I wrote previously about the Retratos Pintado, the beautiful photographs that were popular in rural Brazil from the late 19th century until the 1990s. With meticulous care, the artist painted the black and white photographs, adding jewlry, patterns to the clothing, and a fresh color to the faces -- making the subjects appear wealthier, and in the case of those who were dead, more alive. I recently discovered a brief and informative interview with Titus Reidl, who was doing research on memento mori in Brazil and collected many of these painted portraits which were on display in 2010 at the Yossi Milo Gallery in NYC.
When asked by interviewer Rosecrans Baldwin of The Morning News, "What does the act of painting on the photo mean to you? How is the photograph changed?" Reidl offered this answer:
This kind of photo-art is very poetic, because you can manipulate the image and “better” your reality. This kind of representation has nothing to do with the verisimilitude usually attributed to photography. You can transform the portrait of a dead face to a living face. You can recreate family scenes. You can rescue absent family members and integrate them into a new scene. You can transform a poor dress into a rich dress. You can add jewelry and all kinds of similar attributes.
As a writer, I find these portraits to be very compelling, surreal and evocative. They are so close to photographic, yet burnished with artistic flourishes that alter them into something else. They are like the difference between recounting what you did yesterday versus telling a mythic story about yesterday. Stop by the gallery website to see a sampling from the collection, or check out the comprehensive collection published by Titus Reidl with an introduction by Martin Parr.