Geraldo de Barros

Abstraction (São Paulo)


Geraldo de Barros 1923–1998
Original title
Abstração (São Paulo)
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 276 × 374 mm
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee and Susana and Ricardo Steinbruch 2016


Abstraction (São Paulo) 1949 is a black and white vintage print by the Brazilian artist Geraldo de Barros. The photograph was taken in São Paulo and belongs to de Barros’s series of Fotoformas (or ‘photoforms’), in which the artist created abstract compositions out of photographs of architectural features. The starting point for this work was the textured glass and iron framework of a window, which was then altered using cropping and montage techniques. A related work from the same year is Untitled (São Paulo) Composition II 1949 (Tate P14601), for which de Barros photographed an elaborate iron chair through a pane of textured glass. Abstraction (São Paulo) shows de Barros’s experimentation with both the formal and technical aspects of photography. Its subject matter brings together urban architecture and formal abstraction.

The Fotoformas series is widely viewed as having been instrumental in introducing a new era in photography in Brazil. Made between 1949 and 1952, the Fotoformas are dominated by de Barros’s manipulation of the photograph through techniques such as cropping, montage and superimposition, and the varying intensity of light used, as well as its direction. The results are near-abstract compositions in which light, shade and volume are explored. The Fotoformas reflect the influence of Brazilian concrete art and are also closely related to the principles of abstract painting. In the brochure produced for de Barros’s exhibition ‘Fotoforma’ at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) in 1950, curator Pietro Maria Bardi gave an account of the artist’s work:

Composition for Geraldo is a necessity, he orders it by choosing from the millions of linear segments he sees, by superimposing negative on negative, modulating the tones of his only colours: black and white, intensifying the ink … he achieves a pure language.
(Bardi, trans. in Geraldo de Barros: Sobras + Fotoformas 2006, p.3.)

In his ‘Fotoforma’ exhibition, de Barros experimented with combining the different registers of his photographic work, mixing more abstract Fotoformas with more straightforwardly architectural and urban images. He displayed them unframed, attached to poles that ran from floor to ceiling, sometimes in montages of a number of images mounted on panels, giving them a spatial presence closer to architecture or sculpture. Many of de Barros’s photographs were taken in Brazil, and for the most part in São Paulo. They capture the geometry of the modern city’s architecture and its technological and industrial forms. Such subjects embodied the optimistic post-war era in Brazil, when modernist developments were a source of fascination and pride and were having a transformative effect on Brazilian society, particularly its urban centres.

From 1947 de Barros frequented São Paulo’s Photo Cine Bandeirantes Club (Photo Cine Pioneers Club), one of the most prominent of the amateur photographic clubs which were largely responsible for the emergence of experimental modernist photography in Brazil. In 1947 he founded Group 15, a circle of experimental photographers. At this time he also became familiar with the photographic experiments of European and American artists such as Man Ray (1890–1976) and László Moholy Nagy (1895–1946). In 1949, he was given responsibility for the organization of the laboratory of photography of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. It was in this environment that he began his own experimentations in the Fotoformas.

Further reading
Geraldo de Barros: Sobras + Fotoformas, 2 vols., São Paulo 2006.

Tanya Barson
November 2010

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