José Oiticica Filho and His Role in Defining Postwar Photographic Art (São Paulo, 2017)

I had the honor to present my research about the Brazilian photographer José Oiticica Filho (Rio de Janeiro, 1906–1964), a key figure of Brazilian modernist photography who made a global impact on the understanding of photographic art in the 1950s. I contributed to a conference dedicated to studying his oeuvre.

The conference took place on August 22, 2017, and coincided with an exhibition of his work in Galeria MaPA, São Paulo, Brazil, July 11 - August 31, 2017.

I was invited by art historian and curator Marly Porto. 

Watch the video recording of my talk on the Galeria MaPa Facebook page:

My current research deals with the ways how the idea of photographic art was defined and negotiated on a global level after the Second World War. During the 1950s, photographers throughout the world were struggling for the recognition of their creativity and the artistic potential of photography. The works by Brazilian photographers and especially José Oiticica Filho were extremely visible and important in this struggle.

One of the publications which documents the global scope of this struggle is the Yearbooks by the International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP). These Yearbooks showcase photographic art from more than 50 countries. They include works by Oiticica Filho as well as many other members of the Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante.

 Spread from the 1960 FIAP Yearbook (with works from the 1958 FIAP Biennial). Left:  José Oiticica Filho  (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil),  Abstraction . Right:  José V. E. Yalenti  (São Paulo, Brazil),  Architecture .

Spread from the 1960 FIAP Yearbook (with works from the 1958 FIAP Biennial). Left: José Oiticica Filho (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Abstraction. Right: José V. E. Yalenti (São Paulo, Brazil), Architecture.

Oiticica Filho's work is central to my research because he introduced radical, non-representational work into the field of postwar photographic art which consisted mostly of two other types of photography - one of them based on pictorialist aesthetics, the other - on documentary, humanist photography. Oiticica Filho’s approach was radically different. His work was asserting that photography can be an art form, and that this art form is free from the task to depict  anything from the visible reality. Instead, it creates a reality of its own. His work is a bold statement of photography’s artistic independence. No doubt his work served as an inspiration  for many postwar photographers who were exploring the creative possibilities of photography.

The attention Oiticica Filho's work is receiving recently is long overdue, and I am especially thrilled to be part of the movement among art and photography historians that is concerned with revisiting the postwar histories and looking beyond the usual shortlist of famous photographers from France, Germany, and the U.S.

It is also remarkable that the conference on José Oiticica Filho in São Paulo coincided with the first major museum retrospective of the work by one of his sons, Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980), To Organize Delirium in the Whitney Museum in New York (July 14 - October 1, 2017). 

Read the essay (in Portuguese) about José Oiticica Filho by Marly Porto-download the pdf here

View selected works by José Oiticica Filho on the web site of Galeria MaPA