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A Portrait of Brazilian Cities


Hardback, 9x13 inches (closed). 248
pages, 624 images (couché, 4 colous).
R$ 148,00. English and portuguese.


A Portrait of Brazilian Cities

Now 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.

This 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.

Brazil’s 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:

The 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.

The 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 missing it.

A 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.

Many such moments are filed away in my mind, worthy of becoming postcards if this were possible.

Less 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.

In 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.

Readers 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 southwestern frontier.

We 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.

Many 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.

It 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.

And 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 remain considerable.

João Emilio Gerodetti


The 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.

Since 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 change.

In 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 preserved.

Postcards 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.

Postcards 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:

The 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.

Postcards 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.

Carlos Cornejo


João 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 Brazil.

Dictionaries 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.

In 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.

Illustrated 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.

Often 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.

The 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)

Postal 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.

At 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.

Collective 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 identity."(4)

Generations 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.

Understood 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.

In 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.

Elysio de Oliveira Belchior

(1) 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. 466.
(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.




Desenvolvido por:
MR Informática 2002