valdir cruz

At Throckmorton Fine Art, Cravo Neto's colleague Valdir Cruz presented "Faces of the Rain Forest," a show of handsome prints from several 1995-97 series focused on the indigenous Yanomami of the Amazon region of Brazil and Venezuela. A New York resident, Cruz is from the state of Paraná in southern Brazil. He has worked on two earlier series since the printing of a limited edition portfolio in 1989: palladium prints interpretively portraying a neo-Gothic cathedral in the city of Curitiba, Paraná, on the event of the church's centennial, and the ongoing "Guarapuava" series concerning Cruz's hometown, including the resurgent culture of its cattlemen at work on routine tasks and on drives through the landscape of Paraná. These earlier images, evidence of Cruz's skills as a photographer and master printer, are suffused with subtle tonalities fostered by the long exposures necessary to the large-format negatives of a view camera, his primary instrument.

However, for his new "Faces of the Rain Forest" series, Cruz turned to the more portable, highly evolved 35 mm cameras provided by Leica for his investigations. He visited the Yanomami regions with the support of a Guggenheim fellowship as well as the in-kind resources of Leica and Kodak, traveling with medical technicians to report health conditions and provide needed medicines. What he has produced with the more rapid-fire technique is astonishing for achieving the tonalities and gradations common to the view camera, enhanced by selenium toning in the printing process.

Cruz's individual and community portraits include images patterned with brocades of jungle foliage or by such adornments as body painting and piercing, or by upright ranks of tail, feathered spears held with casual assurance in an arc around a gathering place. One shocking picture presents a monkey captured for food, its teeth bared in rictus, lashed to a carrying basket of bound fronds as though to a crucifix Cruz's inherently beautiful, occasionally troubling images are straightforward tributes to a threatened culture.

Cruz brought a concern for their physical well-being to a people menaced by diseases that came with the intrusion of outsiders. As Vicki Goldberg points out in her catalogue essay, these new photographs find a ground halfway between art and anthropology, avoiding the appearance of exploitation. This observation might be applied in retrospect to the work of Verger. Goldberg prefaces her remark by describing fearlessness as a quality essential to a photographer, as wisdom is to a philosopher. Like Hercules Florence, Cruz pursues intimate experiences within the context of remarkable adventures. He has weathered mishap and danger as he passed from the territory of one tribe of Yanomami to that of another. He seems to have been guided by his nature, an unfeigned openness, interest and trust that apparently gained him the confidence of subjects disinclined to welcome strangers into their midst.

Edward Leffingwell, Art in America – April, 1998