Publicado por: guyveloso | 2 de maio de 2017

Veloso’s book text (Eder Chiodetto). 2017

The souls are hungry and their food is prayer.

(Guy Veloso)


The Photographer from Pará, Guy Veloso possesses a rare quality: very early in life he could define his theme of interest in the field of Photography and has been keeping it avidly and that’s the way it will be forever.

Guy Veloso. Livro da editora Ipsis. 2017.

Guy Veloso. Livro da editora Ipsis. 2017.

The methodic research of such a complex theme as the Brazilian religious manifestations has transformed; him and his photographic work


If, in the beginning we detect a classic documentary maker spinning around his own object, as the years pass by with accumulated knowledge and intimacy, Guy’s photography has stopped representing the rituals and started presenting them.


This change is truly a ritual of passage; the documentary photograph becoming the visual artist.


Photography leaves its role as a support art where one only records impressions, to becoming an extension of his deep immersion in this new universe. It leaves behind its one-way documenting to being the legitimate and dialogic of one encounter with the other, the unnamable with the Divine.


“Earth in trance”. The title of Glauber Rocha’s movie, most specifically the idea of trance, of the ecstasy of religious faith was the keyword that has given direction to the photography in this book, picked from the almost infinite archive of the artist.


The idea of having the keyword trance for our edition came to me after realizing how the devotees from the most varied religions search for ways to transcend reality.. Religion, from this point of view, would serve as a refuge, a sacred place of gathering and comfort.


Marked by the most varied gestures, clothing, scenarios and rites, all the religions crave for contact with their Divinities, as named, after searching thru Guy’s archives as “Trance”.


It’s intriguing to observe Guy’s photographic archive evolves; as his photographs start becoming more organic in facing their object. Evolving to the point where object becomes subject, demolishing frontiers between the artist and the theme. The object becomes a mirror. In a vertiginous flow, the light, color, texture and movement becomes an emphatic representation of the Divine, the Transcendent. For that, the act of photography leaves the door to chance consciously open.


When the edition was completed, we decided to have a conversation in Belém, so I could go deeper on some points regarding his intense investigation on religion in Brazil. To my surprise, when I asked how religion had come into his life, the movie “Earth in Trance”, from Glauber Rocha was his response. As I was re-reading the transcript of our interview I realized that, in this case, no one better than the author could describe his own experience in creating this book.


First Pilgrimage


My life changed when I started watching movies about the backwoods, such as the ones of Walter Salles and Glauber Rocha. They gave me the feeling that “I had to get to know this better”. I hadn’t been to the Northeast yet as a photographer, only as a child. I went to my first pilgrimage at “Juazeiro do Norte”. That was just fantastic; it got stuck in my mind. That was when I started to see that the great majority of pictures I had were not from Belém, they were from a bit of the city bonded to religiosity. That was when I took this theme for myself and which I may take for the rest of my life. I have photographed my first pilgrimage in 1988




I come from a family of Lawyers, but they have always influenced me in the arts field. My aunt Andrea Benchimol is a painter. I used to get those painting collections from the newsstand and then, when I turned seven to eight years old, I started painting. I still have some of these paintings from that time. After that I gave it up.


Today I like to see it as the naive style I had that time. I loved the art classes and I had the best of teachers, Afonso Medeiros, who is now a professor at the Federal University of Pará, and who was, at that time, my school teacher. I can still picture him describing Michelangelo’s Moses. I was only 15 and liked Volpi already. I was aware of the week of Modern Art. While others used to study math, I was studying arts.


I also remember that when I was 14, I left the house all by myself, locked the door behind me, and went to Caetano Rufino street, and four blocks ahead I was at “Teatro da Paz” to admire Luiz Braga’s exhibition. I was taken by that. It was my first exhibition and it was quite a shock! Later I was influenced by an uncle who lives in Rio, Andre Costa dos Santos, who had a manual camera and taught me how to use it. And finally at age 17 I got my first camera, a Nikon N2000.


I passed the test for Law at that time and, at the same time, I started photographing. I guess one of the reasons was to escape a little from the formality of law school. I graduated with a Law degree, knowing deep inside that it was not for me…


I took a photography course in Belém with someone I had never met, a guy from Sao Paulo named Fernando Del-Pretti. It was a week-long course and he taught me all the technical aspects of photography. I used to photograph the city using the influence I had from Luiz Braga and Cartier-Bresson. That was a time when Belém wasn’t violent so I could walk all over taking pictures of everything.


