Otto Stupakoff and Fashion Photography: His Studio

Instituto Moreira Salles

Part 3 (final) - Otto's Studio 

Even in the midst of his constant comings and goings—and despite his clear preference for shooting outdoors, where the greater need to improvise in the face of the unpredictable led him to produce work that was broader and richer—Otto still ended up having several studios. He was very productive in all of them, to some extent, but they were all essentially set up as the antithesis of a formal studio. Even his first one in Porto Alegre, which was actually built as a studio, contained features of a non-studio. All the buildings he designed, built, or lived in throughout his life were always attempts to turn the studio into a comfortable and welcoming place, more like an artist's atelier than a set-up that was suitable for his work.                                Extract from a text by Bob Wolfenson for the exhibition (November 2016)                   

The myriad of objects and works of art found in his working environments portrayed a mind brimming with ideas, testament to his multifaceted interests. Otto found refuge in these spaces and used them as a melting pot for his ideas and as a place to practice his skills, both as a portrait and advertising photographer, and as a designer of clever collages. These highly seductive spaces were also places for entertaining his friends, fellow artists, and intellectuals.

Feminine Beauty
Otto's best pictures of nudes and feminine beauty tended to be uncommissioned photos of women with whom he had a close emotional relationship. With his unique and sensual vision, he photographed them in sessions at his studios or home, trying to exhaust every last possibility from the meeting between photographer and model to create a visceral work of art. Otto found his search for beauty to be best expressed in the female face and body, and this idea permeated his work throughout his entire career. In October 1980, the author Jorge Amado, who knew Otto well and was a great admirer of his work, wrote: "We are witnesses to the artist's unremitting persistence, to the mind that seeks the very limits of beauty. This is how real creative works are made, and Otto, with his love of life, carried that ultimate light, the most beautiful and true light, in his heart."

"His fashion photos, unlike those by some of the famous studio photographers of the day, such as the North Americans Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, were almost always shot on location, whether indoors or out. Ultimately, for him, the atelier or studio was often a safe haven—an enclosed space where he was safe from the vagaries of the weather, from the unpredictability inherent in shooting outdoors, and from the clash with life in the outside world. But, above all, it offered him a stage for his storytelling and sketches where he could pursue his own personal and varied drama." Extract from The Photographer's Blank Page

"(...) the studio, with its four walls offering infinite backgrounds, could not contain him; it could not hold his flamboyant and adventurous personality. His blank sheet could only be filled by this planet of ours, captured by an eye obsessed with the search for beauty, which he always claimed to pursue. It is for this reason that he traveled the world." Extract from The Photographer's Blank Page

In late 1967 and early 1968, during the Vietnam War, Otto spent time photographing Saigon (current city of  Ho Chi Minh) extensively, just two weeks before the Tet Offensive, which would cause hundreds of deaths, However he captured a Saigon with its streets full of life, offering a unique perspective on the city's pulse and the beauty of Vietnamese women.
Between 1976 and 1980, upon his return to Brazil, Otto produced iconic pictures such as an original series of nudes, shot in 1978 at his home in Joatinga, in Rio de Janeiro, and photographs for special editions of Vogue Brazil, such as the one dedicated to the famous brazilian model Xuxa. It was, however, a disappointing time for him in terms of opportunities. In 1981, he decided to move permanently to New York, where he embarked on an intensive period of work throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He took photographs for magazines and worked on projects such as the 1992 book "Art to Wear," by Julie Schafler Dale, and a 1994 documentary on the victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia for the Cambodia Trust's humanitarian fund. He also traveled extensively around the world, including four trips to the Arctic.

Among his specials for Vogue magazine, Otto did a photo shoot in Bahia based on the world of Jorge Amado, which was published in 1978.

Otto Photographing Pierre Verger (1978)

Around the turn of the millennium, Otto Stupakoff slowly started to get rid of his possessions and distance himself from those close to him, opting to live in voluntary exile in Thailand and at various addresses in the United States. This isolation was interrupted by insistent overtures from Fermando Lazlo and Bob Wolfenson. These two photographers from a later generation sought him out in an attempt to promote his career and publicize his work, which had been almost forgotten in Brazil by then. It was only in 2005 that he made the permanent move back to São Paulo, where he was honored with the "Fashion without Borders" exhibition, organized and curated by Wolfenson with the help of Lazlo as part of São Paulo Fashion Week. The show provokes the definitive return of Stupakoff to his motherland.

In 2006, Cosac and Naify launched the first retrospective book of his work, entitled simply "Otto Stupakoff." In 2008, his work from 1955 to 2005 - around 16,000 negatives- was added to the Moreira Salles Institute's (IMS) photographic collection. Working in partnership with Otto Stupakoff, the IMS then went on to produce an exhibit of his photographs that opened in Rio de Janeiro in February 2009, before being shown at the Institute's cultural centers around the country. In 2009 the IMS also produced and launched the book "Sequências." Otto Stupakoff died on April 22, 2009.

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 FASHION/IMS Edition: Rachel Rezende

Continue your visit in:
Part 1: Otto Stupakoff and Fashion Photography: The Early Days
Part 2: Otto Stupakoff and Fashion Photography: His International Career

Research: Joanna Balabram and Rachel Rezende
IMS Photography Coordinator: Sergio Burgi

Video editing for the section "The early days of fashion photography in Brazil": Laura Liuzzi Caption translation: Joanna Balabram

The content of this collection was edited based on the exhibition texts.

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.
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