Throughout the late 19th century up until the 1990s, these captivating and strangely painted portraits (retratos pintados) were a common practice in rural northeastern Brazil. Family portraits were retouched with a heavy hand, painting over the original image with bold brush strokes which transformed family members into the rich, healthy and beautiful… even the dead ones.
The images are part of historian Titus Riedl’s collection of the images displayed in his book Retratos Pintados. Throughout the period when these images were being created, street-traders (called bonequeiros) would commonly attract clients in remote rural villages, then with images in hand, they would travel to bigger towns where they would hand over the materials to puxadores who would enlarge the photographs. Then painters, often in small, improvised studios, would create the final image. Returning to the original village, often weeks later, the image was finally delivered to the client.
With the advent of modern technology and the lack of readily available photo paper, the unique tradition has largely died out. It has now been replaced with modern digital techniques like Photoshop and printed on inkjet printers… often with an elaborate phone card, postcard or screensaver motif as their background. For more about these unique pieces of cultural history, see the interview with Martin Parr (who wrote the intro to Riedl’s book) at themorningnews.org.