FotoFest Home


FotoArte 2005
Brasilia, Brazil
October 2005
Report by Fred Baldwin

The Congress Towers

On October 13, 2005, Wendy and I arrived in Brasilia for the fourth edition of Foto Arte, an annual citywide photo event that makes Brazil the site of at least two international photography events at this time. The other is FotoRio in Rio de Janeiro. Earlier events in Curitiba and Sao Paulo are currently not operating.

This year’s Foto Arte offered 70 exhibits in 45 different venues and features the work of 269 artists over 13-weeks. We arrived for the opening of the 90-day festival having been invited to review photographers’ portfolios for two of the four working days that we there. Wendy was a speaker for the international seminar entitled PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE CITY, moderated by well-known Brazilian photo-historian and writer Boris Kossoy of Sao Paulo. Other speakers were curators Jean-François Couvreur from Le Mois de la Photo (Paris), Horácio Fernándes from PhotoEspaña (Madrid), Pedro Meyer from Mexico City, Rhonda Wilson from Rhubarb Rhubarb (Birmingham, UK), architect Hugo Segawa and historian Solange Ferraz de Lima from Brasilia.

Reception at the National Theater Claudio Santoro

Given the scope of what was available at Foto Arte and the time that was available to visit and absorb work on exhibition, this report can not do the event justice. Many shows closed just as we arrived, and their successors opened after we left. Among the good exhibits we were able to see were those by Marcello Brodsky, Elaine Ling, Iatã Cannabrava and Pedro Lobo. The National Theater Claudio Santoro had a Magnum show called Être (Being), and Choices from Foto Arte 2004. The Conjunto Cultural do Caixa had a strong documentary on Brazilian rubber workers by Carlos Carvalho and the large staged works of Lúcio Carvalho. Interesting historical work by Félix and Paul Nadar was shown at the Alliance Française.

Exhibit of the work of Lúcio Carvalho

Even though Wendy and I had the good fortune to attend Foto Arte in 2004, Brasilia remains an unusual and strong urban experience. The city was created from scratch in a brushy sparsely populated region in the middle of the country. Beginning in 1957, Brazilian architects Oskar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa were charged with creating the new capital of Brazil which was moved from Rio de Janeiro in 1960.

Brasilia doesn’t sprawl uncontrollably, like Houston or Los Angeles. Rather it sprawls with a plan that is rigorously utopian. The map gives the impression of a gigantic bird, wings raked out, veined with parallel traffic lines, from a centered body set with massive sculptures and identical functioning buildings, monumental embalms of administration. The Parliament’s twin towers are carefully positioned to bracket the arc of the rising and setting sun. In early morning and evening the buildings gleam, becoming breathtaking golden monuments. The plan provides spectacular views, but the results ignore any cozy notions about the evolution of habitat. It’s not a people place.

The archetecture of Brasilia has much to say about buildings but little about the people who work and live in them

In Brasilia, space is of no concern -- there is so much of it. Between concentrated lines of traffic, 1.5 million people seem lightly sprinkled through the vastness of the city, with clumps of unplanned settlements around its edges. Off the arterial boulevards, rows of identical housing and matching adjacent shopping strips, with cafes shops, etc. serve the population of the central city. We ate in good cafés and restaurants located in such places, and I had no idea how we got there or whether we were in the same area as the day before. Brasilia is a car and bicycle city, but not a walking city. To cross boulevards it was often necessary to drive long distances to the correct underpass to double back to the final destination along avenues that all looked alike. This situation was not lost on the Foto Arte organizers who got their guests to the right place at the right time with a fleet of mini-vans.

The portfolio reviews were held at the Department of Visual Arts of the University of Brasilia. Reviews began at 9 am and continued with scheduled coffee breaks, lunch, and more coffee breaks. Coffee was always available, with portable machines pressing out life saving cafezinhos, little cups of espresso.

Three computers set in a circle gave photographers and reviewers a chance to look up reviewer’s bios and download images from photographer’s portfolios. Computers were available at reviews to accommodate the growing number of photographers who bring their work on CDs, but have laptops that die at inconvenient moments.

Guests were served by a well-organized Foto Arte staff and 35 helpful, attractive, and enthusiastic volunteers who demonstrated impressive amounts of good humor and patience, particularly in rounding up reviewers who were often late, lost, or going to the bathroom. Such large-scale volunteerism is impressive. Many of these volunteers and translators are available because universities often require students to do community service as part of their academic degrees. This is true for many universities throughout Latin America. After completing fourteen 20 twenty-minute portfolio reviews, we were finished and transported to our hotels around 6:00 PM. We stayed at the Meliá Confort Park Hotel, a comfortable modern accommodation with high speed internet access in each room. Part of the group stayed at the Blue Tree Park, near the Presidential Palace on Lake Paranoá. The architecture of the Blue Tree Park provides an amazing creative addition to the city.

