POSTCARD IN BRAZIL,
A Portrait of Brazilian Cities
that our journey through São Paulo State, which was presented in the
trilogy Greetings from São Paulo, has reached its conclusion, we extend
our travels farther into Brazil, visiting state capitals and former state
capitals through images of superb artistic quality.
new journey will take us back in time, to the so-called "Golden
Era" of the postcard in the first decades of the 20th century.
natural beauty is known to us all: the rivers, mountains, forests, and
beaches... Postcards have shown these places, and many are now famous
around the world: Pão de Açúcar, the Amazon River, the Northeast
coast... Yet many marvelous images of this immense and diverse
quasi-continent that is Brazil have not graced postcards. I will cite a
few that come to mind, of places that I have visited and that have left a
strong impression upon me:
backcountry of Goiás, under the nighttime sky of the Araguaia River, seen
from an old two-lane road. All around me, an immensity of stars and
silence, and only the occasional peep of a nocturnal bird to remind me
that I am still on Earth and not in Heaven.
rounded peaks of the Baía de Guanabara as they emerge from a shroud of
fog in the early hours of the day. This fleeting spectacle appears in an
airplane window, and I blink away the glare of the rising sun to keep from
water’s edge in the middle of the Mato Grosso Pantanal. I sit alone,
feeling insignificant, when a young capybara emerges from the dense
thicket, and within an hour is close enough to touch. The animal is
compelled by its own curiosity and by the fact that I have remained still
all this time, a sign it takes to mean I am not a predator, but merely a
colleague in the wetlands.
such moments are filed away in my mind, worthy of becoming postcards if
this were possible.
famous to the public are those beautiful scenes added to Brazil’s
exuberant natural environment through human ingenuity. That is, postcards
of Brazilian cities, where skillful, inspired, and frequently anonymous
architects erected palaces, fortresses, theaters, public buildings, and
entire residential blocks with remarkable sophistication during an era
when aesthetics triumphed over practicality.
recent times, I have visited many of these cities, and in a few I could
still see vestiges of Brazil’s glorious architectural past. In Rio de
Janeiro, fortunately, many buildings have been preserved; in Salvador, an
effective restoration is taking place downtown; and in Ouro Preto, you
will find the city almost intact.
may be surprised to find Corumbá in our itinerary. The city is included
because of its past glory as the de facto capital of Brazil’s vibrant
will also visit magnificent Brasília, the federal capital of Brazil. This
admirable collection of photographs was taken, often from the air, during
the city’s construction in the 1950s.
of the locations featured in this book have changed over time, as
structures that value beauty more than function are replaced by others in
which the opposite is true.
is important to acknowledge the photographers and publishers of earlier
eras, many of them unknown, whose merit and artistic talent have given us
these postcards and albums, which today are the best images we have of
Brazil’s historic cities.
so, once again, we hope that you find pleasure in these splendid old
pictures and that this book may further strengthen a belief that has
thankfully found a place in the minds of the Brazilian people: we must
preserve Brazil’s historic and artistic assets, which in many cases
DOCUMENTING MORE THAN A FOND REMEMBRANCE
Belle Époque, at the dawn of the 20th century, was a period of splendor,
with bold customs and singular ways of thinking. One fashion of the time
was exchanging postcards with colorful and attractive scenes that
portrayed an optimistic view of the world.
their conception, postcards have represented both an artistically
significant innovation and an invaluable tool for recording the aspects
and history of our cities. They show scenes of the same location at
different periods in time and thus reveal the dynamics of urban and social
retrospect, postcards are among our best sources for images of Brazilian
cities. The growing number of postcard aficionados means those images will
be protected and parts of our historical, collective, and private memory
document much more than a fond remembrance: they once played a role in
people’s lives that we would find difficult to imagine today. Postcards
were conceived as works of art and were produced by graphic artists using
sophisticated printing techniques. In their heyday, postcards offered an
efficient way for people to exchange brief messages accompanied by an
image. During an epoch when photography was for professionals, cinema was
just getting started, and radio and television were still nonexistent,
postcards were important visual references and, in a sense, the precursors
of our modern forms of communication. They bore images of urban
destinations, popular habits, picturesque scenes, and celebrities and
personalities. Nothing escaped the photographer’s insatiable curiosity,
as the public anxiously waited to see the next big thing.
