Luiz Braga lives and works in Belém, Brazil, where he was born. He has produced a body of photographic work that documents the landscape and life of the Amazon. His work, which occupies a borderland between documentary and “abstract” photography, transcends the stereotypical and superficial views and discourses that are frequently created and promoted about the Amazon and its people. Braga has received the Leopold Godowsky Jr. Color Photography Award and the Prêmio Marcantonio Vilaça, among other awards. He has been invited to such international biennials as the 53rd Venice Biennale and the V Biennale internationale de la Photographie et des Arts visuels in Liège, Belgium. Among his most recent exhibitions are Sidereal, a solo show at Galeria Leme, São Paulo (2016); Histories of Childhood, at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (2016); Encruzilhada, at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2015); and Pororoca, at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2014).
A project for Atlántica by Luiz Braga. Text by Guilherme Coelho.
The Sidereal within Us.
It must have been in Belém, on the margin of the Guamá River, in an exhibition at Arte Pará, that I first saw one of Luiz’s photographs. What a stroke of luck: in Belém, on the second floor of the Casa das Onze Janelas — the House of the Eleven Windows — facing the river that is sea. But it wasn’t the Guamá at all, it was Guajará Bay, and a restaurant — the boteco of the Eleven Windows — one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had in my life. A cool night, fish for dinner, a love affair with a city.
A city to which I returned years later, and by the hand of a writer, Milton Hatoum, whose novel had given me a movie. It was then that I met Luiz in person. One late afternoon of Amazonian twilight, it had rained. A stubborn light. Dusk. A look that I very much wanted to bring to my film of Milton’s Orphans of Eldorado. I met Luiz in his studio, and together we looked at some of his photos on the computer. And we talked about this light of the Brazilian north. And the north never left me.
Luiz is an imaginary that has always existed within us, without our knowing that it was there. Just like the great stories and the great storytellers who invent us — Nelson Rodrigues and his scoundrels and dupes; Clarice Lispector and our stubborn and ruminative minds — Luiz shows us how we look out into the world. And we see it with enchantment, with grandeur, frivolously and deeply.
Seeing his photos, I see myself exuberant and melancholic, full of emptiness. I feel the heat and I feel alone. And so often I find myself within his frame, his sidereal space.
His landscapes are sidereal, lunar. Filtered by infrared. An aesthetic that helped me to dream the green of the Amazon. The challenge of green. The challenge of seeing.
Here in the exhibition there’s an empty hammock. But there’s another hammock as well, this one from 1990, perhaps in Guamá (from the barrio this time,). A hammock with a girl looking at us. A girl becoming a woman. A picture that would, Braga says, be “impossible” today. Prohibited, improper. In our movie, this photo, this girl, became the actress Dira Paes.
And for this same movie we found inspiration in another photo: another girl, sprawled across a counter in a bar. From the Giuamá barrio as well? For me, for us, for the crew of the film, that photo was our Dinaura. And so, in this way, we built a language around Milton Hatoum’s characters. Characters crossed by the gaze of Luiz Braga.
I remember that evening when we were in his studio and Luiz showed us a picture of Iara, the senhora of the waters, the goddess of rivers in Brazilian mythology. From an arm of a river, I think, near Bragança in the state of Pará. The holy sidereal of a green image, in the heart of the forest, in our hearts. This is the light of Luiz Braga.