Miguel Rio Branco: Out of Nowhere

Photo courtesy of Christopher Grimes Gallery

Miguel Rio Branco: Out of Nowhere

through December 29th

Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica

By Shana Nys Dambrot
With a little Raging Bull, a little cinéma vérité, shades of Goya’s heat, Edward Hopper’s lonely atmospheric architecture, Hemingway’s bullfights, and rock music’s working class heroes, the images in Brazilian filmmaker and photographer Miguel Rio Branco’s Out of Nowhere series are both classic and entirely unexpected. In the early 1990’s, Rio Branco turned the focus of his ongoing interest in documenting under-represented segments of Brazilian society to a journalistic essay on a popular community boxing gym in a bad part of town. The Santa Rosa Boxing Academy in Rio de Janeiro is more than a place where older men, young boys, and those in their prime — including aspirational pros — come to train in the sport, stay off the street, or pass the time with the local entourage. It’s a makeshift home, a smudged and candlelit opera, a cold and broken hallelujah, and a haunted hall of poignant, cinematic passions.

Rio Branco lives in Brazil, but like a lot of the PST LA/LA shows, the artist was already in the gallery’s program long before the initiative. That said, this choice of material speaks directly to the goal of PST, which is to illuminate aspects of contemporary and historical culture in Los Angeles and Latin America which overlap and influence each other. Boxing as a sport and as a subject of film and literature as well as a touchstone for certain socioeconomic examinations, gender roles, and culture of bloodsport spectacle certainly flows along that particular continuum; its iconography and viscerality are universally recognizable from popular culture. But at the same time, there is an inescapable strangeness in the air of these pictures, a poetic inscrutability that, despite their familiarity, keeps the world they depict a mystery. The qualities of light, color, and breathlessness that permeate the scenes seem much more than 25 years old, and yet timeless as though trapped in amber, and yet somehow modern in their edge and in the larger scale and square format of the luscious prints.

Across the decades of his multiplatform career in film, art, and photojournalism, Rio Branco’s specialty has been mingling stylistic intentions and manifested techniques of all three in everything he does. He simultaneously demonstrates the finesse in color story and intricate detail of art, the frankly bloody honesty of journalism, and the emotional intensity of cinema; also a storyteller’s knack for contexts of mood and setting, a decisive sense of body language, and a gift for insightful portraiture. In this suite of moody compositions, casual artifacts of the local lifestyle give texture and flavor akin to the organic, beautiful decay of peeling paint, while portraits speak to the locals’ inner lives of desperate hope, almost religious agony, and stark love affairs. The low lighting, obscured angles, deft use of reflections and shadow all combine to create nuance and a sense of secrets that has the viewer leaning in, looking closer as if listening to a whisper, to follow the story.

Miguel Rio Branco: Out of Nowhere
Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica
916 Colorado Ave, Santa Monica, CA
November 4 – December 29, 2017

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