“Emancipation, inclusion and exclusion” photo exhibit provides a glimpse into the everyday lives of slaves in Brazil

Slaves carrying woman in Bahia, cerca 1860
Slaves carrying a “senhora (misses)” in Bahia, cerca 1860

Note from BW of Brazil: Following up a recent post here that featured a set of photographic images of Afro-Brazilian children in the 19th century, more photos from Brazil’s 350 years of slavery are shedding light on this brutal era. Featured in an exhibit entitled, “Emancipação, inclusão e exclusão. Desafios do Passado e do Presente (Emancipation, inclusion and exclusion: Challenges of the Past and Present)”, “we can see a lot of things we couldn’t see and the state didn’t want to see,” says curator of the exhibit, anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz. The photos reveal slaves in various capacities: working in gold mines, selling fruits and vegetables and even carrying a slave master’s wife/mistress in a litter. Like the photos posted here a few weeks ago, these photos also feature reproductions of children. And while slaves were not able to tell their own stories, the looks on their faces and the clothes they wore provide a glimpse into how they might have felt. The US-based National Public Radio network recently featured some of these photos as well as a report on the display of these photos (see here). But for now, as the recognition of the Month of Black Consciousness continues, take a little at the images below and share your opinion about what the photos seem to be saying to you. 

Slaves working in a coffee field in Vale do Paraíba, São Paulo cerca 1882
Slaves working in a coffee field in Vale do Paraíba, São Paulo cerca 1882

Emancipation, Inclusion and Exclusion

The Museum of Contemporary Art of USP (University of São Paulo), in partnership with the Instituto Moreira Salles, opened on Monday, October 28, the exhibition “Emancipação, inclusão e exclusão. Desafios do Passado e do Presente (Emancipation, inclusion and exclusion: Challenges of the Past and Present)”- photographs of the Instituto Moreira Salles archive, with photographs by Marc Ferrez, Victor Frond and George Leuzinger, among others. The exhibition is curated by (USP professor) Lilia Schwarcz, Maria Helena Machado and Sergio Burgi.

Praça Castro Alves (Castro Alves Square) in Salvador, Bahia, cerca 1875
Praça Castro Alves (Castro Alves Square) in Salvador, Bahia, cerca 1875

The exhibition, with 74 images, including originals from the period, analyzes the photographic record made ​​about blacks – free, enslaved or freed – in Brazil, in a period in which many foreign photographers worked in the country working with strong aesthetic and formal elaboration. The tropics, nature and its inhabitants were recorded in large format cameras on tripods, which approximate the result of the photographic image of the period to the standards of easel painting. As in the representation of nature – with its large waterfalls, virgin forests, deep sea and landscapes – the representation of the natives was almost idealized, acquiring an iconic and dreamlike character.

Slaves during a coffee harvest in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, cerca 1882
Slaves during a coffee harvest in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, cerca 1882

Photography of slaves and ex-slaves in Brazil has a particularity: on one side, the photography started early in the country, since the late 1860s, with a certain clientele, which among others included the emperor Dom Pedro II, himself a photographer. On the other hand, slavery took a long time to end, thus placing upon Brazil the sad tag of being the last country in the West to end this type of system. This confluence resulted in a wide and varied record from this system of work and its workers. Sometimes picked randomly, sometimes appearing as exotic models or types for the analysis of science, sometimes as part of the scenery, sometimes as the main figures, the enslaved were caught in different situations.

First photo of work in a gold mine in the state of Minas Gerais, 1888First photo of work in a gold mine in the state of Minas Gerais, 1888

But if the operation of converting the indigenous into a “studio object”, it was part of the canons of the Romantic era, more difficult was capturing the everyday life of slavery and forced labor. A great contradiction of the Brazilian Empire, the slave system was approached by several photographers, freelancers or those supported by the Crown. Particularly in the 1870s and 1880s, there proliferated photos of slaves, revealing, for its regularity, of the way that the system was naturalized among us and dispersed throughout the country. Blacks would figure in cartes de visites (a type of small photograph), but also in scientific documents. They would also be present in the panorama photographs and documentation of work in coffee plantations accomplished by both Victor Frond in the years 1859 and 1860, as by George Leuzinger around 1860, and Marc Ferrez in the 1880s. In all these cases we see mounting naturalized representation of slavery: everything in its place.

Slaves working a coffee harvest in Vale do Paraiba, Sao Paulo, 1882
Slaves working a coffee harvest in Vale do Paraiba, Sao Paulo, 1882

In the cities, the photographers of the nineteenth century found the reasons and characteristics of an urban slavery, characterized by the works of the street, with the presence of urban figures marked as porters, vendors and barbers – freed or captive. Again, the precise and aestheticized form was present in the well-mounted baskets in the vendors arranged in a balanced way and with panos das costas (wrappers worn over the back) thoroughly exposed, in the well posted closed car carriers. There was again the spectacle of a peaceful and unchallenged slavery. However, these urban photos also equally denounce precariousness, indiscipline and a certain lack of control of slave labor in the cities.

Black woman with her child in Salvador, Bahia, 1884
Black woman with her child in Salvador, Bahia, 1884

It is as if the photographers, largely foreign and the pair of critics against slavery, these images seek to echo the ideas circulating at that moment, in literate and humanists circles, on the urgency of the country to overcome slavery. However, it is from an attention to detail that photographic negatives registered, that we can envision many moments and angles of autonomy and free will on the part of the photographed, making possible to a sharp contrast with the general sense of the images. The fact is that the current possibility of amplifying the negatives allowed us to bring forth the registration of details of first and second depth. Today, with new techniques it is possible to obtain recondite angles of photographs, often unknown by the artist who recorded the scene. Although the nineteenth century photographer could not reveal his/her photos in more amplified proportion, the negative that it bequeathed allows this, and this is the invitation that we made at the exhibition. From cuts of the images we see gestures and looks that give uniqueness to the individuals photographed, be they enslaved, free or freed.

Furit and vegetable vendors in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, cerca 1875
Furit and vegetable vendors in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, cerca 1875

“Emancipação, inclusão e exclusão. Desafios do Passado e do Presente” is part of a larger project conducted in October 2013 at the University of São Paulo, in the scope of the activities that will make up the seminar “Emancipação, inclusão e exclusão. Desafios do Passado e do Presente”, and aims to contribute to the overall theme of the seminar from the images that record slavery and its aftermath in the country.

Source: Instituto Moreira Salles

About Marques Travae 3413 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

2 Comments

  1. When I look at what or read about what Africans went through under Arab 1500 years of slavery and 500 yrs of European slavery and colonialism …am surprised their are black people still on the planet …technically we would have been extinct just like the Indians of the Americas …what are we doing to ensure it never happens again ….is my biggest worry

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