Until December 6th, Le BAL is hosting a photographic ensemble by Miguel Rio Branco, produced in Brazil between 1968 and 1992. A collection of images with deep tones revealing the beauty of popular places.

Freedom, suffocation, fluidity… Miguel Rio Branco’s images are made of captivating contrasts. The French-speaking artist, son of diplomats, has travelled a lot, and has become accustomed to immersing himself in foreign cultures. A figurehead of contemporary creation, he experiments with both photography and painting, and lets different media thrive on one another. He arrived in Brazil for the first time before the end of the dictatorship, and immersed himself in popular neighbourhoods, in particular Pelourinho, located in the north-east part of the country. It is a contradictory place, once rich thanks to slavery, and now completely neglected.

It was this first aimless wandering through the dark and swarming alleys that Le BAL showcased. Diane Dufour and Alexis Fabry, the curators of the exhibition, highlighted the photographer’s early work in a unique scenography. In the basement, the exhibition space is laid out to represent an urban journey. A path with multiple entry points at the heart of which visitors can move randomly, get lost, and discover, at the turn of a corner, some touching images.

Capter l’énergie vitale des espaces

If the history of Brazil is reflected in the models’ expressions and the harshness of their daily lives, Miguel Rio Branco’s images are not intended to be documentary. On the contrary, the artist only seeks the aesthetic, the symbolic. Influenced by painting, the photographer produces poignant works, without perspective, where everything is frontal, striking. The bodies face us, sometimes cut off, or half erased. Just like a painter, he places his elements, and produces thoughtful works. Here and there, blurs – discreet and controlled – give the environment a phantasmagorical aura.

The artist captures the vital energy of spaces. The beauty of people, the colour of walls, the texture of roads. He freezes movement with tremendous grace and plays with the reflections of mirrors to summon the supernatural. In front of his lens, for example, the jumps of young capoeira practitioners become entanglements, in a hypnotic sequence with dark tones that we cannot take our eyes off. We seem to run out of breath as we enter the insalubrious streets of Pelourinho, alongside the photographer, so much so that the colours that are scattered throughout his images invite us to sample the sounds, the smells, the essence of the place. A sensation that is prolonged by the book accompanying the exhibition, published by Toluca Editions, which presents a collection of unpublished images made from burnt negatives. The traces left by the fire give the pictures an organic, suffocating dimension.


Miguel Rio Branco, Éditions Toluca, 35€, 120 p. 


Miguel Rio Branco, Photographies 1968-1992

Until the 6th of December

Le BAL, 6 impasse de la Défense, Paris

© Miguel Rio Branco / Magnum Photos