Lens of Memory – The Photography of Alberto de Sampaio

This exhibition reveals the life and work of an ordinary man, an avid imagery dilettante, who created an incredible memoir deeply influenced by photography and cinema. His photographic work began at the end of the nineteenth century, and for over forty years, Alberto Sampaio was an amateur. He wrote poetry and conceived paintings, an artistic soul who was always connected to the modernity and the antagonism arising from the social changes of his time. The world was moving fast, and so was technology. He felt the need to regain something he had lost. Photography, his first passion, served as an artifact able to please such paradox: pure amusement, the magic of creation as an intellectual delight, and finally, learning that images technically produced addressed memorialistic purposes able to seduce those who spent long hours in their labs, surrounded by chemicals and precision devices.

Alberto de Sampaio was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1870, spending most of his life in Petropólis. His photographs, like an iconographic narrative, lead us to postcards, illustrated magazines, and the early stages of cinema. An era of abundance and excesses had begun, bringing amateur photographers to actively participate in this profuse, fast moving ambiance.

There were those who founded photo clubs, the first photo societies formally put together in Brazil; there were others who fell in love by the versatility provided by Kodak cameras; distinct lines of thought that could coexist under specific circumstances, but not according to Alberto de Sampaio. Throughout his active years, the lawyer by training cultivated an interest in a wide variety of subjects. His photography is the portrait of an era plenty of possibilities; images that expose subjective intimacies. His photographic memoir invites us into his home, allowing us to open up the windows to see light through small cracks, while immersed in materiality converted into an object. Yet, the presupposed natural set up and restrained gestures were slowly replaced by imprecise takes, simple characters of a memoir. Over the years, the erudite amateur became a mere apprentice of memorialistic records.

The same path is noticed on the photographs of the city he selected as his own urban theme: Rio de Janeiro and its ambivalent modernity during Mayor Pereira Passos Urban Reform, between 1902 and 1906. Central Avenue (Avenida Central) has been revealed by many prestigious Brazilian professional photographers. Alberto de Sampaio, however, preferred not to embellish new scenarios. Instead, he exposed the slow reconstruction of Rio de Janeiro and the birth of a new metropolis through building facades being refurbished according to European standards.

From 1927 to 1930, his passion for photography gave room to images in motion. City memoirs were converted into moving scenes, captured by a 16mm camera; a device capable of blending time passages, past could become present through an apotheosis of interrupted images, a visual narrative that would impregnate and fascinate the minds of the twentieth century.

  • São Paulo 18.09.2015 a 01.11.2015 – Instituto Tomie Ohtake
  • Rio de Janeiro 08.10.2016 a 04.12.2016 – Centro Cultural Correios


  • Adriana Martins Perreira
General Coordination
  • Rodolfo de Athayde
  • Ania Rodríguez
Project Management
  • Jennifer McLaughlin
Install Coordination
  • Karen Ituarte
Executive Assistant
  • Daniele Oliveira
  • Lisiany Mayão