Otto Stupakoff and Fashion Photography: The Early Days

Instituto Moreira Salles

 Part 1: The Early Days of Fashion Photography in Brazil

Pioneer of fashion photography in Brazil, Otto Stupakoff was one of the Brazilian photographers with great international projection. Besides of fashion editorials and celebrities portraits produced for magazines such as Haper's Bazaar, Life, Esquire, Glamour, Look and Vogue, Stupakoff, who had his more productive career living in New York and Paris, left least known collections of portraits, nudes, instant street photos, travel photographies of his several trips around the world and experimentations in the limit of the Abstractionism. Otto Stupakoff began taking photographs at the age of eight with a camera given to him by his father. Between 1953 and 1954 he studied photography and art in the United States. In 1955 he returned to Brazil, and he planned and built his first studio in Porto Alegre, where he lived with his family. In 1956, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, staying for two years and producing some major pieces of work, such as album covers for some of the greats of Brazilian popular music.During his time in Rio, he would also have his first individual exhibition (he held an historic exhibition of his photographs and collages at the Petite Galerie in São Paulo in February 1963). At the end of 1958 he settled in São Paulo and built a hangar-studio, which he used to establish himself as a photographer for large advertising campaigns. In the 1950s the Brazilian fashion market was still new and Otto, looking for role models and inspired by what he saw in magazines in the libraries at the US and French consulates, dreamed of creating photographs of women that were as sublime as "still-life paintings." On a trip to Rio he staged his first fashion shoot with the model Duda Cavalcanti. Completely original and regarded as ground-breaking when they were taken at the dawn of the 1960s, these photos revealed his search for the freedom, imagination, and beauty that would be a feature of his work throughout his career.
In May 1953, at the age of 17, Otto traveled to the United States to study at the ArtCenter School in Los Angeles (now the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California). At the same time, he also took classes at the California School of Arts in San Francisco with teachers such as Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Lisette Model, and Nancy and Beaumont Newhall. At this time, California was home to some of the big names in photography; Otto visited Edward Weston in Carmel (CA) and became friends with Carmen Miranda while he was working for Manchete magazine in Hollywood. He also had his first passionate love affair with a fellow student.

Otto returned to Brazil in early 1955 and set about planning and building his first photography studio at the family home on the outskirts of Porto Alegre. This space synthesized his vision, his anxieties, and his aspirations as a young artist and photographer searching for his own creative path.

In 1956 Otto moved to work in Rio de Janeiro. This was a successful period in his life, with the publication of some of his photographic work and his Porto Alegre studio project in the prestigious architecture magazine Módulo, edited by Oscar Niemeyer; an individual exhibition at the Oca gallery run by the designer Sergio Bernardes; and a commission by André Midani to photograph the cover for Dorival Caymmi's first LP for the Odeon record label.

At the end of 1957 Otto moved to São Paulo and married Catherine J. J. De Wit, with whom he would have 4 children (Ian, 1959, Victor, 1961, Catherine, 1963 and Tânia, 1965). During his time in São Paulo, he become closely involved with the local art scene and the avant-gardes, especially the Magic Realism movement led by Wesley Duke Lee. This group sometimes met at Otto's studio and it had a direct influence on his work.

His First Steps into Fashion Photography: São Paulo, 1958–65
Otto set himself up in a studio at Rua Frei Caneca No. 1348 and devoted his energies to big advertising campaigns, including one for the emerging automobile industry. Advertising did not, however, divert him from his creative ambitions, although it did pave the way for him to develop his own "language" of fashion photography.

Video shown in the exhibition space at "Otto Stupakoff: Beauty and Anxiety" 4'25"

During a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Otto Stupakoff took what he claimed was the first original fashion photograph ever taken in Brazil. In reference to his photo of the model Duda Cavalcanti, he told this story: "I had never seen a fashion photo published in Brazil until I took that first one. I asked Dener (Pamplona, the stylist) to lend me an outfit. I packed it in my suitcase and jumped on a bus to Rio de Janeiro. Once there, I met up with my lover, Duda Cavalcanti, and we went to the home of my friend, the painter and samba singer Heitor dos Prazeres. He lived in an art-nouveau house and I got Duda to pose on his terrace wearing the dress Dener had made. It was a white and navy dress. That day, on the terrace of Heitor's house with Duda wearing Dener, the first ever Brazilian fashion photo was taken. I took the photo for myself and it was never published." The photo, which Otto described in this interview but which has never been found, is represented by this other picture with his muse, Duda Cavalcanti.

As his relationship with the agency Standard Propaganda grew stronger (he would continue working with them until 1964), Otto photographed major campaigns for Rhodia, and he and his contemporaries launched a new era for fashion editorials in Brazil as photographs replaced illustrations.

His partnership with Rhodia culminated in the publication of a 24-page supplement entitled "Fashionable Celebrities for Winter 1961" for Manchete magazine. This was the biggest fashion supplement that had ever been published in Brazil, and the pictures of celebrities including Tom Jobim, Jorge Amado, Oscar Niemeyer, Manabu Mabe, and Millôr Fernandes with the top models of the day had a huge impact.

His photos for Rhodia also appeared in the news magazine "O Cruzeiro," and women's magazines "Jóia" and "Claudia," with the latter having been launched in 1961 as Brazil's first women's magazine.

 In January 1965, to commemorate the city's 400th anniversary, Jóia published "Women, Scenery, and Gafieira: The Wonders of Rio de Janeiro by Otto Stupakoff," featuring photos taken in 1964 of Duda Cavalcanti, known as "the first girl from Ipanema", once again posing at the home of Heitor dos Prazeres.   
Credits: Story

FASHION/IMS - from the Otto Stupakoff exhibition "Beauty and Anxiety": Instituto Moreira Salles Rio de Janeiro from December 13, 2016 through April 16, 2017.
Curation: Sergio Burgi and Bob Wolfenson

Continue your visit in:
Part 2: Otto Stupakoff and Fashion Photography: His International Career
Part 3: Otto Stupakoff and Fashion Photography: His Studio

The video for this section was edited by Laura Liuzzi for the show's exhibition space. Follow this link to see a documentary about Stupakoff's relationship with the visual arts:

Credits: All media
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