conveyed travel impressions, comments, news, remembrances,
congratulations, best wishes, loving declarations, complaints, simple
notes, and laconic greetings. The famous poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade
once made reference to postcards in a newspaper interview:
vogue of exchanging postcards went out of style long ago, yet those old
cards that float to the surface of forgotten memories still move me. They
are the testimony of a social epoch, of a collective state of mind, of a
happy imagined time, when aviation had begun bringing people together,
only to exterminate them later in masses; when a postcard was a symbol of
understanding between strangers; when we hoped there would be no more
wars, and seeing Isadora Duncan dance, or knowing that somewhere in the
world she was dancing, was worth a measure of happiness.
offered an idealized vision of a reality that we shared with those who
remained distant. They were a way of saying: "wish you were
here," "look where my travels have taken me," "enjoy
the beauty of this landscape as much as I have." They carry dispersed
images from the far corners of our country, allowing us to visit remote
cities and create a mosaic of Brazil’s manifold beauty.
BUILDING THE COLLECTIVE
MEMORY OF BRAZIL
Emilio Gerodetti and Carlos Cornejo, who have already presented us with
the trilogy Greetings from São Paulo, a collection of antique postcards
that revives charming locations from the remote corners of São Paulo
State, now take their retrospective journey deeper into the expanses of
define expanses as "great distances in time and space." In fact,
postcards document not only the moment of "here and now," but
also the expanses of "there and then." This quality has not
always been seen as compatible with such an ephemeral form of
communication, which many received, read, and answered, but few spent time
discussing. Nevertheless, collectors, guardians of family keepsakes, and
cultural institutions have endowed postcards with an air of immortality,
prizing them as unique, and often irreplaceable, icons that perpetuate the
images they bear.
the history of postcards, some well-known pioneers, or incunabula, are the
cards that originated in Germany at the end of the 19th century. Treasured
for their exuberant colors, the result of chromolithograph printing, and
today further coated with the patina of a hundred years or more, these
cards carry, in unmatched artistry, the expression Gruss aus, followed by
the name of a city, place, event, building, or unexpected theme that the
card portrays. These distinctive postcards found their way to the far
reaches of the globe, and the term Gruss aus was translated to Greetings,
Saluti, Saudações, Recuerdos, Recordação, Lembranças, Ricordo,
Souvenir, Memórias, Un Pensiero, and so on, depending on the language
spoken in the country.
postcards were created and sent forth, therefore, to transmit memories,
whether through message or image. When a traveler mailed a postcard to a
friend or close relative, the recipient knew he or she had not been
forgotten and that their memory had caused the sender to earmark a place
and a moment by putting thought to paper across the expanses of distance.
the image and message a postcard bears are revealing of the very
recipient. Marco Antônio de Moraes emphasized this particularity when, in
his analysis of the numerous postcards sent to Mário de Andrade by
friends on excursions, he noted, "...travelers do not choose an image
at the mercy of chance. They provoke, compare, tease. The sender knows the
recipient, and choosing the image becomes a game. This, ultimately,
exemplifies the complexity of the illustrated postcard [...] The postcard
atones for lost conversations, lends color to situations that can only be
glimpsed [...] Shreds of life, conversations recaptured in time, each
giving new meaning to biographies and history, helping us see people for
who they truly are."(1) Nor did those who traveled fail to acquire
postcards for themselves, collecting them as keepsakes of the places they
had visited, with the intention of returning, as often as they liked, to
the imaginary realm of roads that destiny might not have them walk twice.
