Brazil 2014 by Colin Steel


Brazil 2014

by Colin Steel – His Website is HERE


Given that Brazil is one of the worlds most famous footballing countries and the massive amount of media attention focused on this years World Cup there, I thought it might be interesting to look at another aspect of this fascinating country by experiencing life in the more rural areas. I also want to spin in some thoughts that I have been having for a while on my motivation to photograph, choice of subject matter and the development of photographic style.


I have only visited Brazil once and somehow I was not attracted to the main cities and wanted to see for myself what the less publicised Brazil looked like. For an outsider like me I had two cliches of Brazil in my head, firstly the frantic, carnavalistic Rio and of course the jungles of the Amazon with its indigenous tribes. As I said, somehow I wanted to have a look at what I thought would be the more normal but rural Brazil so I headed to Cachoeira in North East Brazil via the entry city of Salvador de Bahia. Armed with my trusty Fuji X20 and a newly purchased Ricoh GR I started to photograph and this is where it got really interesting for me.


Unbeknown to me, this area of Brazil had historically been a major location for slave trading and I am sure I read somewhere that more slaves were landed here than in North America but either way, there is a massive African cultural influence that is apparent in many aspects of life here from cuisine to religion. It was this religious aspect that made the subsequent photographs interesting for me without consciously realising it at the time.


I quickly discovered that there was a local religion that I know very little about called Candomble and as best as I can understand it, its a blend of traditional African beliefs and ceremony fused with some Christian elements. The religion is not based on scripts and it appeared to me to be kept alive through chants and dance. I had the very good fortune to be allowed to attend part of a Candomble event and witness the rituals first hand. I must say that despite their concern for privacy (and rightly so) the people I met at the hall were very warm to me although we could not understand each others language very well. I am sure that Candomble has been photographed many times and probably more eloquently than my shots so there is nothing knew in this but I wanted to try explain how the experience shaped how and what I shot for the rest of my stay.


Whether my interpretation of the Candomble religion is correct or not, it did trigger some thinking in me that I feel is fundamentally important and I wanted to try to share it here. What I found was that the dances and chants had a very spiritual side to them and I was also asked by the people there not to touch anything I came across as it might be there for a purpose to guide spirits. I began to notice many things like animal parts on the ground and somehow I became more aware and sensitised to my surroundings. Why is this important from a photographic point of view? Well I began to photograph things that I would previously have passed by and at the same time I began to ignore subjects that I would recently have photographed because I thought that it might have proved attractive and that other people might have been impressed by. This meant that I was photographing from within myself and only shooting subjects and scenes that had real emotional meaning to me personally regardless of what others may think of them.


As you can imagine this is pretty challenging to do but I forced myself to not go for shots where I felt no internal emotional or spiritual association and found that I became immersed at times in my own world, seeing things very differently from my previous photographic eye.


Having started like many photographers obsessed by the technicalities of the art and worrying about sharpness, composition and so on its very difficult to snap out of that way of thinking but I now firmly believe that if you are really serious about using photography as a medium to express yourself and the depth behind our extraordinary lives you have to either let go of the formal concepts or at least use them only at the subconscious level. If you are able to allow yourself to be drawn to things that you need not understand but somehow they trigger an internal stimuli, notion or recognition then you can make your photography personal and I think that is the ultimate step in both satisfaction and making your photography unique to you. In some sense every photograph you take then is actually a capture of yourself. Surely that is a laudable objective.


When I got myself into this frame of mind I found quite quickly that my photographs became more content dominant. I now believe this to be a very good thing and almost a sure sign that what you are shooting is personal to you in some way. That is not to say that the photographs do not have the other elements of light and form but somehow, as I am sure I remember Roger Ballen saying somewhere, the content becomes the form. To try to explain this a little, in the photo of the dog above, its the light that makes it work but it was the dog that attracted me first and I felt that he had something to say that could not be seen by sitting him down and snapping him. For me there is a real mystery to life and sometimes we have to leave our rational brains behind to reveal other sensory and spiritual aspects.


I guess going back to the beginning of mankind there are certain deep rooted emotions, fears, loves, desires and terrors that are within us all and they can be triggered in many different ways by sounds, smells, light and so on. What the Brazilian experience has done for me is sensitised me to a way of looking for times when I personally feel a need to respond to something by either looking more closely at it it or sometimes, as in the previous animal head shot, recoiling from it. This immediately alerts me to the fact that there is something that I need to make sense of for myself.


Quite often you will begin to find that when you shoot personally or privately from within there are relationships between the subjects, shapes and forms that will assist you as a photographer to edit and sequence more powerfully and I certainly found that to be the case for me.


I began to find that I was attracted to photograph something initially because of a simple shape, line or reflection that interested me and when I began to look more closely other combinations and elements would appear.

