13 April 2020

Swiss Ancestry in Contemporary Brazil

13 April 2020 - Selected by PHmuseum

Thomas Brasey works with a multi-layer narrative using a combination of still life, portraiture, and evocative landscape imagery to trace the history of Swiss descendants in Brazil.

In 1819, driven by starvation and economic crisis, about 2,000 Swiss people emigrated to Brazil. After a deadly journey, they founded Nova Friburgo in the mountains near Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, their lands barely provided enough to feed, and the settlers scattered. Some returned to Rio where they lived in poverty and crime, others headed North where coffee could be grown, and made prosperous business there, particularly thanks to slavery.

In this survey, Thomas Brasey documents the nowadays town of Nova Friburgo and meets the descendants of the Swiss settlers, questioning the identity of these Brazilians bearing Swiss names. In a series of staged pictures, he also evokes in a strongly personal way the adventure of these people who left their country some 200 years ago. With a contemporary setup, he depicts their hopes, pains, fantasies and disappointments. By using a temporally ambiguous approach, the photographer goes beyond the historical scope of his subject and raises the tragically topical issue of emigration. He also remembers us that not so long ago western Europeans left their continent by boat in search of a better place to live.

Words and Pictures by Thomas Brasey.


Thomas Brasey (1980 Lausanne, Switzerland) after completing a PhD thesis in organometallic chemistry, got tired of tinkering with matter and started studying photography at the University of Art and Design Lausanne (ECAL). He now works as a freelance photographer, developing a personal approach to documentary photography. Find him on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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2021 Mobile Photography Prize

Present your images for $5,000 in cash, features in our 3rd 200-Image Photobook, and a collective show at PHmusuem Lab in 2022.

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