Rodrigo Oliveira on joy as an act of resistance

Rodrigo Oliveira on joy as an act of resistance

Rodrigo Oliveira got his start in photography, documenting the Black LGBTQIA+ community living in the peripheries of Rio Di Janerio. His practice, rooted in tender portraiture and nuanced storytelling, is focused on empowering marginalised groups and dismantling harmful misrepresentations as a form of social resistance. Here, he tells Capture about collaboration, portraiture and why creating a sustainable practice is so important.

Where did you grow up, and how did it inform your creativity?

I grew up on the coast in Barra-de Guaratiba, in the Western Zone of Rio de Janeiro. It's part of the city's periphery and looks like a paradise lost in time. You have a view of the ocean everywhere you stand in the town. Living here is to be in a bubble, sheltered from the craziness in the city. I lived here for twenty-four years, then moved overseas and returned in 2019. I haven't left since. I have a different relationship with the town now. Growing up, I didn‘t like feeling so sheltered and away from everything, but now I value the quality of life here. It's a small community, and life is very simple. There is no danger or noise, and everyone knows each other. Rio is a harmonic chaos; there's always a lot happening, but it's very laid back here - a totally different pace. I now understand the culture of the people and know why they live their lives the way they do. I no longer feel alienated from that. I have that sense of belonging.

Right now, I'm making a lot of work here and able to look at the city from a cultural perspective. For my Capture NTF project, I've captured images from my daily life here, and I'm excited for all to see them.

Notions of territory are an essential theme in your practice. Why is this so important for you?

Territory is important to me because my elders always told me never to be ashamed of where we come from and how hard it took to get where we wanted in life. My family have lived in Barra-de Guaratiba for generations. When the enslaved people were freed in 1888, they could fence and claim their territory, which is what my whole family did. They continued to live around the hillside.

My work is also influenced by the divisions that the city of Rio has. It's divided into separate geographical zones (West, North, South and Centre), which also determines the culture and costumes of people in these specific areas. I spent a lot of time transiting between these different areas.

It is a time when reaffirmation that our lives matter is strongly needed.

Diego Santos/ Rodrigo Oliveira

Imersão/ Rodrigo Oliveira

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Copyright is an important issue, and I like how Capture helps support artists in monitoring the usage of their work.

You are new to Web3 and NFTs. What’s exciting you about this new avenue for your work?

Web3 feels progressive, and I want to get on board with NFTs and try new things. Copyright is an important issue, and I like how Capture helps support artists in monitoring the usage of their work. It will be interesting to track my work and see how people use it.

What drew you to portraiture?

Portraiture, for me, is about connecting with the subject. That's why I like working with people I know. If I don't know a sitter, I spend time getting to know them first before we shoot. They must know they are safe with me and that they can let go and be who they want to be once people know that the barrier of the camera can be broken down and they can be real.

Your project Carioca, Negro & Queer launched your career - a powerful portrait series about intersectional identities that foregrounds joy as an act of resistance. Tell us about the concept of the shoot.

Carioca, Negro & Queer aims to deconstruct marginalised narratives built around Black Queer bodies, focusing on those living in favelas and the peripheries in Rio de Janeiro's metropolitan area. The election of the current president, Jair Bolsonaro, has represented a large threat to the safety and well-being of these communities with overt anti-black and anti-LGBTQ+  necropolitics targeting the lower income class. It is a time when reaffirmation that our lives matter is strongly needed. With that in mind, this project celebrates black queer culture. It illustrates our strength, our passions and our resilience with the hope of reminding ourselves that we do have the power to stand up and fight back.

Your new body of work, Escapism, is about the right to dream - a powerful sentiment in our complex world. How did this begin?

Escapism is a project I worked on in collaboration with a very talented creative director, Rafaela Pinah. She is a Black Trans woman from the peripheries of Rio as well. We have a lot in common regarding our intention to work with underprivileged people and marginalised communities. The concept for the shoot was about how the right to rest and be free is revolutionary. We wanted to explore the idea of escaping the craziness of the city and everything that gives your stress and anxiety. For many Black people, home is a shelter - a way to protect yourself from everything. We shot in my hometown and in my home, which is my sanctuary. I live a very isolated life in the middle of a forest.

Rafaela pulled many cultural elements together, from Brazilian styling to the things people use to decorate their homes. It's a hybrid of fashion and documentary, and our approaches complement each other. We cast the project from our community through a mix of street casting and people we had worked with before. It's a body of work I'm super proud of.

Using your photo practice as a platform to give back to your community is an integral part of your work - how has this evolved now you are making more commercial work?

In the beginning, I was doing a lot of personal work. Everything I made was close to my heart. I was very focused on the Black LGBTQIA+  community that I felt needed new forms of representation. Recently my work has become more commercial, but I continue to work with the same talent allowing my campaigns to support individuals and give back to the community.

You are in a really exciting phase of your career right now. How do you feel about the future?

My work life has changed so much since the pandemic. It's been a process to digest everything. I'm living the life I've always dreamed of, and everything has finally come together, and I can make a living out of the thing I love.

Know more about Rodrigo Oliveira

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Visit Rodrigo Oliveira exhibition on Numberverse to learn more about the stories behind each photo.

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