Lambe-lambe:  The Street Photographers in São Paulo in 1970s

Museu da Imagem e do Som

The starting point for this exhibition was recovering some of the first pieces in the MIS’s collection. Documentation of street photographers working in the early 1970s composes this selection, elaborated by two students. It is the record of a trade that was already vanishing by then and is nowadays part of São Paulo’s memory.

The lambe-lambes [literally “lick-licks,” as those street photographers were nicknamed], appeared in the city in the early 1900s. These photographers used cameras with attached labs, allowing them to instantly develop photos taken in gardens and squares. They were most prosperous between the 1920s and ’50s, however, due to urban transformation and more widespread access to photography, in the early 1970s they were already rare, picturesque characters. MIS emerged exactly at that time. Created in 1970 from a project by Francisco de Almeida Salles, Paulo Emílio Sales Gomes, and Rudá de Andrade, the museum aimed at functioning as a documentation and preservation center for the city’s oral and visual memory. Aware of research carried out by the institution, and the social and cultural relevance of the lambe-lambes within the urban landscape, students Marcio Mazza and José Teixeira set themselves to document these photographers’ daily activities. For more than a year, they roamed the city and completed an oral and photographic survey that is today preserved as part of the museum’s collection. As it was expected, the lambe-lambes disappeared unnoticed, adding to so many other extinctions that happen every day. Recovering this collection is, therefore, a way of keeping alive an activity that was forgotten by so many people, and that, among other things, establishes a direct relationship with the city and its transformations. Beyond that, recovering this survey is also a way of shedding light on MIS’s collection and history, restoring the institution’s documental character and its role in keeping São Paulo’s memory alive.  

Photographers discuss their first places of work, their daily lives, and their famous clients. Peinado explains that Dom Pedro Park was the place with the most demand in the 1950s, the peak of the profession.

 There are many hypotheses regarding the nickname lambe-lambe (literally, “lick-lick”). One of them says it emerged at the time when glass plates were used to make the negatives, and they had to be licked to know which was the side containing the photographic emulsion.Another version accounts to the fact that the photographers would lick the envelope withthe pictures to seal them.During MIS’s survey, the lambe-lambes said they considered the nickname pejorative andthat they preferred to be called “instant photographers.”

Manoel Marques and Miguel Peinado was some of the first street photographers in the city, and they were already retired by the time of the MIS's survey.

Photographers discuss their dynamics and their personal connection between colleagues and the reason for the nickname “lambe-lambe” for the bellows camera.

The photographers
Most lambe-lambes were anonymous photographers, of simple origin. The profession was at its peak between the 1920s and the 1950s, when the elite frequented the city’s squares. Thanks to the sale of pictures, they became proprietors of small pieces of real estate in peripheral districts in the capital

Photographers discuss their most common works: postcards and document photographs, their money achievements, the challenges in learning the job, and the profession’s decline.

The Garden Machine
The lambe-lambes’ equipment was simultaneously camera and laboratory, and became known as “garden machine,” as the whole process was conducted on open air. Their origin is controversial. Some photographers say the machine was invented in Brazil by Italian Francisco Bernardi. Others affirm it was imported from Europe and perfected here. Actually, most machines used by the lambe-lambes in the 1970s were produced by the Bernardi brand. Bernardi was a photographer and manufacturer of photographic accessories in Bologna and immigrated to Brazil. He settled in São Paulo, and as he often traveled to the state’s countryside, he created a more practical, instantaneous photographic process. The Bernardi model, as it was known, was manufactured until the late 1930s, when the family decided to abandon the industry. The Bernardis were also known for inventing a machine to dry manioc.

Black hood
Red filter
Paper and film supply
Film carrier
Unpolished glass
Development tank
Fixation tank
Shutter release

Photographer José Garcia Jaime - Clic

Photographer & Client
Until the 1950s, pictures in the shape of postcards predominated. Immigrant families and couples would send their portraits to relatives, usually dressed in their best attire. Later, lambe-lambes would take more and more document photos. Introverted and even aloof, they did not seek clients; instead, they waited for someone to summon them. Among their accessories, they had a chair, a screen for document photos, and a suit, a tie and a mirror, to be used in case their clients were not prepared.

