My Pittoresca Amazon

This page contains text and photographs from my (internet video presentation): “Minha Amazônia Pittoresca” at the 2nd. Sarau Cientistas Artists of the Chemistry Department of the Federal University of São Carlos, São Carlos, SP-Brazil on June 19, 2020.
The photographs are all analogue and cover an approximate period of two decades: from the beginning of the 1980s to the end of the 1990s.

As a professor and researcher at the Department of Chemistry-UFSCar of São Carlos-SP, I coordinated and developed several research projects in the area of ​​environmental biogeochemistry for some decades in the Amazon Region.

The first time I was in the Amazon Region – Belém and Manaus – was in 1973, although not as a researcher, but as a common visitor. I had been with the great and most esteemed friend Professor Mário Tolentino and with our beloved chemist-technician Celso Firmino Fragiácomo (Celsão) after teaching a Chemistry Teaching Methodology course for 2nd Grade Chemistry teachers at the old Technical Schools in Natal ( RN) and Fortaleza (CE). At the end of our course, Celsão and I exchanged our airline tickets that were direct to São Paulo for one that allowed us to go to Belém and Manaus. The story is long because the exchange was only possible to reach Brasília (DF). From there we went by TAXI (taxi, exactly this) to São Carlos !!! Almost 1000 km away.

During this first stay it seems that I realized that part of my life, personally and professionally, would be closely linked to this region. The magnetism that the forest, lakes and rivers exert on people – from the first moment that they can be seen through the airplane window – is a fantastic thing, difficult to be expressed in simple words.

From 1973 until the year 2017, when I was last in the region, in Manaus, Belém and Ilha de Marajó, I marked my presence in the Amazon many times. Just to mention one of the most remarkable trips as a researcher in my history, I would record one, from 1982, when for 28 days I sailed aboard Amanaí, INPA’s research boat, along the Solimões River and several of its tributaries. I was invited by the US researcher Jeffery Richey (University of Washington-Seattle) to participate in the 1st river cruise of his project called CAMREX – Carbon in the Amazon River Experiments – and we sailed from Manaus to Benjamin Constant on the Brazil-Colombia-Peru triple border . This project became a landmark on the cycling of nutrients in rivers in the Amazon. I was the only Brazilian who spoke English and had to wake up 4-5 in the morning, every day, to act as an interpreter between the Amanaí crew and the team of US researchers working on the project. It was a great personal and professional experience.

Since the young age of 15-16 years old, when I bought my first camera, an Olympus Trip, I consider myself a photographer. In my trips to the Amazon, although I photographed everything, I was almost exclusively concerned with making photographic records focused on the field work itself. But, I have some records that focus more on the artistic part of photography. I recently bought a high resolution scanner and scanned many color slides (slides) and color negatives and did post processing in black and white which is the photographic aesthetic that I most identify with.

This series of photographs that I present now includes a set of images from the old period of my trips to the Amazon in the period 1982-1998, approximately.

I owe an explanation about the title of my presentation previously defined as “Minha Amazônia Pittoresca”.

According to a blog of 06/11/2015 by Juan Esteves (great photographer, above all famous portraitist, writer, author of several photo-books and curator of photographic art) that deals with a review of the book by São Paulo photographer Antonio Saggese called ‘Pittoresco’ (Edusp, 2015) “the adjective ‘picturesque’ in its etymology refers more often to works of painting, those scenes that are particularly expressive, even unusual”. According to the wikipedia “picturesque is a concept of aesthetics that makes reference to the subjective impressions triggered by the contemplation of a scenic scene in relation to painting. It emerged as an intermediary between the ideas of the sublime and the beautiful, during the development of romanticism. The word derives from the Italian Pittoresco, similar or made like a painting “.

Also according to Juan Esteves, the term picturesque comes from important books such as “Voyage pittoresque et historique au Brésil, by the French Jean Baptiste Debret (1768-1848) – three volumes published in Paris between 1834-1839 – that were dedicated to nature and our natural inhabitants ”. In 1853 the German Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802-1852) also published a book called Voyage pittoresque dans Le Brésil with about 100 lithographic boards showing picturesque scenes (landscapes, flora, fauna and scenes of the country) of the country, fruit of his 1821 trip, when he accompanied the German diplomat Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff (1754-1852) ”.

Later, in 1861, there was another reference to the picturesque term which is the publication, in Paris, of the book ‘Brazil Pittoresco’, by Victor Frond and Charles Ribeyrolles and is the first publication to use photography in Latin America. I recommend watching a video from the Brasiliana Guita and José Mindlin Library called ‘First steps of photography and Brazil Pittoresco’ about the wonderful work of Frond and Ribeyrolles in Brazil Pittoresco where the photographs do not look like photos because they were copied in drawing and printed with the lithography technique.

The idea of ​​Brazil Pittoresco arose in 1857: “Mr. Frond intends to visit some of our provinces and copy in grand format the most magnificent points of view, the places that, like the Ipiranga fields, remember our history” reported the Correio That year. This book can be downloaded as a pdf from the website of Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita and José Mindlin. The works there are extremely beautiful.

The images I present have this meaning for me, they carry this feeling, this emotion of the ‘pittorescas’ landscapes, people, customs and public buildings designed / painted by Debret / Rugendas and Frond / Ribeyrolles, hence my decision to show them by attributing them the title of “Minha Amazônia Pittoresca”.

Among the images I selected there are several Amazonian landscapes, as I usually call them, and in some, you can see the presence of many clouds that, in my view, refer to the clouds of the beautiful pictures of Pittoresco by Antonio Saggese and the great photographer North American Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) in his extraordinary series called ‘equivalence’, the equivalence of clouds (during a good period of his life Stieglitz made a large number of photographs only of clouds). That would be a long story to tell here, so I must not dwell on this.

These ‘Amazonian landscapes’ are for me a way of expressing all the strength of the hileia, a term used by the great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) to designate the gigantic Amazonian Equatorial Forest that means unexplored virgin forest, with its countless bodies of water, rivers, igarapés, paranás, lakes and their beautiful flooded forests, the igapós.

Other selected photos are either portraits (framed relatively close to the portrait) or contain people. These have very special meanings for me – many stories associated with them – as they are people with whom I had contact during my fieldwork stays and various parts of the Amazon.

For both photography groups that I present, it is impossible for me not to contextualize them with the current and progressive destruction of the Amazon rainforest and contempt and, in many cases, the complete abandonment in relation to the improvement of public policies, by public authorities, in favor of populations (indigenous, riverside, and other ethnic groups) of this region in the country.