Between 1950 and 1951, researchers coordinated by anthropologist Charles Wagley, from Columbia University, Thales de Azevedo, from the University of Bahia, and Luiz de Aguiar da Costa Pinto, from the University of Brazil (current UFRJ), carried out field studies in three communities to understand the economic, political, cultural and psychological factors that influenced race relations.
The project valued the community studies as a way of addressing complex social situations, matching empirical investigation with interpretative theories. Photography had a special role amongst the different research tools. During the visits to the villages, photographs of men and women considered white, mulatto, black or mixed-race were shown to the inhabitants, who were asked to select those which showed “most, less, or least of a given attribute.” The survey chose six attributes – wealth, beauty, intelligence, religiosity, honesty, and fitness for the job – and analyzed the results. They also asked standard questions: “Would you accept this person as a neighbor?” “Would you invite this person to dinner?” “Would you accept this person as a brother or sister-in-law?” The results of the research were published under the title Race and Class in Rural Brazil: a UNESCOstudy (1952). While the book did not give examples of the images used by the researchers, it did include some photographs taken by Pierre Verger.
With the book in his hands, Jonathas de Andrade walked the streets of various Brazilian cities photographing people of different types in all sort of poses, some spontaneous, others posed. Between 2016 and 2017, he set up his portable studio in São Paulo, Maranhão, and Bahia, and produced hundreds of portrait photographs, ranging from full body shots to 3×4s. The portraits were then grouped and printed on cheap cardboard, of the type used by stores to display full-sized images of celebrities and products. An extensive line of words extracted from the research are stitching the work’s perimeter.