Thomaz Farkas

The Rhythm of Light

The Capa Center presents the first comprehensive exhibition in Hungary of the Hungarian born and celebrated Brazilian photographer Thomaz Farkas (1924-2011). He is considered to be one of the great representatives of modern photography and documentary cinema in Brazil. He left behind a unique artistic oeuvre, particularly contributing to the representation of Brazilian culture and establishing a visual approach that relates him to important exponents of his time. The Rhythm of Light includes highlights from his photographic works from the 1940s and the end of the 1950s as well as some of his most important documentary films from the same period. Blow-ups of his contact sheets offer an intimate insight into his photographic approach and the delicate balance between split-seconds and stretched moments in time. Both in still and moving images, the exhibition presents the work of a dedicated man who was driven by a sensitive and genuine concern with the other throughout his life.

Thomaz Farkas was born into a family of strong photographic connections, reaching all the back to the 19th century. He spent the first years of his life in Pannónia Street in Budapest. His parents, who tried their luck earlier in Brazil, decided to move back to São Paolo when Farkas was six years old. His father established a chain of important photography supply stores under the name of Fotoptica throughout Brazil; Thomaz, his only son, started to work there at an early age. He was 8 years old when he received his first camera, and by the time he turned eighteen, he became so talented in photography that he was chosen to become the youngest member of the Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante. The photo club consisted of amateur photographers who were strongly influenced by the theories and views of European modernists and who eventually revolutionized modern photography in Brazil.

Thomaz Farkas is considered one of the great pioneers of this period. He was the first to have a photography exhibition in the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo in 1949. This exhibition was revolutionary in many ways, mostly because of its experimental character which resulted from the collaboration with two young architects. The exhibited images were captured during the 1940s and are regarded as the highlights of his photographic career. Typified by a strong sensitivity to formal aspects and abstraction, they demonstrate Farkas’s genuine interest in contrasts, graphic forms, and the play of light and shadows. He found these elements in architectural constructions but also in the shadows of people created by the strong sunlight in everyday situations.

Although his interest in photography turned towards documentary film from the 1950s onwards, there was one important series which dates from the end of the 1950s, the documentation of the building of the futuristic and utopian city, Brasilia. In 1957, Farkas traveled to Brasilia to follow the construction of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s projects. The set of images, all captured in 35-mm, is a clear evidence of the humanistic nature of Farkas’s work, as well as his interest in the language of photojournalism. His focus was on the emotions of the moment, the visitors during the festive opening day, the construction workers, and their housing outside the planned city. This series can be seen as a bridge to his later activities as a film director and producer. In his eyes, film was more able to express the social and political situation in Brazil. Shot in the 1960s and 1970s, the many documentaries he produced, and some photographs he took in color (later called Caravana Farkas), expressed his far-reaching engagement with his country and were meant to show Brazil to the Brazilians.

Being part of a great international network of photographers, film directors, artists and designers, Farkas was very well-connected. He had visited the MoMA in New York in 1948, where he met with Edward Steichen; in the same year, he visited Ansel Adams in his studio in California, and was also in touch with Edward Weston. Besides, Jean Rouch, the French documentary filmmaker, and the Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens, whom Farkas greatly admired, were among his friends. Within this network, Fotoptica played an important role. It provided access to the latest books and magazines from all over the world and it enabled Farkas to work with the most high-end equipment of his time. Additionally, Farkas initiated several photo labs at museums and institutions in order to promote photography. Fotoptica was also the title of the photography magazine and gallery which, under the guidance of Farkas, published and exhibited new and established Brazilian talents from the 1970s to the end of the 1990.

Farkas was undoubtedly a multitalented man with a dynamic character, who lived and worked with great intensity and engagement. While being mostly known for his photographic and cinematic work, his legacy reaches far beyond these roles as he was also a producer, an academic, an entrepreneur, and a cultural agent. His works are represented in important collections, such as the MoMA in New York and Tate Modern in London.

This exhibition has been made possible by a close collaboration with the Thomas Farkas Estate and Moreira Salles Institute in São Paulo; the latter holds custody and conservation of Farkas’s photographic work: a collection of over 34,000 images from the 1940s through the 1990s.

The films of Thomaz Farkas can be viewed through his Vimeo channel.

With special thanks to the Embassy of Brazil in Budapest.

All images © Capa Center