The 2013 Pirelli Calendar By Paul Theroux
The greatest visual magic is not otherworldly, witchy weirdness but rather an illumination of the everyday, when familiar things look marvelous. Streets and city walls and skies, in a startling derangement, begin to take on the irrationality of a dream. Because you recognize certain objects – the dog, the chair, the window – the other elements are more startling: what is that blaze of light, and what is that woman doing in the doorway? Tantalizing and suggestive, bleeding with color, the vision is given force through the visible presence of a power figure – in the case of these photographs, the beautiful woman, who dominates like a tropical priestess.
In this epiphany of unexpectedness and delight, such beauty always beckons. It is impossible to see the Steve McCurry photographs of Rio and its people and not wish to be there. The magic of Rio, the city of high contrast, is something palpable, an uplifting luminosity that is rare in most cities. But in Rio it is a part of its identity, its daily life, something joyous, as well as, at times, evoking a sort of melancholy. Intense color can inspire joy, or terror, or desire, even pathos or a mood almost of holiness.
The Rio depicted here suggests the history of Brazil, a country transformed - colonized, plundered, and repopulated until it exploded with European and African intensities as well as all its indigenous feathered shrieks. The photos show a homegrown culture of impulses and improvisations – syncretic, an anthropologist might say, a fusion of cultures, a people taking possession of different rituals or beliefs and making them their own. That too is magical. The music and dance and even the graffiti adds to the transformation; the human touch in the painted walls, the casual dress, is the Cariocas’ assertion of their own lives and their neighborhoods, turning their walls into murals, and even their bodies into art objects, as body builders and dancers.
The capoeira – shown here as vigorous tumbling - is distinctly Brazilian and centuries old, combining movement and music that is both an aesthetic and a system of combat, like magic in action: a martial art, sometimes improvisational and artful. And the graffiti is not (as in some cities) vandalism, but an enhancement, mural or maquillage on a wall, a street, a doorway, a house-front.
These images show a newly imagined world, epitomized by the shot from the heights of Rio, looking like the face of our planet in creation, the seas receding in pools of pinkish light from the distant mountains to reveal a city being born, lights winking from the coast, mountains reflecting tall buildings, a city where people seem happiest outdoors, on the street, in alcoves and markets, on the rooftops.
Here are images of abundance – plenty of everything, food, fruit, color, music; an abundance of light, too, but sometimes wayward and revealing light. The young girl at the market stall, anxiously clutching her head, stands before an impressive pile of multicolored peppers. She is alone, but so are many of the other people in the city, especially the solitary air of the woman walking away, along the Arcos de Lapa aqueduct, with a teasing suggestion of “follow me.” She is a telling shadow; there is as much life in these shadows as in naked light.
And each image in this sequence is vitalized by a telling detail, whether it is a retreating cat, a skinny dog, or a shadow; the anxious eyes, or the gesture of human awkwardness that we easily recognize and can relate to. Physicality pervades the images; the human element is powerful. These are people of flesh and blood – real people in a real place, exuding a joyous confidence. In the simplest, a woman’s pregnancy is revealed in a stark and serene shot. For the most complex, consider the photo of the model in the doorway, the Brazilian flag daubed on the wall, the woman at the window looking away, a partial mural of a sorrowing child, a real tree, a wet street.