Modern women! São Paulo through their eyes



Fleeing the Nazi persecution that plagued Europe and that resulted in forced migration, they arrived in Brazil and settled in São Paulo in the first decades of the 20th century. The city that they chose as their new home had, at that moment, gained the stereotypical image of “the largest industrial center of Latin America”. Between the truth and promise, province and metropolis, this city, undergoing a dizzying transformation, began to receive a Jewish and foreign diaspora that brought with them not only a sense of exile, but also the formal vocabulary of the European artistic vanguards.

Alice, Claudia, Gertrudes, Hildegard, Lily, Madalena and Stefania found in the obstacles of the language and in the democratic nature of photography a path for a practice and a profession. With their bold and inventive spirits, each in their own time and own way, developed a conception of the modern. Entering a mostly male field, they covered this city and its spaces, experimenting, recording and building new perspectives.

Almost nothing escaped their gazes: in different scales and compositions, they present architecture and buildings, the precariousness of work and housing, the urban and migratory flow, formal and informal commerce, culture, leisure and the nightlife of São Paulo. However, it is in the daily routine, in the delays and hesitations, in the “dead” time that they escape the frenzy of progress, in small and playful gestures of daily life, that these women composed a vast and vibrant iconography of São Paulo.

Through an exchange of glances that betray the presence both of the photographer and her device, of the prosaic portraits of workers, readers and passersby, candid shots of passengers on public transportation, street vendors, newspaper sellers, patrons of bars and pastry shops, children and the elderly, they created a poetic imagery of the city, with precision and formal rigor, but also with humor.

Modern women! São Paulo through their eyes narrates almost 50 years of São Paulo history through the pioneering spirit of women photographers whose cosmopolitan and foreign lens contributed inextricably to the modernization of Brazilian photography and to the building of another imagery of the city and its inhabitants. Far from pursuing a supposedly “female perspective”, each of these photographers presents their own singularities, connections and differences. Thanks to these foreign women, new and fertile approaches to the vast iconography on the modernization of the capital of São Paulo were erected.

Despite being in tune with modern aesthetic precepts, Alice, Claudia, Gertrudes, Hildegard, Lily, Madalena and Stefania knew how to counter the discourses that linked modernity to a monumental urban symphony, deviating critically from an expansionist and nationalist view of progress. That is why the collection of their work gathered here could be said to compose a modernity inside of modernity, where a kind of invitation to rest, lyricism and meeting is emphasized.

Ilana Feldman and Priscyla Gomes