Lambe-lambe original photos belonging to the collection of Marcio Mazza, one of the researchers responsible for the collection produced in the 1970s

The Photographer and the City
The lambe-lambes were witnesses of the city’s transformations and of the socioeconomic changes in the profile of people who enjoyed public spaces. Their work reflected urban activities: in leisure areas, they portrayed families on postcards; near civil service centers, they would take photographs for documents. The photographers paid attention in order not to use their peers’ settings, and some spots were favored over others. When asked, they said that, at Ramos de Azevedo Square, people liked to pose with cats on their laps. The fountain of wishes, alluding to the Fontana di Trevi, in Rome, Italy, also attracted many clients. Other common landscapes were the Chá Viaduct and the Luz Garden, where the best spots were next to a fig tree, to Giuseppe Garibaldi’s statue, or to the fountain.

Photographers talk about rotation between the best work sites. That highlight the importance of the Peinado family for the profession in the city. They mention a few camera manufacturers.

José Teixeira, one of the researchers responsible for the collection produced in the 1970s

The Profession’s Decline
Between the 1950s and ’70s, photographic cameras became more accessible, and new leisure options appeared, causing changes in the photographers’ profession. The aristocracy and the middle class no longer visited squares, and a new clientele emerged, one with less money to spend.In order to adapt, the photographers had to make their products cheaper and offer smaller postcards. They started to produce photos for documents. With this change, the “artist” photographers, as they were previously known, started to be considered itinerant photographers.In the early 1970s, there were no young lambe-lambes, and the veterans believed that the activity would end after their death. Today, the term lambe-lambe is associated to posters posted on the city’s walls, and few remember the street photographers, ubiquitous characters in São Paulo’s squares in the first half of the past century.
MIS and the Collection
The Museu da Imagem e do Som was created amidst the military regime in Brazil, in May 1970. It was a visionary project devised by Francisco de Almeida Salles, Paulo Emílio Sales Gomes, and Rudá de Andrade. During the first years, MIS’s aim was to highlight the city’s oral and visual memory, and to record forgotten or vanishing characters and places.In 1973, two students at the University of São Paulo — José Teixeira and Marcio Mazza — documented the daily lives and techniques of the lambe-lambe photographers in the city, for the museum. At the time, the profession was vanishing, and there was almost no published material on the subject.MIS’s collection comprises more than two thousand images among negatives, black-and-white copies, and chromes. There are also audio recordings with the photographers’ testimonies and an original “Centenário”-model camera. On the occasion of the research carried out to prepare the current exhibition, Marcio Mazza complemented the collection with original documents as well as negatives, contact sheets, and print copies.
Credits: Story


Governador do Estado de São Paulo São Paulo Governor of the State
Márcio França

Secretário de Estado da Cultura Head of São Paulo State Secretary of Culture
Romildo Campello

Coordenadora da Unidade de Preservação do Patrimônio Museológico Coordinator of the Museum Heritage Conservation Division
Regina Ponte


Conselho de Administração Administration Board

Presidente Chairman
Antônio Hermann

Vice-Presidente Vice Chairman
Marcello Hallake

Conselheiros Board Members
Mauro Andre Mendes Finatti, Renata Letícia, Rosa Amélia de Oliveira Penna Marques Moreira

Conselho Consultivo Advisory Board

Conselheiros Consultivos Consulting Board Members
Cecília Ribeiro, James Sinclair, Max Perlingeiro, Nilton Guedes


Diretor de Gestão e Finanças Management and Finance Director
Jacques Kann

Diretora Cultural Cultural Director
Isa Castro

Assessora para Assuntos Institucionais Institutional Affairs Consultant
Solange Moscato


Curadoria Curator
Isabella Lenzi

Curadora Assistente Assistant Curator
Juliana Caffé

Curadoria Exposição Virtual Virtual Exhibition Curator
Renata Tsuchiya

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google