Brazil saw some of the first photographs in the world come into existence in the early 1830s. Close to São Paulo, Hercule Florence, without having established any contact with his peers in Europe, was developing a technique of printing and fixing light onto paper. The country has captured photography as few others do, from its beginnings during the reign of Dom Pedro II, who was a big enthusiast and contributed to its popularization in Brazil, to today by its intense usage on social media. One would think that Brazil must have some good photography publications. This is the case, especially with Zum, the semiannual magazine done by Institut Moreira Salles, an institution of reference for photography in Brazil.
From its launch in 2011, Zum has been offering twice a year a 200-pages, eclectic concentrate of photography, in text and images, addressing themes, eras, styles, and ways of approaching an extremely varied medium. For example, the magazine’s last issue combined a portfolio by Wolfgang Tillmans, another by Martin Gusinde (photographer and anthropologist from the 20th century), a text written ninety years ago by Aleksandr Ródtchenko, and a study led by the researcher Viktor Chagas around photographic “memes” among others. Zum aims to be a magazine free of categories and established photography styles to present itself as a space for debates, reflections, and experimentations about photography. Though that is certainly its role, the magazine also plays a trailblazing role in the contemporary photographic panorama in Brazil.
In the editorial of issue seven, Thyago Nogueira, its editor-in-chief, announced: “The history of photography is a history of gaps. For each established name, there are so many others waiting to be discovered or recognized.” In this same issue, the work of Assis Horta was published for the first time, while being almost unknown at the time. That is also the case for the 14th issue of Zum, fresh off the press, which presents the work of Afonso Pimenta, a photographer from Minas Gerais who worked on the modest suburbs of Belo Horizonte in the 1980s, and who only had a small amount of visibility until today.
With such audacious mixtures offered in each issue, setting a precedent by having texts co-exist with freshly discovered photographic nuggets, combining approaches, presenting some photographies like as political weapon or others that deal with lightness and humour, Zum is a magazine that asks questions, that examines and explores more than it affirms and imposes. The magazine reflects upon Brazilian and international photography like one would explore a familiar territory by trying to see it through the eyes of a child, looking for treasures, trying to see new connections and interrelations between elements.
Elsa Leydier is a photographer and author specialized in photography. She divides her live between Lyon and Rio de Janeiro.
Zum, Semiannual Brazilian magazine