Retratos Pintados

The Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea is showing Retratos Pintados, a fabulous collection of hand-painted photo images from rural Brazil. These portraits remind me of icons, with these faces of total sincerity and purity unfazed by the vulgarity that surrounds them. And they have the best of both world, the truth of photography and the fantasy of art.

(from the Yossi Milo press release) ...

Since the late 19th century through the 1990s, hand-painted photographic portraits were a common feature in homes in the rural areas of the northeastern Brazilian states. At a time when black-and-white photographs were not considered dramatic enough, the retratos pintados (“painted portraits”) glamorized and idealized their subjects. Black-and-white family photos were enlarged and painted, conferring status on members of the family and portraying them as icons or saints. Using oil washes and other techniques specific to the region, local artisans embellished clothing with pattern and color, smoothed wrinkles, added jewelry or resurrected deceased relatives, illustrating the fantasies and desires of their customers.

Due to advances in technology over the past 25 years, hand-painted photographs have become a rarity in the region, and the tradition of analogue portrait-making is being lost. Most portraits are now computer-generated, eliminating the charm and distinctiveness of each artist’s individual style. The exhibition will include approximately 150 unique, vintage painted portraits ranging in size from 8” x 10” to 16” x 20”. The photographs were selected from those collected by Titus Riedl, a European who has lived in the region for 15 years. Fit into simple frames and hung together in clusters, the exhibition reflects the way family photos might be displayed in the home.

(Thanks to Milky Blacks)


  1. Did you actually see this? I followed the link to Milky Blacks, and I also loved the Taliban studio photo collection. Totally interesting.

  2. yeah, the Taliban pix were great. they looked so vulnerable.