“My idea from now on is to develop that transition between the inert object and the sacred object. It is simply a religious position in photography that I wish to adopt.”
—Mario Cravo Neto
One of the most important and influential contemporary Brazilian photographers, Mario Cravo Neto originally trained as a sculptor and only took up photography seriously after a car accident in 1975 left him bedridden for a year.
Throughout his photographic career, Cravo Neto was fascinated by the complex cultural heritage of Bahia in the northeast of Brazil, the point of entry for millions of African slaves between the 16th and 19th century. His imagery is deeply steeped in the religion of Candomblé—an Afro-Brazilian form of worship practiced by Cravo Neto—which finds its origins in traditional West African Yoruba culture.
The exhibition comprises two series of photographs: twenty black and white studio portraits from The Eternal Now series produced during the 1980s and 1990s, and twenty colour prints from the Laróyè series produced in the 2000s, during the latter part of his career before his untimely death in 2009.
The large-scale black and white photographs are characterised by the use of inanimate objects and animals in conjunction with human bodies, giving the images a sculptural and tactile quality reminiscent of European still life paintings from the 17th and 18th century.
In contrast, Cravo Neto’s later color works depict urban life in Salvador. Rather than provide a documentary account of the city and its people, Cravo Neto pays homage to Èsù, a trickster divinity and overseer of the cross roads between the material and spiritual world.
As the New York Times’ wrote in 1997, on the occasion of a gallery exhibition in the city, “[his] subjects seem to conspire with the photographer to show life at its uncluttered, quietly vibrant best. Black-and-white photographs with a sculptor’s sense of texture.”