Woman Crush Wednesday: Stefanie Moshammer
Stefanie Moshammer is a Vienna-based photographer who spent some time in Rio de Janeiro before the Summer 2016 Olympics. She photographed a number of favelas (Brazilian towns) and wanted to illustrate "the relationship between individual perceptions and the vast complexities of Rio de Janeiro.” Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant, colorful city that lives in a country with a dark past, for example being the last country in the west to abolish slavery, in 1888. Stefanie aims to show the contrast between the two perceptions, and show us her side of Rio de Janeiro as she knows it. Check out more of her work here.
Interview by Hallie Neely
Were you initially interested in photographing the favelas in Rio de Janeiro because you knew you had access to them, or has this project always been a goal for you?
I guess it helped that I already knew people in Rio de Janeiro but I wasn’t quite sure how everything would turn out when I got there, and how much access I’d get. Almost everything emerged during my stay, as most of my projects. They arise while creating and being present at one place. Indeed, I always had an interest in Rio de Janeiro. As for me, the city seems as a pretty fractured and tensioned place. It has a certain imperfection I really like.
The favelas you spent time in are described as dangerous and unstable, but some of your photographs give off such a welcoming, colorful vibe. Your artist statement described this contrast so poetically; posing the question of who is to say the world is happy or sad, when we know we all see things differently from each other. What is your take-away of your experience with this contrast? In other words, what was it like being encompassed by such bright colors and blue skies while being in a place that required you being accompanied by a native just to be allowed entry?
It really depends who you are with and what you do there – for me, these places didn’t always feel dangerous and unstable. And I guess most of the inhabitants feel the same. It’s their home; and even though it’s a conflicted zone, there is something beautiful in feeling home at one place. My own challenge was to find a visual interpretation far from any clichés you would expect of showing favelas. For most of us, some places are already pictured in our mind, what at the same time makes it easier to play with certain stereotypes but also to break them. Land of Black Milk springs from my experiences and is a conglomerate of my observation and personal impressions. My aim wasn’t to say: This is Rio de Janeiro. It’s my kind of Rio de Janeiro, and I’m sure everybody sees it differently. For me, Rio exists in many different colors and shapes; it isn’t so much one city as different worlds, with multiplied realities and the space in between.
Can you talk a bit in detail about the still life photographs you set up with backdrops on the sand?
These are utensils of the Street Sellers in the South Zone. At some point I realized you don’t necessarily need to be in the favelas to photograph people from there. Some people who live in favelas travel 2, 3 or even 4 hours each day just to get to the wealthy South Zone. They can’t afford to live in the South Zone but they need to head there, because that’s where the money and work is. I was fascinated in the workforce of the sellers – you never really see people begging on the street, instead they offer you something because they know that's the only way to get money. “One Man’s Joy, Another Man’s Sorrow” are the titles for each of these Still Life images.
What did you learn about the country while you were there? Did you learn anything about yourself as well?
Well, Brazil is huge, so I can only talk about Rio de Janeiro. The “Cariocas” (as they call the people living in Rio) definitely have another vibe than the rest of Brazil. Rio is difficult to define though, as it’s so diverse. It really depends where you are and what you do. You can have the ultimate tourist experience hanging in Ipanema and Copacabana, what is a show-off of “perfect” bodies. This was at least also one thing I was surprised at – the aim to perfection and the commonplace of plastic surgeries. There is a certain kind of imitation to the American Culture, what also didn’t pass Rio de Janeiro. If you go more North, it’s more defined of an African-Brazilian Culture. You don’t see any tourists there. Life in Rio is strongly segregated along lines of class and race; still mostly the Afro-Brazilians are the ones who live in the poor neighbourhoods, and they are the ones who work for the wealthy people in the South Zone. To understand nowadays culture in Brazil, you need to understand the history of Brazil. Brazil has such a heavy past – being the last nation in western hemisphere which abolished slavery (in 1888); slavery was a labor system that built great nations and the slave class still exists somehow. It’s like the ghosts of slavery still linger everywhere in the city.
What I learned about myself? Personally, I think it is very good to your own development and growth to put yourself out of your comfort zone. Also, sometimes it’s not so much about understanding because there isn’t only one answer to anything.
Can you talk about what it was like to be featured as one of the 24 photographers under 35 years old in the FOAM Talent exhibition? I saw the show at Red Hook Labs and thought your work was displayed beautifully, and thought everyone’s work really complemented each other’s.
Ever since I discovered FOAM, I admired their approach, so I felt very honoured to be selected as one of the FOAM Talents. I think it’s a good showcase to see what people of your generation create and it’s exciting to see how former FOAM Talents developed over the years. I believe the people behind FOAM are a great team and pretty supportive. FOAM definitely brings a great recognition. However, it is within your responsibility what you make of it. Hopefully it helps everybody push forward.
Describe your creative process in one word.
If you could teach a one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
A one-hour boxing class
What is the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
Gianfranco Rosi – Boatman
What is the most played song in your music library?
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
How do you take your coffee?
No sugar, with Almond Milk