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Theoretical Papers

Vol. 4 No. 1 (2019): Visual Spaces of Change: Unveiling the Publicness of Urban Space through Photography and Image

Peter Scheier and Marcel Gautherot: Brasília Lyric and Epic




Brasília was built from scratch in three and a half years, a rare occasion that attracted the attention of numerous photographers. Among them were Peter Scheier (1908-1979), a German Jew who fled the Nazis and settled in Brazil in 1937, and Marcel Gautherot (1910-1996), a French photographer commissioned by architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) to render his buildings. Gautherot’s images circulated nationally and internationally, profoundly shaping the visual representation of the event as they advocated for the city’s daring buildings. His photographs present the new capital as a monumental symbol of a grandiose national future built by strenuous work. The paper compares Scheier’s and Gautherot’s versions of the construction of Brasília, and localizes their documentation in relation to other cultural objects such as films and music that responded to the event. Especially relevant to this analysis is the documentary film Conterrâneos Velhos de Guerra, by Vladimir Carvalho, which strongly denounced the working conditions of Brasília. The examination concludes that both those who praised and those who denounced the endeavor resorted to an epic narrative centered around the feats of a hero: the candango, the migrant from the Northeastern States who built Niemeyer’s modernist architecture. Scheier’s coverage, however, deviates from the prevalent epic genre as his version of Brasília’s early days is lyrical rather than epic, open to individual emotions and intimate experiences. The paper proposes that his pictures of the budding city nevertheless suggest a sense of impending doom that blurs the line between project and ruin, an aspect that relates to his condition as an immigrant.