Well, when we got to Pixinguinha’s house, in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, while Muniz was doing the interview, I started wandering around the yard, racking my brains about how to do the portrait. It was a humble place, a concrete patio without much appeal, but there was a beautiful mango tree in the back. When the interview was over, I approached carefully and asked Pixinguinha, who, by the way, was in his pajamas, if I could put his rocking chair under the tree.
He was an old man and a dignitary of Brazilian music, but he was also a very nice man. He agreed immediately. In the backyard, I did a 360 degree turn and took 36 photos of him at various angles. I should add that, back then, despite their importance to Brazilian culture, these artists weren’t looked upon with the proper respect they deserved. I’d even say that they were treated with contempt, like they were part of some lesser culture, perhaps because they were mostly poor and black.
C&AL: In your opinion, what is essential for taking a good portrait?
WF: Above all, you’ve got to have empathy for the subject and a healthy dose of sensitivity. I often say that every photographer has three guises: the “thief”, the “engineer” and the “invisible”. The thief doesn’t care about focus or aesthetics. Anything goes because the important thing is stealing a shot any way you can. The engineer directs his scenes with a ruler and compass to enlarge the frame. The invisible is when the photographer, lost in the crowd, captures the world with “three eyes”, without anyone noticing.