In either case, the postcard represents a moment that our ceaselessly
spinning planet has stamped upon the expanses of time.
study of those postcard collections that have remained intact can help us
understand how moments are woven into the imperceptible fabric of
individual and family memory. Postcards are storehouses for intimate
conversations, daily routines, recollections of happy times, and of homes
and places once lived in; they are testimonies left behind by the
departed, which become hidden treasures among our personal belongings.
When discovered, such postcards awaken the interest of historians and
genealogists. This has not always been so. Jacques Le Goff refers to this
change in perspective and attitude when he says "photographs and
postcards are the new family archives: collections of icons dedicated to
family memory."(2) An example of the attention postcards enjoy today
is evident in the dissertation presented by Verônica Pimenta Velloso for
the University of Rio de Janeiro’s graduate program Social Memory and
the Document. Velloso’s subject matter is Postcards: Fragments of Family
Memory, and she bases her discussion of memory and history on an album of
postcards that has been looked after for over three generations.(3)
statistics show that postcards grew in popularity the world over mainly
because they portrayed such a wide range of social, natural, and urban
environments. The concomitant desire to collect postcards was born, and
soon people, regardless of sex, age, or social position, were amassing
these documents. The collective memory of society became linked to the
memories of people and families. And, alternatively, postcards that bore
family histories in the recesses of people’s homes came to reflect
transformations that had been wrought upon the land and society, the
evolution of habits and styles; they assumed the role of girder for the
memories of their time.
the dawn of thought, when fable blended with reality, on a certain day on
the heights of Mount Pieria, in the Greek region of Thessaly, Mnemosyne,
the goddess of Memory, gave birth to a daughter named Clio, the muse of
History. In Greek Olympian mythology, the genetic link between the goddess
and the muse was symbolic of the relationship between Memory and History -
though, as in life, this blood bond did not always prevent
misunderstandings between the two.
memory is "intrinsic to places and landscapes," asserts French
historian François Dosse. It is "an instrument that connects us,
that forms our individual and collective identity... Memory, in the
presence of those who are absent, will always be where past meets the
present in the difficult dialogue between the deceased and the
living." Previously Dosse had stressed that "all institutions
have a memory of their own - a reconstruction of history that is never
simply a regression into the past, but instead the source of their
are joined by landscapes, whether they be natural or urban, and this
contributes to establishing the identity we associate with cities and
regions. When a landscape is lost, a part of our social fabric comes
undone - but it lives on in memory, preserved by the illustrations and
photographs that have been disseminated through postcards, a form of
communication that was more effective than any other of its time.
as the guardians of memories, postcards should never be a mere source of
nostalgia. Without a doubt it is gratifying to reminisce about what no
longer exists in our cities and daily lives, or to recall celebrated
events and the years gone by, but postcards are incontestable historical
documents and, as such, should also be a source of research,
interpretation, and interrogation. Uniting these two points of view is not
only possible, it is rewarding.
this book, the result of a discerning and difficult selection of
postcards, the authors have continued their effort to build the collective
memory of Brazil, allowing our thoughts to pass "from what is no
longer to what shall be, from what we remember to what we foresee."
(G. Papini). Antique postcards are "points of convergence between the
past and the present," just as today’s postcards will connect the
present and the future. It is the job of collectors today to preserve
postcards, in the tradition of their predecessors, whose peaceful mission
has allowed this book to enter the memory of an era so important in the
development of Brazil.
de Oliveira Belchior
Marco Antônio de Moraes. "Tudo Era Tão Bom, Tão Gostoso...":
Postais a Mário de Andrade.
São Paulo: Hucitec/Edusp, p. 16-17.
(2) Jacques Le Goff. História e Memória. Campinas: Unicamp, 1990, p.
(3) Verônica Pimenta Velloso, Cartões-Postais: Fragmentos da Memória
Familiar. Unpublished thesis.
Rio de Janeiro: Universidade do Rio de Janeiro,
1999. (4)François Dosse. A História à Prova do Tempo.
São Paulo: Unesp, 1993, p. 34-35.