During law school, photography was parallel to it. I used to take pictures of the city and “Cirio de Nazare”. I have pictures of that time, since 1989. Another remarkable influence was my friends from FOTOATIVA, founded 33 years ago by Miguel Chikaoka.


Something that had impressed me a lot, was when I was 23 years old and decided to follow the Santiago Path in Spain.


I walked all 800 km in 37 days and when I got back I was deeply changed. I returned being sure that Law was not for me. I wanted to do something artistic, and couldn’t decide at that time if it was advertising, as I have always liked to write, or photography, or maybe both…I have worked in an advertising agency. I was also a public agent, and with   that, I could pay for my exhibitions, trips and could also start investing in those projects. Today I am a photographer and have left all the rest behind.


My first exhibition was a collective in 1989, with Fernando Del Pretti. We shared the Angelus Art Gallery at “Teatro da Paz”. It was all about pictures of Belém.

The first individual exhibition was not until 10 years later. I like to be involved in projects that take years to mature before being exhibited.


Juazeiro do Norte


At that time I was already a mystical person, which I still am. The religiosity of those people made my faith stronger, and also moved me and enriched my pre-existent immaterial culture. Some of the pilgrims believed that Juazeiro is the New Jerusalem and that the world will end there.


These millennium concepts touch me very strongly for I have lived my teenage years during the 80’s under the imminent danger of a nuclear war. Well, at least that was what the media was portraying, and it interested me a great deal, for that is also religious from my point of view.


This is something I still shoot: People and communities who believe in the end of times. Some of them have already set a date. There is a man who has set it many times, but  thank God he was wrong. I have him on photos and videos. I photograph him every year. He still uses a cart pulled by a donkey and goes everywhere preaching, for that people call  him “ The Prophet.”


Since 1988 I have been on every pilgrimage during “Finados” (a holiday to honor the death) in Juazeiro do Norte.


I intend to keep doing that. Something intriguing they have there is a community which lives from mendicancy: Jesus’ birds… I saw them in 1988. Some 20 people arriving at the church where Padre Cicero is buried the “Socorro” Church. That woke me aesthetically for they wear blue robes with crosses painted on the back, carrying small flags. So I thought: I want to photograph that! The next year I went to their homes, which are also blue and that made me interested in this theme, the one I follow until today:  The Penitents.


The Penitents


In 2012 I took my first trip to Recife during lent, to look for groups of Penitents. The great majority of them are secret groups. So, after a lot of negotiation with people from Sergipe (including the teacher Maurelina dos Santos) I received permission to photograph them. Unlike people from Juazeiro they are commoners from varied religions who, through familiar traditions, travel through the streets covered in their shrouds during lent and   Holy Week, praying for the souls in purgatory, whom they believe are suffering. The souls are hungry and they feed on prayers. I fell in love with the theme.


Common people leaving work, ladies leaving their favorite soap operas behind to pray and walk long distance singing wailing songs, even in Latin. My research was the first to prove that this ancient ritual, also called “Commendation of the Souls”, “Lamentation of the Souls”, “Food of the Souls”, “Revelry of the Souls” or simply “The Penitents” exists on the five regions around this country.


Amongst them there are also a few groups, always formed by males, which practice self-flagellation. The only exception being a woman in Bahia’s backwoods who decided to practice it herself and the bigger group accepted her. A lot of blood came out of her back.  The next day I visited her and her wounds were completely dry. They typically whip themselves and then bath on the Sao Francisco river, or they put herbs and some cachaça over the wounds and they heal incredibly fast.


The Penitents are my most extensive research subject. I have documented 177 groups. It’s an ancient ritual. The church rarely participates and many times these groups practice where  church is not even present, like a district or a community who has a priest once a year. The leader is called Decurion and they hold a political role over these people and the community.


This kind of penitence comes from Italy, where during the black plague; communities practiced self-flagellation to discover the cure for mankind. As it came to Brazil during the colonization era they assumed a new characteristic: The Penitence did not aim to save mankind from any disease: this was accomplished by the souls.


The rituals are similar all over the country, including their songs. They stop 7 times during the pilgrimage at strategic points for singing and praying. The self-flagellation happens only amongst 4% of the groups and usually during Holy Thursday or Holy Friday. They use the whip which is made (at least in Cariri) from deer leather with pieces of machetes cut at the edge. They beat themselves very hard, losing a lot of blood. It is only over when their clothes are completely red with blood. I have seen this happening and the devotee goes into a state of bliss, while cutting himself/herself.


The Decurion/leader never self-flagellate, for someone must have the power to see that people do not faint and die. When he orders someone to stop, he or she obeys him blindly. The Penitent hierarchy is very powerful and respected.


