Note from BBT: Black Brazil has lost another giant. It’s only been a little over a month since the passing of great samba musician, Nelson Sargento, who died on May 27th at the age of 96. Then, last night, as I often do, I was scrolling through one of my social media profiles when I saw a photo of photographer Januário Garcia.
Stopping to look at the headline, I imagined that Garcia was probably winning some sort of award for his five decades or so registering the life of black Brazilians. But then as I read more than a few sentences, I realized that the page was disclosing the fact that he had just become an ancestor.
I can’t say exactly when I became aware of Garcia and his work. I’ll just say that, anyone who has studied a little of the history of black Brazilians has probably seen his work, if not knowing who he was. If there was something big going down with black Brazilians or black culture in Brazil, there Januário was documenting it for future generations. The marches, the celebrations, the parties, the ceremonies. No doubt in Garcia’s archives are photos of events that I know nothing about.
Talking to an American friend yesterday who obviously didn’t know who he was, I casually mentioned that, as he had been documented the black experience in Brazil for at least 50 years, I can imagine that his archive must have photos in the tens of thousands. I had never thought about it, but Garcia had a website that featured his work and the site confirmed what I thought. The photographer had amassed an archive of one hundred thousand photographs. A treasure chest of the black Brazilian experience. I hope that archive is in safe keeping.
I don’t remember when it was that I met Januário, but if I were to guess, I’d say it was probably at one the biggest celebrations of black culture in Brazil, the annual Feira Preta event. I don’t really even remember what we briefly conversed about, but there he was, with his signature red, black and green knit cap, goatee and camera milling through the crowd, doing his thing.
As I was so accustomed to Januário’s work with black cultural and historical topics, I never even pondered the idea that he may have been responsible for other sorts of important photos. Now, after learning that he photographed a number of popular Brazilian musicians, black and non-black, for their album covers it makes me wanna go through some of my Brazilian vinyl to see if I find his name there as well.
Januário will be missed but I do hope that something inspiring is done with his work. I can imagine countless documentaries could be made with just his archive.
Thank you, Januário, for registering and preserving the images of black Brazilians that the media never seemed to care for. Your legacy will tell the story of black Brazil for generations to come.
(All photos below not featuring Garcia himself were taken by Garcia)
Januário Garcia, photographer of famous album covers and black movement activist, dies of Covid in Rio
He was 77 years old and was hospitalized at São Lucas Hospital. Active against racism, Garcia took photos for LPs of artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Belchior and Leci Brandão.
Photographer Januário Garcia, author of famous LP covers and recognized for his work in the black movement, died on Wednesday night (30) victim of Covid-19. He was 77 years old and was hospitalized at São Lucas Hospital, in Copacabana, in Rio’s South Zone.
Active in the fight against racism, Garcia participated in books such as 25 anos do Movimento Negro (25 years of the Black Movement), Diásporas africanas na América do Sul (African Diasporas in South America) and História dos quilombos do estado do Rio de Janeiro (History of the Quilombos of the state of Rio de Janeiro).
As a photographer, he worked for O Globo, Jornal do Brasil and O Dia newspapers. He also took pictures for albums of great Brazilian music artists during the 1970s and 1980s, such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Fagner, Belchior, Fafá de Belém, Leci Brandão, Raul Seixas and Edu Lobo.
“The photo is a vehicle for social transformation,” he used to say.
Thiago Gomide shared the following memory of Garcia.
It was the Cais do Valongo receiving the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2017 that a party formed in the city’s downtown. Black movements came together for the just celebration.
As I have witnessed in other circumstances, Januário Garcia recorded everything. The scene was reminiscent of deep-sea divers: taking in air and descending to the depths. The photographer would aim at the target, reflect, press his eye to the viewfinder, and then step back to see the result on the screen. Januário went to the background.
Accompanied by a small team from MultiRio, I went to listen to the master. I would like for him to translate for the spectator what that award to the largest port of entry for enslaved people in the Americas represented.
“It’s a recognition of our struggle, it is a recognition of all the years we have fought in this country. We know the story of the hunter, but by the time the lion starts to write, it will be difficult. This is our case. We are starting to write our story,” laughed the native of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais.
Januário was tireless in the retelling of this and many other stories. He was an important player in the countless battles of the black movement. He organized exhibitions on themes sensitive to the memory of enslaved people. He was the president of the Research Institute of Black Cultures (IPCN).
His pictures of record covers used to be works of art – taking this Brazilian talent abroad. Januário contributed a lot to this. Alucinação, by Belchior, and Cores Nomes, by Caetano Veloso, for example, have his signature.
In that meeting at the Cais do Valongo, he repeated one of his most famous phrases: “there is a history of the black without Brazil. What doesn’t exist is a history of Brazil without black people.
Januário Garcia leaves four children behind. His body will be cremated, but, as of the last update of this report, no information about the date and place had been released.
The state of Rio de Janeiro registered, until Thursday morning, 55.4 thousand deaths by Covid-19. In the country, there were 518,000 deaths until early afternoon.
On social networks, numerous friends discussed the death of the artist
The singer Leci Brandão, lamented the death of her friend via her social network.
“With great sadness, we received the news of the death of this great friend, Januário Garcia, by Covid. Januário was very important in my life, besides making four LP covers, he also proposed the titles of the records and gave opinions about the repertoire. He was the one who introduced me to the musicality and colors of Olodum, besides introducing me to the thought of Lélia Gonzales. I just have to thank God for having placed him in my life. I am very grateful for everything! Januário Garcia, present!
Federal Deputy Benedita da Silva (PT) remembered Januário’s struggle in the black Brazilian movement.
“The day begins full of sadness with the early departure of dear Januário Garcia, because of covid. Photographer and teacher, he was part of the formulation and activism of all the recent struggles of the Black Movement. May God comfort the hearts of his family and friends.”
Journalist Flávia Oliveira also lamented: “We lost to the Covid-19 the great Januário Garcia, photographer who masterfully documented the trajectory of black Brazilians. It’s decades of memories. A pity”.
“A lot of sadness! We just lost to Covid-19 a reference in the anti-racist struggle, an inspiration to my generation. Januário Garcia, Janu, photographed our history for decades. Thank you for everything! #RIP,” lamented journalist Luciana Barreto, currently at CNN.
More than 100 thousand photos
Throughout his years as an artist, Januário produced a collection of more than 100,000 photos, documenting Brazilians of African descent in the most diverse aspects of life: social, political, cultural and economic.
The photographer’s official website highlights that the images tell the contemporary history of black people in Brazil.
“The images portray the daily struggle of black people to insert themselves in this society, their daily life, their culture, the joy during carnival, and many other moments. They are records that allow us to enter their homes and go through the history of struggles and achievements of the black movement in Brazil. Through these images it is possible to find, even today, marks and reflections of a past that has not been overcome.
Exhibition ‘Living Heritage’
In 2019, the photographer from Minas Gerais presented the exhibition Herança viva, meaning ‘Living Heritage’, the fruit of more than 40 years dedicated to looking at black populations in Brazil. Among the works, images of the cultural, social, political and economic aspects of African descendants.
Garcia was president of the Research Institute of Black Cultures and of the Brazilian Network of Iconography and Documentation of African Mothers in Brazil.
Januário in a photo he posted on his Instagram at an exhibition of his: ‘A rare phenomenon to relax. The photographer – simultaneously – behind and in front of the photos’ – Photo: Reproduction/Instagram/@januariogarciaoficial