Rio de Janeiro

Otto Stupakoff, Nus, Joatinga, Rio de Janeiro, 1978 (Nudes, Joatinga, Rio de Janeiro, 1978), gelatin silver print, 14 1/8 × 22". © Acervo Instituto Moreira Salles.

Otto Stupakoff, Nus, Joatinga, Rio de Janeiro, 1978 (Nudes, Joatinga, Rio de Janeiro, 1978), gelatin silver print, 14 1/8 × 22". © Acervo Instituto Moreira Salles.

Otto Stupakoff

Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) | Rio de Janeiro

Otto Stupakoff, Nus, Joatinga, Rio de Janeiro, 1978 (Nudes, Joatinga, Rio de Janeiro, 1978), gelatin silver print, 14 1/8 × 22". © Acervo Instituto Moreira Salles.

This exhibition of the work of Otto Stupakoff (1935–2009) reveals the multiple practices of this important Brazilian photographer. By presenting a broad and representative selection of his work, curators Bob Wolfenson and Sergio Burgi have reintroduced one of the pioneers of fashion photography in Brazil. But as this show also demonstrates, Stupakoff’s oeuvre is much more extensive than that. We see his portraits and his advertising work but also his important artistic essays, which led to his first exhibition of photography in a Brazilian art gallery. As Burgi says, “The photos, collages, assemblages, all were part of the same creative process, the same narrative that he constructed throughout an entire career.”

The exhibition begins with images from Stupakoff’s formative years at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, 1953–55, in which we can already perceive characteristics that would mark his work throughout his career. He had already developed, for example, his sensitivity to shadow and an understanding of how framing can accentuate a gesture, or a part of the body. His photos of this period are worlds away from the clichés of glamour but never fail to be provocative and sensual. Stupakoff had a predilection for motifs of daily life, and found drama or freshness in the most ordinary things. His is typically a fleeting and accidental image, an instantaneous lapse, a glimpse of movement that reveals a quintessentially human and simple action. Nothing is theatrical or overdetermined. The featured subject remains in the background; what matters is form in the way the camera conducts itself. It is part of the scene, for it is an extension of the story, always dialoguing with what is portrayed, so its relation with the subject is close, intimate, without being invasive. We perceive these characteristics in the many portraits that he made in the late 1960s and ’70s of such personalities as Leonard Cohen (caught relaxing at a table in a bar) and Jack Nicholson.

Stupakoff’s return to Brazil in 1955 coincided with the initial stirrings of the sexual revolution. His essays on fashion portray a sensual woman, self-assured, at liberty, wearing lighter skirts or suits—not a prisoner of domestic functions and not obsessed with modesty. These photos take on a political connotation if we consider that they were produced in the context of a patriarchal society like Brazil’s. During the 1960s, his use of black-and-white and a grainy tone underlines the fragility and simplicity of those portrayed, for instance in Menina na praia do Arpoador (Girl at Arpoador Beach), undated, a shot of a girl at the beach, wearing only panties and with her arms folded over her chest, probably shivering from the cold.

Stupakoff took on a new challenge in 1965 by moving to New York, where he stayed for seven years, going on to Paris for three years in 1972. Working for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Life, and Vogue, Stupakoff explored with acumen an equation that combined proportion and balance on one hand, and incongruity and uneasiness on the other. His framing and camera angles highlight a feminine body that transforms photography into desire, producing a constant visual pulsation. His work follows in the footsteps of the sexual revolution, reflecting the independence of women, who are at once free and desirable because of their sense of freedom. In parallel to his work with magazines, he also produced a series of female nudes. In both cases, sensuality emerges in an impressively natural form. It is through the body, with it and in it, that Stupakoff attains a magical enchantment. And yet his photographs do not attempt to seduce the viewer but instead aim to make the subject of the image intelligible along with its setting and Stupakoff’s own proclivities.

––Felipe Scovino

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.