Interior of the Blure Tree Park Hotel

Around 7:30 PM, the group was retrieved from hotels and we went to exhibit openings, book signings, receptions, then on to a restaurant for a dinner hosted by Foto Arte. The food was always good, drinks were abundant and the conversation enthusiastic. With a crowd of 20+ reviewers and artists, it was never possible to get to bed before 1- 2:30 AM. I am convinced that Brazilian hospitality is unparalleled but it requires the stamina of 20 year-olds. The highlight event was the elegant party given by Karla Osorio, Foto Arte’s founder and director, at Guillermo and Karla’s art-filled house.

Guillermo and Karla Osorio's dinner party

There, a jazz group serenaded us from the balcony while the guests mingled on the lawn and pool that overlooked Lake Paranoá below. There were lots of curators, artists, and ambassadors milling around enjoying themselves. Every curator from abroad seemed to have their ambassador in attendance, British, Canadian, Danish, French, but alas no one from the U.S.

Meat feast for photographer Walter Firmo

Guillermo and Karla Osorio

The international seminar PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE CITY, mentioned above departed from Cities theme with the last presenter, Pedro Meyer. The Internet pioneer and photographer described the Internet in terms of a metropolitan superstructure and went on to talk about his epic struggle on behalf of the digital world of photo-related representation. He presented his current works showing the circular interaction between ‘captured’ imagery and that which becomes

Left to right - Françios Couvreur, Karla Osorio, Boris Kossoy, Solange Ferraz de Lima and Wendy Watriss

‘re-created’ or ‘re-staged’ through digital processes - the transformation of analog-based pictures into images whose “painterly” qualities are achieved through digital software. Pedro took the position that photography cannot be so narrowly interpreted that it excludes the dynamic impact of the digital revolution. There was a young crowd in the auditorium and a heated discussion ensued. The seminar never got back to the subject of PHOTOGRAPHY AND CITIES.

Pedro Meyer stirring things up at the symposium

Personally, I am attracted to digital technology and produce the photos shown here with a digital Leica but my technical and theoretical knowledge is thin. However, I found the exchanges fascinating for reasons that go well beyond photography. I am grappling, not with the mastery of digital techniques but with trying to understand of how computers, the Internet, and new technology have revolutionized information retrieval and help artists communicate their creative ideas.

Wendy reviews CD portfolios on the computer

What is the relationship between analog, virtual and digital technology? If you take an antique stereoscopic viewer, a 19th Century technical device, you have two identical analog images; but when you hold the viewer up to your eyes, the three-dimensional image that appears is virtual. Modern technology has changed and upped the ante so there is much confusion about where analog and virtual meet. However, they often intersect, like two overlapping spheres, as in the simple example of the stereoscopic viewer.

More interesting for me, however, is how so many people, particularly young people, communicate through the Internet. Here, people can change their sex, become old or young, assume any identity. Complete anonymity is available on the Internet. How does this affect social behavior? Are the “plugged-in people” different from those who are more inclined to exchange information through the uncertainties of face-to-face social interaction? Do young people feel different from their elders in ways that are more extreme than previous generations? Ultimately, I wonder how these possibilities might affect the work of emerging artists. While I can appreciate their art, can I talk to the artists about their work in a language that references my own experience and theirs?

This question is central to the whole portfolio review process. Is there is a possible disconnect between different generations of photographers and curators, etc.? I do not have the answers. Pedro’s talk and the discussions that followed stimulated my thinking about these issues.

Young Brazilian artist Sylvia Zamboni

Computer stations were useful for checking portfolios and reviewers bios prior to the 20 minute meetings

Pedro Meyer’s Website, ZoneZero, apparently draws more attention than any other photography Website in the world. He has done this through his own vision. Pedro describes tapping the expanded capabilities and possibilities of a young generation who has grown up technologically savvy in a way that I can hardly imagine. Part of ZoneZero Website is open to anyone who chooses to submit work. This has created activity from many parts of the world allowing a flood of uncontrolled and ‘free’ ideas to enter his domain and be transferred on to his ever growing audience.

I have seemingly digressed from Foto Arte 2005, but I found some very important issues to deal with and new relationships with uncomfortable concepts in Brasilia. This would not have happened had I not been involved and stimulated by events and people who were at Foto Arte. When we left Brasilia for Houston, it was with a feeling of renewed energy. There was a lot to think about, and not necessarily in expected areas. This is why it is so important to have such events as Foto Arte, gathering together creative people and their work.

Fred Baldwin

Fred on his way home

Photographs taken with Leica Digilux 2