The Lost Art of Brazilian Photograph Painting

Throughout the late 19th century up until the 1990s, these captivating and strangely painted portraits (retratos pintados) were a common practice in rural northeastern Brazil. Family portraits were retouched with a heavy hand, painting over the original image with bold brush strokes which transformed family members into the rich, healthy and beautiful… even the dead ones.

The images are part of historian Titus Riedl’s collection of the images displayed in his book Retratos Pintados. Throughout the period when these images were being created, street-traders (called bonequeiros) would commonly attract clients in remote rural villages, then with images in hand, they would travel to bigger towns where they would hand over the materials to puxadores who would enlarge the photographs. Then painters, often in small, improvised studios, would create the final image. Returning to the original village, often weeks later, the image was finally delivered to the client.

With the advent of modern technology and the lack of readily available photo paper, the unique tradition has largely died out. It has now been replaced with modern digital techniques like Photoshop and printed on inkjet printers… often with an elaborate phone card, postcard or screensaver motif as their background. For more about these unique pieces of cultural history, see the interview with Martin Parr (who wrote the intro to Riedl’s book) at


Benjamin Starr

Known in some circles as the most amazing man in the universe, he once saved an entire family of muskrats from a sinking, fire engulfed steamboat while recovering from two broken arms relating to a botched no-chute wingsuit landing in North Korea. When not impressing people with his humbling humility, he can be found freelance writing, finding shiny objects on the internet, enjoying the company of much-appreciated friends and living out his nomadic nature. He is Managing Editor of Visual News. Follow his movements on Twitter:

Promoted Content


  1. Very cool you are, Benjamin Starr

Leave a comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that. Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked