skin series when I was still a student,
attending studio courses with live models, focusing on anatomy,
body movements, and lighting. The human body was my introduction
to painting, and yet it ended up leading me to photography.
British-born, Brazilian-naturalized artist Maureen Bisilliat made Dark Skin almost fifty years ago: it was her first photographic essay, as she had until then worked exclusively in painting. It was shown at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art in 1966: a time when photographs of nude black models were something quite novel. With this essay, Bisilliat’s work underwent an important transition, as she began a new exploration of the human body and definitively stopped painting. Her photographic essays, conceived and edited as compelling visual sequences, epitomize her vision of the real and the imaginary universe, constituting what she herself calls photographic equivalencies of the literary works that have lent direction to her practice.
In powerful visual sequences, Maureen Bisilliat has documented the culture of Brazil, the country of which she became a citizen in 1957. Her photographs are testimonies to the rituals of the Xingu indigenous people and the crab catchers, to the physical beauty of black Brazilians. Bisilliat started her career as a photojournalist at the magazines Quatro Rodas and Realidade (1964-1972), after abandoning painting as a medium of expression. Based on a photo essay of the same name, she published her first book, João Guimarães Rosa, in 1966, with texts by the novelist himself. Since then, she has created photographic equivalences with the literary works of other Brazilian authors. She is also the editor of the celebrated Xingu: Detalhes de uma Cultura (1978). In 2010 she was honored with the Order of Ipiranga in Brazil. The entire body of her work has been safeguarded in the archive of the Instituto Moreira Salles since 2003.
Presents Well is a photographic series based on posters that were printed when slavery still existed in Brazil and that advertised the fact that a slave had run away. They included a description of the slave under the title “Presents well.”
I compare these texts to classified ads for jobs published in contemporary newspapers ―which still used this expression even recently― in order to reconsider its meanings and scope. Paradoxically, in many of these ads, blacks are discriminated against, since the underlying meaning of “must present well” is that the ad is directed at Caucasians.
Letters to the Sea is a series that I worked on for about a year, in 2016, and that was based on texts related to the Valongo wharf in Rio de Janeiro. I compiled accounts by local residents and shopkeepers on my visits to the port area. This research led to a series of twelve images made using different techniques, such as photographic emulsion on cotton paper or Kodalith film with acrylic paint.
We know that about sixty percent of the people who were enslaved and brought over from Africa to the Americas passed through Rio de Janeiro’s ports. The Valongo Wharf was built specifically for this purpose: as a debarkation point for enslaved men and women ―waves of them. While this was their point of arrival, it was also a graveyard of sorts for those who had died or had become seriously ill during the arduous crossing of the Atlantic in the holds of slave ships.
This project attempts to recover some of this history for future generations, but also to discuss the issue of resistance. The work in the darkroom and the incorporation of postage stamps and texts into the images’ postproduction refer to notions of time, memory, and documentation, including, for instance, letters thrown overboard in bottles with the hope that future generations might find them. The images featured in Letters to the Sea were made with self-portraits of mine as well as photographs from the collections of friends and family.
An industrial chemist by training, Eustáquio Neves began to experiment with photography and to develop alternative multidisciplinary techniques, manipulating negatives and prints. Later, in 2006, he began to explore electronic media, focusing on experimentation with sequencing and video. His work deals from a critical and social perspective with issues of memory and identity in Afrodescendant culture in Brazil. Among other distinctions, he has received the Prêmio J.P. Morgan de Fotografia in 1999, the Prêmio Nacional de Fotografia in 1997, and the Prêmio FUNARTE Marc Ferrez de Fotografia in 1994. In 2005 the publishing house Cosac Naify included a volume of his work in its Portátil collection.