Erika Zerwes



University of São Paulo

Transatlantic cultural transfers: Latin American photography in Europe

Erika Zerwes’s BA was in Philosophy at the Universidade de São Paulo. For her Masters and PhD she moved to the History department at UNICAMP, Brazil. She also developed a Post Doc at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo. The researches she conducted during the PhD and Post-Doc were developed working extensively with Brazilian and international archives, using the multiple perspectives offered by the notion of Visual Culture and borrowing conceptual instruments from Philosophy, History of Art and Critical Studies, especially the links between aesthetics and politics stablished by authors such as Agambem and Rancière.

In her PhD thesis, later published as a book titled War Time, she was able to retrace some aspects of the formation of aesthetic-political paradigms in photography during the 1930s, which are still present in contemporary society. The notion of Visual Culture was instrumental in the research as the photographic image is understood as a historical construction, whose meanings vary historically, and not as a naturally given object. During her PhD she had the opportunity to have a séjour doctoral at the EHESS in Paris, where she furthered bibliographical and archival researches.

She was able to continue some paths of research opened by the PhD during the three-year Post-Doctoral research, titled The notions of humanism in documentary photography, at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo. It pioneered the mapping of the work of women who used documentary photography and photojournalism as a form of social struggle and political action between Europe and Latin America. Starting from the idea that humanism in photography is both an aesthetic and a political manifestation, which cannot be seen separately from the place and period in which it appears, the research put side by side the issue of gender in photography, and the issue of photography named as Latin American. The last two have gained more attention in recent years in society in general, and in academia in particular, both in Brazil and internationally. However, these are still fields in which progress can be made. Throughout the post-doctorate, her goal was to expande the spaces for debate and the bibliography in Portuguese about both issues.


Projet de recherche

The objective of this project is to investigate the exchanges and interrelationships between Latin American and European photography between the 1970s and the early 1980s. The research will focus on the references made Latin American photography in the editions published between 1971 and 1981 in the French edition of the Swiss magazine Camera and in the Spanish magazine Nueva Lente, analysing their published content, both in regards to what was published about Latin American photography and how this content could have promoted any cultural transfers between Latin America and Europe.

The period of the late 1970s and early 1980s is of great importance for Latin American photography history. This is a specific moment in which several initiatives have led to the professionalisation and institutionalisation of documentary photography, journalistic and authorial.

Because of its importance, this particular period has been approached by historiography today, at the same time that the studies of photography have reached maturity in Latin America in general, and particularly in Brazil. The debates around photography are currently institutionally organised and structured through a national historiography that begins to consolidate. However, the understanding of international relations in the organisation of Brazilian and Latin American photography is fundamental for the deepening of the reflections, still marked by archives’ and documents’ restriction.

This research seeks to broaden this spectrum and strengthen the field of knowledge.

Previous researches focused on this period show that Brazilian photography professionalisation and institutionalisation during the late 1970s and early 1980s took place in dialogue with initiatives in the field of international photography that established interrelationships and exchanges especially between Brazil and Latin America, Brazil and Europe, and Latin America and Europe. It was directly related to the national political moment, the opening for re-democratisation, when several artists, intellectuals and photographers who had been forced or opted for exile now returned to Latin America, bringing experiences lived abroad. It was also directly related to the structuring of several institutions related to photography in Latin American countries, based on the example given by the Mexican Council of Photography, which, in promoting the First Latin American Colloquium of Photography in Mexico City in 1978, served as an incentive for this process of institutionalisation. And finally, with the entry of photography into the market and the world art system.

The first two Latin American Colloquia of Photography in Mexico City in 1978 and 1981 established one of the first and most effective attempts to form and unify a discourse on photography produced within the territory of Latin America. In the same way, the exchanges and interlocutions promoted organisations similar to the Mexican Council of Photography in other Latin American countries. Thus, in 1979, the Venezuelan Photography Council, the Argentine Council of Photography, and the Funarte’s Photography Centre in Brazil were founded.

Brazilian photographers who participated in the Colloquia often mention the importance of the dialogue between Latin America and Europe during the late 1970s – sometimes also linked to the First Colloquium of photography, which accepted the participation of European photographers and intellectuals. As an example, Boris Kossoy, a Brazilian photographer and researcher who was a keynote speaker at the 1978 event, says that the European repercussions of the Colloquium are as important as the developments in Latin America.

Interviews with Brazilian photographers highlight some magazines’ importance in their contact with international photography, and for the dissemination of Brazilian photography in Europe. Photographers like Boris Kossoy, Antonio Saggese and Pedro Vasquez mentioned during interviews the French Camera and Spanish Nueva Lente as main references to publish their work in Europe as well as to see what was being produced in Europe.

All these testimonies show that, in addition to the great changes happening in Brazilian and Latin American photography during the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was also an intense exchange between Brazil and Europe, focused on France and Spain, among other countries. From the Brazilian point of view, this is a key chapter in the history of national photography, which has its relevance recognised today, with several important researchers dedicating themselves to the period.

Sélection de publications

Erika Zerwes (org) 2021. Mulheres Fotógrafas, Mulheres Fotografadas. Fotografia e Gênero na América Latina. São Paulo: Intermeios.


Erika Zerwes 2019. Cultura Visual. Imagens na Modernidade. São Paulo: Cortez.


Erika Zerwes 2019. Tempo de Guerra. Cultura Visual e Cultura Política nas Fotografias dos Fundadores da Agência Magnum. São Paulo: Intermeios.


Erika Zerwes 2020. “Nair Benedicto”; “Sheila Maureen Bisilliat”. In: World History of Women Photographers. Paris: Les Éditions Textuel.


Erika Zerwes 2017. “The modern woman as war photographer: Margaret Michaelis and Kati Horna” In: Migrações: Processos migratórios e práticas artísticas em tempo de guerra/ Migrations: Migrations processes and artistic practices in a time of war. Lisboa: CIEBA, Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade de Lisboa.