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Photoclubbing in Poços de Caldas

A very brief overview of photoclubbing in Brazil

It is at the turn of the twentieth century, six decades after the invention of photography, that one of the first Brazilian photo clubs is known to have emerged. The pioneering Sploro Photo-Club, founded in Porto Alegre in 1899, appears on the city scene, then in full urban expansion, as a way to bring together amateur photographers interested in the practice of artistic expression photography. The technical and aesthetic experimentation and the congregation around exhibitions and publications of their works, as well as photographic expeditions to the outskirts of the city and the exercise of criticism among peers, were some of the many activities promoted by the members of the photo club. In its beginnings, photography produced within the scope of photoclubing is essentially pictorialist. They are images loaded with symbolism, emulating the aesthetics and gesture of impressionist painting, almost always wrapped in a sentimental or bucolic atmosphere. To achieve such effects, photographers were directly involved in the manipulation of chemicals, turns, emulsions, and paper sensitization. In contrast to the growing mechanization of technical photographic processes, especially after the popularization of Kodak portable cameras in 1888, pictorialism emerged as a desire for photography to be recognized as art.

The practice of photoclubbing expands with the arrival of the twentieth century and the growing urbanization of capitals. Also in Porto Alegre, the Helios Photo-Club was founded in 1907 by German immigrants associated with the Turnerbund (Gymnastics Society). Over the following decades, the Photo Club of Rio appeared in Rio de Janeiro, then the federal capital, in 1910, of which little is recorded today, and, later, in 1923, the Brazilian Photo Club, this one with a longer life, in full activity until the mid-1950s. Still in the 1920s, the São Paulo Society of Photography was founded in São Paulo, beginning its activities in 1926, but operating for only five or six years. With the closure of the São Paulo club, during much of the 1930s Brazilian photoclubing was concentrated essentially in the Photo Club Brasileiro, until in 1938, when the Foto Clube do Paraná was founded in Curitiba, reflecting a state scene rich in amateur photography since the mid-19th century, when Japanese, German and Italian immigrants had arrived, bringing with them equipment and a desire to document life and work in the new country, in the fields and in the cities that rose around the expatriate colonies.

In 1939, inspired by the emergence of the Curitiba photo club, a group of amateur photographers from São Paulo met to found Foto Clube Bandeirante, later renamed Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante, when, in 1945, it incorporated the practices of amateur cinema into its range of interests. Since its foundation, in the halls of the Martinelli building, and through the choice of its name, which referred to the image of pioneers that the Bandeirantes had at the time, the FCCB imposes itself on the Brazilian scenario as a pole of expansion of the possibilities of artistic performance of the amateur photographer and as a huge influence in the field of graphic and aesthetic experimentation. Leaving behind the pictorialist phase, post-War photo club photography incorporates in its language all the contradictions and questions of formal rupture and inventiveness of the modern era, influenced by the constructivist, cubist, surrealist, and abstract movements. Also the emergence of museums such as São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) in its first headquarters in 1947 on 7 de Abril Street, the transformation of illustrated magazines, which began to publish manipulated, cut, and colored photographs, and the vigorous urbanization of São Paulo stimulate the creative restlessness of photoclubbing and a reorganization of the look on forms, constructions, and everyday objects of life in the city.

Characteristics of this period are the mixed techniques of photomontages, photocollages from the recombination of parts of contact sheets, laboratory overlays, systematic distortions from over or underexposure of the negative and unusual angulations of lighting on still life, producing geometric abstractions. A striking expression of these years is the growing curiosity for the possibilities of graphic representation that urban life and São Paulo modernist architecture offered from the 1940s onwards.

With the holding in 1942 of the 1st São Paulo Exhibition of Photographic Art, the FCCB opens a new front of action and, a few years later, starts to incorporate the participation of photographers of international photo clubs with which the members of the FCCB had a strong exchange in its shows. In addition to the activities of criticism and organization of the salons, the association also had a laboratory, a photography library, a competition schedule, photographic art seminars and, from 1946, the publication of a newsletter of enormous reference for the amateur photographic environment. The success of all this endeavor stimulated other cities to create their own photo clubs, such as Gaucho and Campinas, and the photo club activity expanded strongly throughout the country. In 1950, the 1st National Convention of Photographic Art was held, in which delegations from all Brazilian photo clubs of the time met and where the foundation of the Brazilian Confederation of Photography and Cinema had its origin. The prestige and influence of photo clubs in the field of arts is evident with the organization, by the FCCB, of the Photography Room of the 2nd Biennial of Modern Art of São Paulo, in 1953-1954, an occasion in which specialized criticism begins to refer to the photography practiced by this group as Escola Paulista.

In the late 1950s, a new generation of amateur photographers emerged, stimulated by the developmental industrial euphoria and the possibilities that this brought to photography. The use of colors, the expansion of the press and the advances of graphic parks open space for technical explorations that expand the aesthetic repertoire of this generation, using solarization resources, multiple exposure, laboratory manipulation masks, and color filters. The manifestations of counterculture and the cultural and media revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s lead many of the pioneers of amateur photography to disassociate themselves from clubs and become interested in other creative fronts, such as authorial cinema and the graphic arts. Photojournalism, stimulated by magazines such as O Cruzeiro and Realidade, and authorial photography of artistic expression gradually become the primordial place of action of photographic production in Brazil.

Although its impact on the formation of a national photographic scene has undeniably declined and the strength of the photo club movement has practically disappeared over the following decades, some photo clubs are still active today in Brazil. The excessive ease of digital photography helped accelerate the decline of the visual investigations that marked the beginning of the movement, but a revival of analog equipment and processes by new generations and congregations around photographic outputs keep the universe of amateur photography alive.

Mariana Newlands