PHOTOessay + Interview
with Paul Kurucz
Franco-Hungarian photographer Paul Kurucz founded the kolor art collective in Budapest in 2011 before moving it to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, transforming the concept to include authoral, provocative photography. One of their projects, the Afro-Fem series, pays tribute to two surging forces in Brazil: feminism and Afro culture. Black women in Brazil face an array of issues, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, police brutality, cultural stereotyping, and income inequality. They are heavily underrepresented in politics and the media, and have recently taken their struggle to the streets and social networks, and to the stage of mainstream music and art festivals. This series explores these struggles through visual provocation and glam trash aesthetics, and its subjects, who have had a great influence on the conception of characters and scenes in this series, belong to Rio’s militant anarcho-humanist microcosm.
How did you get started as a photographer, and how has your vision and subject matter been shaped by your personal life and experiences?
Until recently, I did not like photography and never took pictures. Not even while travelling, no selfies, nothing. The only photo exhibitions I went to were documentary ones, like the World Press Photo. Then, one day, about three years ago, I had to wait quite a bit for my mom in Paris in the Saint Germain district, and while waiting I saw a Taschen bookstore. I entered and encountered the works of David LaChapelle. I discovered that photography can tell the kinds of stories I like the way I like, that it can be highly expressive, alive, theatrical. This inspiration morphed into active clicking last year when, for practical reasons, I had to make event pictures for exhibitions that our collective was organizing. Without knowing it, I was applying my theatrical, storytelling vision into the simplest shots. I loved it and shortly after, instead of taking pictures of existing situations, I created these situations, which became scenes, with sets, accessories, characters and pre-defined stories. These stories have been shaped by my experience in theater, by my family's fight for minority issues for generations and by my collaborators from the kolor collective.
Can you give us some background on the kolor art collective, how it was formed and what its purpose or mission is?
The kolor collective was born in Budapest, Hungary in 2011 as a cultural production group focused on non-conformist cultural and art events. The collective was then re-launched in Rio de Janeiro, where I (as founder of the collective in both places) now spend most of my time. The collective abandoned its non-visual projects nine months ago and is now devoted only to our own photo production. Its mission is to express the group's opinion about and battles for mainly local, actual issues such as: feminism, Afro culture, consumerism etc.
What drew you to Brazil, and how did you decide to take on the subjects of feminism and Afro culture?
Brazil is the most vibrant, crazy, colorful place that I know. It is an extremely inspiring location, full of wonderful ingredients for our projects (models, performers, locations, etc). I came here first in 2006 as a result of a drunk bet with a friend . . . long story. Feminism and Afro culture came in the picture in a very natural way: these are among the most pressing, important issues in Brazilian society and it was just a matter of time before our collective took this on as our current project.
For those of us who are far removed from Brazil, what is happening there in terms of drawing more attention to issues connected to race and feminism? Is it a movement that shares some connection to what is happening in the United States and around the world?
Yes and no. It has a connection in the sense that Brazilians see, hear, and understand the images that travel along social media, Netflix, etc., but at the same time, I do not see too much specific interaction in this field, except for NGOs. Brazil is a huge country where almost everything is available inside its borders, and consequently people tend not to travel abroad as much as nationals of small countries. They also tend not to speak foreign languages as much. So although they are inspired by ideas and images from outside, they pretty much make their own agenda. Nowadays, especially with the brutal political war between the right and left, progressives and conservatives, feminism and the place of black women in society is a top issue.
I read in your artist’s statement that the subjects themselves take part in setting the scene and defining the characters. As a photographer, have you always had this kind of working relationship with your subjects, or is it something that came organically from the nature of this project?
It really depends and has always depended on the project and the collaborators. When the subject of the photo or the person acts as more than a model, but also a symbol linked to the message of the photo, the starting point becomes, in a natural way, integrating and merging our universes.