One thing I want to avoid here is to make this sound mysterious or revelationary because I genuinely don’t think it is and, in fact, in some ways its the opposite. This approach is simple and strips away nearly all of the mystique of the photographic craft by allowing you to be free in how and what you choose to shoot unencumbered by technicalities.


I think by now you should hopefully be getting some understanding of what I find incredibly difficult to put into words. I only know that this set of images is as close as I have ever come to showing myself through the photographic medium and I derive a huge amount of personal satisfaction from that. Its nice, but not important to me if other people like the images. I feel in a way that I have been working towards this for the last year or so but somehow it took the trigger of the Candomble experience to show me how to do it.


One of the nice things I have found about trying to shoot from subconscious instinct and response is that the photos are not at all narrow or constrained to particular subjects or themes and whilst I find myself shooting much less people, my sense of it is that when I do its in a much more sensitive way.

I mentioned at the start the very thorny subject of photographic style and this is something that I have struggled to understand since I began photography around six years ago. I know more and more that I respond to certain photographers and their imagery and less so others. I have also become an avid collector of photo books by the same photographers that I admire and I am beginning to formulate a personal view on style.


I think its reasonable to say that anyones ‘style’ whether they be actor, fashion designer, movie maker, writer or whatever is in some way shaped by their life experiences and the personal influences that they draw on. It seems to me that I am attracted to photographers who place very little importance on anything other than shooting only things that intrinsically interest them. Whether you could say that they have developed completely individual ‘style’ I am not so sure and quite often we identify photographers not by their style but simply through the fact that we know their photographs or by some mannerism that they frequently use. What I am sure of though is that they photograph individualistically and derive their style not from a camera, film, lens or other mannerism but from the fact that they photograph something of themselves in all of their best photographs whether that be their lust, desires, fears, uncertainties or whatever and that is what makes them compelling for me to look at. I often also find the case that they are best at creating bodies of work and, although they might have a few iconic images, its only when you look at a complete compilation that they make most sense and have greatest appeal, hence the importance of the photo book for me.


This takes me back to the earlier point I made that I think if you can shoot from inside then your work becomes more sensible and easier to edit and sequence. I am sure most photographers will agree with me that editing your work is without doubt one of the hardest things to do and we all agonise over the photo we love but that doesn’t fit. Well, while that doesn’t disappear entirely, I have certainly found that despite the diverse subject matter, I can more easily see a continuity in the photos I take and I firmly believe that is because I am responding to internal triggers and trying to search out my spirituality.


Returning then to Brazil, as you can see, I found the country fascinating and once in the countryside an amazing stream of events unfolded and I found the photography very rewarding. As in every rural community in the world that I have visited people that live off the land tend to be warm and kind if treated with respect and that proved to be the case here as we were continually were gifted lovely fresh oranges or a newly rolled cigar.


I think I need to begin to wind this up now as I am in danger of repeating the simple message that I hoped to share in this short article. If anyone wants to see the full set in my choice of sequence they can do so here .


Finally, I want to finish by just saying a little about the opening picture that I feel has a very important role in what I wanted to say here. The photo is of a chameleon who had been caught and was being cooked by some poor local fishermen. Needless to say I found it very sad to see the beautiful creature change unwillingly to the colour of the coals in his death but somehow there was something important for me in this event. I would never have previously stopped to even look at this because I would have been repulsed but that very sensation now made me want to go and take a closer look to see if I could find any meaning in the sad event. I became intrigued by the newspaper that had attached to the lizard in the fire and somehow, even in death there was meaning to this. I don’t think its overly important but the Portuguese words Na Verdade on the paper mean ‘actually …….. ‘ and it did suggest to me something that I can’t fully understand and certainly can’t put into words but that photograph sure speaks to me.



  1. Your philosophy is really showing through in your work. Your thoughts on channeling memories, past, fears, passions and childhood experiences in your work is exactly what I’ve been realizing is essential to good design, art, and photography. It’s what makes personal style real, and not just a fad or imitation. It’s what truly defines your aesthetic. It’s how people recognize your work from millions of other’s.

    What camera did you use most for the black and white Brazil shots?

    • Hi Anna, thanks for your comment, I couldn’t agree more, you are absolutely right.

      I used mainly the Fuji X20 which is the most versatile cam I have ever owned. A few of the shots were with the Ricoh GR which I am now using more and more.

      Thanks again,


  2. Hi Colin,
    seeing the title, with hesitation, I clicked.
    And basically this is the only thing I`d like to chnge – the title. I do not care where you took these shots. Brasil, Paraguay, or M`Gbogo Ongo. I simply like them. They are more on people or graphic side than story telling, but sometimes, i do not care about story. And the thing I regret – these are the only shots on your blog.

