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no verbo do silêncio a síntese do grito

Walter Firmo: deconstructing reality to reconstruct Brazil

Walter Firmo is a key figure in Brazilian photography. Throughout his career, he photographed both what was near – in the heart of the cities and the poor urban districts surrounding them – and the far distant regions of this immense country. From his “Nobody’s Amazon” to the rituals and traditional festivals of the Northeast, he sought connections with ancestry, building portraits, framing landscapes, revealing everyday life as he interpreted Brazil in a way few others have succeeded – consistently, selflessly and courageously. He revealed the infinite palette of colors that form a country, always aware that “Brazil is a frenzy of color”, challenging the averted “European and American eye” with a deep-seated Brazilianness.

As a photographer, even when fulfilling his commercial commissions, he never set aside his rigorous craft ethic and emancipatory intent to subvert the rules of the game he practices, his work exemplifying his own theory of photography, which is constructed as a critique of the notion of photographic reality and objectivity, fighting against any claim to a photographic neutrality in a world where so little neutrality exists. In each of his photographs, Firmo invites the viewer to “reflect on the reality displayed and on the very act of photography”, aware that “the power of seeing should influence people because the act of photography has to be political, and not a mere moment of chance”.

The Instituto Moreira Salles holds Walter Firmo’s extensive archive on trust and this exhibition is an opportune moment to reflect on his oeuvre helping to make it better known and suggest readings and interpretations. The exhibition of almost 300 images was first shown at the Institute’s São Paulo gallery and is a rare opportunity to examine the full range of the photographer’s work. 

Following its presentation at the CCBB cultural centers in Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and Belo Horizonte, as well as at MAM Bahia in Salvador, the exhibition is now on view at IMS Poços, which reopened to the public in January 2024, after its architectural refurbishment.

Finally, we express our immense gratitude to Walter Firmo. His whole life and work presented us with an unparalleled opportunity to learn to deconstruct and reconstruct the reality of Brazil through his eyes. We thank him for all the affection and the immense enthusiasm with which he welcomed and accompanied this project, all the confidence that he placed in us as we constructed this view of his work, which we hope can match the admiration with which we now honor and disclose it.

The Board of Instituto Moreira Salles