Rody Oliveira’s photography gives a voice to the queer BIPOC community of Rio de Janeiro
Through intimate and candid imagery, the Brazilian photographer provides a platform to those on the periphery who often go overlooked.
- Ayla Angelos
- 16 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
“Getting to this point in my career has been quite challenging,” says Rody Oliveira, a photographer based in Rio de Janeiro. “I saw very little hope for a poor Black queer artist to compete in the industry.” Having grown up in a small suburb of the Brazilian city called Barra de Guaratiba, Rody was raised by his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. He’d initially studied Biology and American Studies at university, that was before he decided to flee the academia realms and learn the ropes of photography on his own. Upon doing so, the budding photographer worked as a waiter and babysitter, “only to afford the cheapest equipment”, while living in a place that has never quite valued the arts. This meant that Rody’s perspective on the medium as a viable career choice was all but a hobby.
“But then people started noticing my work online, asking to feature it or interview me,” Rody adds, marking this as the moment that sparked courage and motivation for him to start putting himself out there. It also inspired him to sign up for a portfolio review last year, during which Pauline Magnenat, the photo editor and founder of Rocket Science – a creative studio, photo agency and online magazine – got in touch, and soon enough Rody got the recognition and representation that he deserves. “This has been a massive step in my career and now I’m certain I have a lot to look forward to.”
Rody’s work lenses the queer BIPOC community that inhabits the outer edges of Rio. A necessary focus point, he documents the minority groups that tend to be marginalised and shunned from mainstream society. Of how he came to this as a subject matter, there is a pivotal moment for Rody – it was when he’d returned to Brazil after a few years living abroad, just moments before the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a Brazilian politician and retired military officer, “who represents a threat to the safety and well-being of minority groups in Brazil,” says Rody. “I knew it was not a good time for BIPOC queer artists to be here, but at the same time, I felt the need to do something meaningful with my work and to be there for my community.” Although not fully involved in the city’s queer scene before moving back, this drove him to become fully immersed in the community. “Even amidst a crisis, I saw a community come to life in underground parties. In these spaces I have experienced freedom like never before. So, the people I photograph are my inspiration, they inspire me to be honest with and work myself regardless of the oppression we face.”
Getting to know his subjects is undeniably an important part of the process. The relationship can form in multiple ways, but he’ll always strive to learn as much about them as possible before shooting – “to break the ice,” he adds, “but that’s not always possible”. He often photographs during queer parties to build on his own personal portfolio, and this type of work never tends to rely on any icebreakers, “you can point the camera and they strike a pose!” This means that the majority of his subjects are close friends, yet he’s also formed many a blossoming friendship and shared countless memorable moments with those that he’s met through his practice.
In this sense, Rody’s work depicts his subjects in the most honest and intimate of manners; he wants to portray the people that he photographs “as they are”. In an image, Rody photographs Shaquia, snapped in one of his favourite queer parties in Rio, V de Viadao. It was taken in the morning at around 8am, and they’d been partying all night at the venue, dressed and dancing to the themed Disco night. “It’s one of my favourite rhythms and I knew everybody would be dressed up,” he says, “the night was incredible.” He’d bumped into Shaniqua at the party and, as they’d already met before, he simply pointed his camera and took a few pictures. “This was the first shot taken, and I love the intensity in her eyes; the hair covering all shoulders.”
Rody continues to point out an additional image of Ina and Mai, one that’s taken on Ina’s rooftop for her handmade jewellery collection. Ina asked Rody to help out with a few visuals for the collection (they have some mutual friends), and proceeded to freeze a candid moment of pure joy between the two subjects. “I think that the shot summarises what the atmosphere in the shooting was like from the beginning to end,” he adds. “I love this picture because it reminds me of the reason I’ve been doing my work.”
Rody is committed to giving a voice and platform to those who often go overlooked. But one thing to note is that he wants you to observe his work with an open mind. These are stories that may not have been told otherwise, or perhaps narratives that you might not be familiar with. So Rody invites you to learn from these stories, as they are indeed coming from a place of experience, love and good intentions. “I work with subjects and places that are foreign to most of my audience,” he concludes. “I am very proud to have come from a periphery and I think that a big part of my current work has been showing these spaces through a romanticised point of view, even through my IG stories, which have become a sort of visual diary to me. There’s a lot of misconceptions of what a favela is, and what life is like within these communities. I hope my work adds to the deconstruction of our marginalisation.”
GalleryCopyright © Rody Oliveira, 2021
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.