Practitioner: Miguel Rio Branco – Brazil (b.1946)

Brazilian photographer (Magnum associate), painter, and filmmaker, his work has focused on Brazil although he has completed many projects worldwide. His images frequently focus on the grim aspects of life in and around cities, by dramatic use of color and light he creates provocative images and impressions of Latin America. He has published many photobooks with ‘Silentbook (1997)’ included in Martin Parrs, The Photobook: A history Vol II. Released several short films and exhibited his work globally since 1964.

Miguel Rio Branco, 1998

The above image is from the photobook, Miguel Rio Branco: An Aperture Monograph published in 1998. The immediate subject of the image is the dog but the general feel is one of a grimy dystopian city, neglected animals, soulless buildings, dark scudding clouds. There is no cheerful mood found here. The image explores the underside of society and its dark corners, the reality of city life behind the shop fronts, and carefully managed pedestrian areas. More working class periphery rather than inner city, dirty factories, skanky car parks, discarded rubbish, feral animals; capitalism at its finest.

His use of saturated colors and deep shadows creates intimate and complex scenes, while there is a painterly aspect too much of his work. I find the kinds of images he creates difficult to place into any category. Although much of his work hovers around the edges of society and captures the exploited characters that make up this often colorful environment.

Strong colors and puzzling perspectives are an aspect of his craft I would like to explore further in my work and future projects. The dystopian atmosphere that occasionally comes across in some of his more gritty work is of particular interest. Somewhat reminiscent of Bill Brandt in how he captures the confines of the inner city and claustrophobia of cramped working class living conditions. The daily struggle for some is almost tangible.

Miguel Rio Branco, Aperture 1998

A recurring theme is death, whether that is close-up images from street slaughterhouses, butchers wares or dead dogs on the street. Juxtaposed with other stark images of inner city living and slum housing it creates a striking impression. The layout and sequencing of Silent Book is a personal favourite of his work, religious iconography, prostitutes, boxing clubs, death, violence all rolled into one poetic sequence that exposes urban life on the fringe.


COLBERG, Joerg. 2008. ‘Conscientious Extended | A Conversation With Miguel Rio Branco’. Conscientous Extended [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jan 2021].

‘In Photos: Miguel Rio Branco On The Urban Underbelly’. 2019. The Independent [online]. Available at: [accessed 12 Jan 2021].

RIO BRANCO, Miguel. 2021. ‘Dog’. [online]. Available at: Imagesource: [accessed 17 Jan 2021].

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