Religion and art.


Religion is even more important to me than the art. That’s how I see it: Religion first, art second for this is something that keeps me going, enjoying life and believing that the next day will be a better one. I believe in reincarnation, I believe we are all just spending some time here, but the true place is in the afterlife.


To be with these people, photograph them and talk to them, just increases my faith, even if they are of a different religion than my own.


Besides that, getting to know Brazil enriches my life… The deepest backwoods, which I love, living rituals that nobody cares to know about – some of them unfortunately don’t even exist anymore; others I was the only person to keep a record of. And that is the research I enjoy greatly, also the transcendence which is far greater.




I am Kardecist now, but I was a Catholic before. If there’s a chance I have embraced other religions? Who knows maybe…I am open-minded. So much that I profess the Spirits faith, but I also read about other things, Hindi philosophy, Buddhism…


Kardecism helps me answer questions about our existential anguish. What it is being born, living, dying? Yet, what I photograph helps me in another way. It gives me spiritual strength. The Devotees usually help my “spiritual search” with their faith. We are just on different paths. They give me knowledge. When I am at Candomblé, it feels like I am one of them. Of course I have never lied to them, but I feel like being one of them anyway. I sing in Yoruba and Banto the few songs I know. When I am with the Penitents I am part of the group.


I am a Kardecist, but I pray with whomever I am photographing, for God is one in my opinion.


Art is socialization


My evolution from a documentarian to an artist happened when I started being more integrated with groups. Leaving “the outsider” behind and jumping in.


This integration can only come through the codes of art. I can’t see myself as a documentarian anymore. I see myself as an artist who doesn’t seek to portray religiosity but as someone who wants to live it fully in its varied forms.


This way I get into it in multiple forms: physically. I start to get closer to people, I photograph them from 1 meter distance. They don’t feel threatened by me anymore; they already know me, trust me. I also get into it emotionally and spiritually.


The common denominator

It is love, faith and caring for the other. It is trying to do your best. It is the fragility of holding on to something.Our fragility facing life.

Today I see all the religions as one. Clothing may change, rituals may also change but all of them have the same purpose of appeasing human anguish.


At the Arte Pará 2014*, I had an individual exhibit showing pictures of Candomblé,  umbanda and Catholicism in a Jesuit Church from the XVIII century during the time of the procession of “Cirio de Nazaré” . I put the titles and texts about them far away so people could be inside the images – not having to worry about identifying them. Editing and aesthetics helped the majority of time for people not knowing which religion the picture was about. People thought it was Catholic, but in fact it was Umbanda or vice versa. Belem carries a lot of prejudice, and this exhibit was a way to thinking and talking about it. The inter-religious discourse and its risks are part of my work.


Immaterial Culture.


My research is developing: I have videos, audios, texts, original shrouds from the Penitents, as well as photographs. I keep books and flyers. It is an immaterial culture that is fading away slowly. I care about keeping records of everything, for example being interviewed by my closest ones. I have 100 hours of interviews.

Some of the groups I have shot and interviewed are gone now. About the Penitents, the majority cannot read or write and the songs are passed on orally. When the Decurion/leader dies, if no one can remember the song, then it is gone.


There is a group in Sergipe that was the only one to wear a crown of thorns. It wasn’t supposed to hurt but to serve as an aesthetic element. I have photographs proving it. This group is also gone now.


I think religiosity will go on until I die. My research on the Penitents is going to be over one day.


First I thought it would be over in 7 years, after that I thought that there were five more regions to go…I have proved that. I thought it was ok, but the next year I caught myself needing more. It’s been 15 years now and I do not want to stop for every year I find out something new.


Nowadays, besides The Penitents and afro-descendant rituals, I have been researching the Sebastian’s, which are still very present in Brazil. These rituals are based on Don Sebastian from Portugal. There are some who believe he is coming back or that he is already here as a spirit. Many are Millenarians, people who believe in the end of the world. I have interviewed Don Sebastian himself recorded as a video of someone “possessed” by him.


The Penitents have the history that has touched me the most: After photographing the same group of “feeding the souls” in Juazeiro da Bahia, for more than 7 consecutive years, their Decurion/leader Mrs.Jesulene Ribeiro announced to everyone that I was officially a member of that community. I had the same duties and privileges,I just would not be covered by their clothes. And it is like this until today.


I guess now, I have become my own theme.


*Guy Veloso’s interview to the curator Eder Chiodetto, June 2016, Belém PA

*Curated by Paulo Herkenhoff and  Armando Queirós


English version: Isabela de Luca.



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