  3. I come on this site more or less every day, have a look at the daily inspiration and some I really like, some not so much but these pictures are outstanding. I think I have looked at them 4-5 times over the last 2 days and I have now bookmarked your article to come back again and again. Good pictures can tell a story (at least some say so), but this set goes beyond, it creates an atmosphere, emotions, feelings… Well I guess only a few pictures are woth more than a thoused words, these are…brilliant!

  4. Hey folks, I just wanted to say a quick note of thanks to everyone who had a look and took the time to comment. I have to say that I am a bit taken aback by the encouragement here, this was a very personal set of photos and I thought that they might have been hard for others to relate to.

    Thanks again for all of the comments and views,


  5. Really great work. It’s the kind of thing that makes it seem like you probably spent a very long time there… getting that many really intimate type shots that really capture the feel of the place and just getting that many shots that are real keepers. Too much vacation photography is all about standing on a hill and grabbing a few vistas that are beautiful when you’re at the place, but don’t really translate so well to compelling photographs. You’ve obviously went way, way deeper than that.

    I also like the fact that you’ve captured all of this with just a few compact cameras. The Fuji you’re using would be considered a point and shoot type camera by many, I’d think…. and yet in the right hands even something that has some real limitations can be used to create excellent images. It’s really all about the vision and very little to do with the tools… You certainly don’t need a big heavy DSLR to make compelling images.

    I also like the idea that the work is tied together more by an aesthetic than by a particular range of subject matter. This is a lot harder to achieve, I think and a lot more interesting as far as giving one a feel for the place…

  6. Been following your work since your Nikon V1 days and I’ve loved how your photos have evolved. This is by far the best set. Astounding pics and heartfelt write-up. Just brilliant.

  7. Wow. An outstanding set imbued with a strong and confident style. Just amazing work… and, yes, a true inspiration. Thanks, Colin.

  8. What a wonderful set of images! The commentary was profound and I especially liked the notion of not worrying about producing a set of images around one particular theme, but being inspired by what you find and experience (at least, that is how I interpreted the piece). I think it is all too easy to worry about people-pleasing images, and lose the focus on making images that really reflect one’s emotional state.

    The PP was also very interesting – I half-expected these to be 35mm film images, or from a Leica M Monochrome. It just go to show what can be achieved with whatever tools you have. Bravo!

  9. So can we please stop calling this a “gear oriented” site? Posts like these keep me coming back.

  10. The best article I’ve read in the past year or so since following Steve’s site.

    In case anyone missed it in the article…:-)

    “If you are able to allow yourself to be drawn to things that you need not understand but somehow they trigger an internal stimuli, notion or recognition then you can make your photography personal and I think that is the ultimate step in both satisfaction and making your photography unique to you. In some sense every photograph you take then is actually a capture of yourself. Surely that is a laudable objective.”

    Great work Colin.

  11. Fantastic Pictures Colin! Wonderful eye-opening anarchistic approach to photography. Nothing served on the traditional silver-plate, but everything served for the mind, fantasy and the longing dreamy brain cells. The way photography should be! Challenging and inspiring!

  12. Colin: your work is striking and thematically powerful.

    And it should aptly demonstrate the old adage that it’s the photographer, not the camera, that makes the image. The camera is just a tool. Any camera today past a certain quality threshold is really only limited by its user’s vision.

  13. Wonderful, powerful images. You have great talent that extends far beyond technical ability. Thank you for sharing here!

    • great work brother. let go of what we think we are and just….BE.
      what’s inside will eventually come out. thank you for the gift.

  14. There are some excellent photographs in this set. I am drawn to the child’s silhouette and the “cowboy” boot’s texture. Very rich and compelling. One could say that what you experienced was wander lust. The need to just get up and go with no rigid rules in hand and just see what there is to see. Some people make the context as they work, some find the context after they shoot in the editing process. Both are valid. What these photos mean to you, or us for that matter, will change in time. You will keep getting closer and closer to what you want to say. I think of it as circling a subject and getting closer with each pass. Only you know for sure how close you are about I would say your direction is accurate. Well done.

  15. Everything has been said already Colin. stunning set.

    But im particularly blown by the first image, is that an Iguana lizard with a piece of newspaper inside her or what? cant figure it out

  16. Great article Colin! Never had a chance to see a condomble ritual in Brazil yet, but yes there are many photographic elements that to be captured and seen in this huge country.

  17. Very interesting take, quite different that the typical photo essay. I quite enjoyed the read and the images. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  18. Con, what an incredible set. Your style and sense are evolving and you are emerging with increasing skill, which enables more creative liberty. I am proud of your effort here, and the images are truly spectacular!

  19. This is a fabulous collection Colin. Very inspiring pictures – you have a remarkable individual style that is brought out in all the pictures. Very pseudo documentary and thematic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.