Exhibition at the Moreira Salles Institute traces a panorama of Walter Firmo’s oeuvre, bringing together more than 260 works by the Rio artist, with images that include cultural and religious manifestations, iconic portraits of artists like Pixinguinha and Clementina de Jesus, produced from the 1950s to the present.
View of the exhibition “Walter Firmo: In the Verb of Silence, the Synthesis of the Scream, Moreira Salles Institute São Paulo, 2022. Photo: Adima Macena
Walter Firmo, "Vendedor de sonhos" na Praia da Piatã (“Vendedor de sueños” en Praia de Piatã), Salvador de Bahía, BA, déc. 1980. Foto: Walter Firmo/Acervo IMS
The Moreira Salles Institute (IMS) presents the retrospective No verbo do silêncio a síntese do grito (In the Verb of Silence, the Synthesis of the Scream), by Brazilian photographer Walter Firmo. The exhibit brings images of different regions of Brazil, documenting rites, popular festivals and scenes from daily life, as well as portraits of artists and musicians. The collection highlights the artist’s poetics, associated with experimentation and the creation of images which are often staged and directed. Most of the works on display come from the artist’s collection, which the IMS has housed since 2018. The exhibition is curated by Sergio Burgi, coordinator of Photography at the IMS, and by assistant curator Janaina Damaceno Gomes, a professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and coordinator of the Afrovisualities Research Group: Aesthetics and Politics of the Black Image.
The exhibit presents Walter Firmo’s photography through seven themes. The first shows artworks from the beginning of his career, when he was working for the press. In the other sections, the exhibition shows how, little by little, Firmo began to distance himself from documentary photojournalism, based on the idea of photography as enchantment, staging and theatricality, in dialogue with painting and cinema. “I ended up making Black people the central focus in my work, photographing musicians, workers, folk festivals, in short, everyone,” the photographer says. “Vertigo is upon them. Placing them as honorable, totems, as men who work, who exist. They helped build this country to what it is now.”
One of Brazil’s greatest photographers, Firmo was born in 1937 in the Irajá neighborhood, in Rio de Janeiro, and was raised in Rio’s suburbs, the only child of his parents from the state of Pará – his father, from a Black riverine family from the lower Amazon; his mother, from a White Portuguese family, born in Belém. Firmo started photographing at an early age with a camera his father gave him. At 18, he joined the team of the newspaper Última Hora, after studying at the Brazilian Association of Photographic Art (ABAF) in Rio de Janeiro. In 1967, already working for the weekly news magazine, Manchete, he was a correspondent for six months at Bloch Publishing Company in New York. Abroad, he was in involved with the Black is Beautiful movement and with discussions about civil rights, which would have an impact on all of his later work. Upon his return to Brazil, he began his research on popular, sacred and profane festivals, throughout all of Brazil, towards an increasingly authorial production.
Walter Firmo: In the Verb of Silence, the Synthesis of the Scream
Exhibition: Through October 9, 2022, Tuesdays-Sundays and holidays (except Mondays), from 10 AM-8 PM
Avenida Paulista, 2424
São Paulo/SP, Brazil
Walter Firmo, "Vendedor de sonhos" (Seller of Dreams) at Piatã Beach, Salvador, BA, Dec. 1980. Photo: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection
Walter Firmo, Gaudêncio da Conceição (Gaudêncio of the Conception) during the Saint Benedict Festival, Conceição da Barra, ES, c. 1989. Photo: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection
Walter Firmo, Singer Clementina de Jesus, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, c. 1977. Photo: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection
I ended up making Black people the central focus in my work, photographing musicians, workers, folk festivals, in short, everyone.
Walter Firmo, Maestro Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1967. Photo: Walter Firmo/IMS Collection
Read the full interview with Walter Firmo by journalist Ana Paula Orlandi here.
Translation: Sara Hanaburgh