Darwin Mentorship: Meet Rodrigo Oliveira

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A young man side saddles a stool looking at us. His right knee is up to his face where his cheek is resting upon it. He is naked apart from a pair of brown pants.

Rodrigo Oliveira is a photographer we expect to see a lot more of. Coming to photography naturally through curiosity, Rodrigo's work embodies an open queerness that fills the frames of his personal work. . When we came across Rodrigo's work, its authenticity and seemingly effortless beauty stopped us in our tracks. Darwin Magazine is working with Rodrigo on our mentorship to help develop a new body of work around black queer lives in Brazil, we recently caught up with him to find out why photography, why queer stories.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A young man sits side on to us on the floor, wearing a white jock strap, white converse shoes and white socks. The floor is a yellow/ brown colour with a blue backdrop. Their arm is leaning across their leg.
Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A close up portrait of the man from the previous image. They are wearing orange ear rings with a painted red lip and brown eye liner. The background is blue. The subject is resting their chin against their knee.

Q: Your photography work really got my attention with its use of colour, composition and natural feel it seems to embody. How did you get into taking pictures?

I started out with the advance of mobile photography when I couldn’t afford to shoot on a professional camera. I made sure that the camera on my phone was the best I could use at the time and it really led to me making portraits and engaging with photography at a very natural and authentic level. I used to study tourism and later biology so I decided to buy a DSLR to start taking pictures like those I saw in National Geographic’s magazines. From there on I tried different things in photography and realised portraiture is what I do best.

Q: You live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. How does the city influence the photographs you take?

I think that I’m heavily influenced by the ‘Carioca’ culture, the people from Rio. It’s the vibrancy of many clear sky days, the abuse of colour on people’s clothes, the several complexions of skin I find here... I could go on and on... the experiences of someone living in Rio is unique, it shapes you. Colour is something that is really important to me in my work, beautiful warm tones with colours illuminating somebody, that to me is how rio has found its way into my work.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A man is holding his knees close to their chest, looking down the camera at us. They are wearing a white ear ring. Behind is a golden textured wall.
Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A back shot of a party goer. They are wearing silver and gold clothes which show a lot of their skin. Wearing glasses and a silver choker, they look towards the floor in front of them.

Q: Within your photography, queer lives occupy the frames and spaces you document. What made you focus on this community and people in particular?

It was the rise of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency. As I’m sure your readers are away, his policies are anti-LGBTQIA+ and have deeply impacted those around me. I wanted to use my camera to tell real stories of real queer people, its an important time here for our rights as people to live in freedom and happiness, somebody needs to document and work with the community to ensure our voices are heard.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A young person standing with an afro, leaning into the camera with their head upright. Wearing a dress and earrings that match their necklace.

Q: How do you approach creating new portraits?

I like my portraits to feel real so in order to do that I look for real moments, I like to wait and spend time with the person before I take a photograph of them. To me, that's how you get them to show parts of themselves which are less guarded. A lot of my portraits that people see are from events and taken on the queer scene from lounge bars to techni parties. I really wanted to capture all the extravaganza that was happening around me. I love to work that way, feel the music and the beat, the vibe of the environment putting you into the moment with the people as you take a photograph. It makes me feel I’m part of the moment, not just a bystander recording events. 

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira ID: A red image from the night club lights. The person has gold painted across their eye brows and are wearing gold chains. They are looking away from the camera with a large nose peircing hanging above their mouth.

Q: The colours and tones within your work are stunning. What influences do you draw upon when creating your work?

There are so many! I think that I’m inspired by my own culture first of all, I love how Brazilians communicate through colours. And as for other artists I feel influenced by the works of Min HyunWoo, Gleeson Paulino, Kristin-Lee Moolman, Lelanie Foster... I could take all day haha

Q: What do you hope to get from the mentorship?
The opportunity to learn from someone who knows the industry, learning the skills I need to make a living as a photographer. And most importantly, how to make it into the market without compromising my values as an artist and my goals to bring visibility and respect for my community.

Q: Is there a project you're currently working on you'd like to share with us?
Yes! Although I can’t say much before we get some things ready. My partner and I are working on a documentary with and for the black trans community in Rio de Janeiro. We’re still on the planning phase but working it through as we wait for the crisis we’re living to end.

See more of Rodrigo's work here - https://cariocanegroequeer.myportfolio.com/carioca-negro-queer

Follow him on IG @rodyoli