The cosmopolitical photographies of the Yanomami by Claudia Andujar

The cosmopolitical photographies of the Yanomami by Claudia Andujar

The purpose of this essay is to analyze Claudia Andujar’s works, built within the struggle of the Yanomami people. This analysis will be based on the “postmodern” turn, where we have a clash, enunciated by Flusser (2002), between the agency of the photographic device and the photographer’s counteraction to it, as the ideal way to establish photographic narratives with meaning. That do not just mimic reality, but stablish a “post-photographic” mimesis (FONTCUBERTA, 2010, 2014a, 2014b). The “becoming” in this analysis focuses on the idea that the struggle of the Yanomami people serves to give new meaning to Andujar’s photographs. In order to overcome the fact that, in addition to the technological apparatus, photography can be considered an effective narrative method, with ways of creating new knowledge. And, from the general picture of photography as knowledge, we ask ourselves if photography perpetrates and reproduces indigenous cosmopolitical knowledge.

Photographs intrigues us and have played, in the last 200 years, a leading role unprecedented in history by leading a series of technical changes in the field of image. The most curious thing is that, in addition to its technical apparatus, the great renewal provided by photographic technology is found in the way we imagine and represent ourselves.

Photography opens a new direction in the world of images, as it constitutes the advent of the technical image (FLUSSER, 2008). When photography, as a technical image, inaugurates “post-history” by drastically altering the course of development of the history of human understanding of images and aesthetics. 

In this philosophical discussion about the media, we get to the point of making clear that “in an aesthetic sense” post-history emerges as a concept to be used for the contemporaneity of detachment from what’s real (DUARTE, 2011). Where the historical experience is so detached from reality that, for human expression, one must work with new forms of understanding. Part of this tendency, points out Rodrigo Duarte, is linked to the death of “the utopian ideal of a possible world”, not the death of the immediately real world.

For Vilém Flusser (FLUSSER, 2002), this goes beyond the relationship between men and images, as it happened in prehistory. There, images had unanimous hegemony over the human imagination. That is, until the development of writing. When image’s magic died. This magic dies through the creation and propagation of writing, that comes to dominate the human imagination through its technique. 

Futhermore, with the invention of photography, one arrives at the universe of technical images, where the pure agency of human intentions (derived from imagination) is replaced by technic-mechanic intentions of accelerated innovation, reproducibility and apathetic historical awareness.

In this sense, Flusser (2002) recognizes that cameras have agency, which seek to keep people dependent on them and always seek to innovate and reproduce. Therefore, devices. And keeping a agenda: the creation of a new fabricated imagination that can convince in such a way that one loses the very notion of what is real. The solution to this paradigm, recognizes Flusser, would be to play against the device itself, believing that it will never stop being used, but that it can be mastered.

For Fontcuberta (2010, 2014a, 2014b), photography itself has already passed away. And the migration to digital media represents a new way of making images (still technical images, but post-photographic images that are no longer photographs) even more accelerated and more detached from the empiricism used in the analog photographic techniques until the 1990s. In the meantime, the post-photographic challenge lies in managing to maintain the levels of authorship and conceptualism within this game against the device.

This occurs from the moment a photographer-author organizes his practice beyond the mere recording, when he seeks to create a set of photographs that have thematic relevance. And that, through a continuity of images, do not enter an informational set as mere compilations of independent images, nor illustrations to complement a text. Throughout the 20th Century, with the transformations of the documentary record of photography, it is possible to affirm that photography is no longer used as an effective means of speech only circumscribed by words. Since it started to think beyond the binomial image-writing, with the first subordinate to the second. At the same time, photography was no longer used solely for its “index of realism” and came to be understood as a more subjective way of creating narratives, from Cartier-Bresson’s conception of the decisive moment (CARTIER-BRESSON, 2015) to photographic fictional documentary conceptions (FONTCUBERTA, 2010) and post-photographic analysis.

Observing the evolution of photography as art, as a report, as a document, serves as the best way to understand the modifying inflections that modernity has caused to human culture, language and information flows. And this is where the work of Claudia Andujar and her important struggle for the recognition and demarcation of Yanomami lands in the Brazilian Amazon comes in.

Andujar and her oeuvre

Cláudia Andujar, née Claudine Haas, was born in 1931 in the city of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, daughter of a Swiss Protestant home teacher and a Jewish Hungarian engineer. She was raised in her early childhood in a Hungarian city. Her father and part of her paternal family were sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp in World War II. Andujar and her mother fled to Switzerland with great difficulties on the verge of the Red Army’s invasion of Hungarian territory. In 1948, at the invitation of her paternal uncle, she moved to New York.

In New York, she worked as a clothing saleswoman, worked in an office and was a visitor guide to the United Nations, as she spoke several languages: German, French, Hungarian and English. She attended, at this time, Hunter College, where she began to study Humanities, but never graduated. At this college, she met her first husband, Julio Andujar, a Spanish refugee from the Spanish Civil War.

In 1955, she arrived in Brazil, where her mother, Germaine Guye, was already living. It was during this period with her arrival in Brazil that she began to photograph. For her, this was a way of establishing contact with the local population, as she still did not speak the language of the land. After many trips throughout Brazil, she began to publish her photos in local and international magazines.

In 1968, she married the American photographer George Love, and worked between 1966 and 1971 as a photojournalist at Realidade magazine. Near 1971, she was asked to do a report commissioned for a special edition of the magazine and this led her to make contact with the Yanomami people for the first time.

This was the turning point in her career, as from that meeting she began to dedicate her life and work to the Yanomami cause (KOPENAWA & ALBERT, 2015, p. 524-5). She left São Paulo and took up residence between Amazonas and Roraima, for which she was awarded a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1971 and in 1974. In 1976, she received a grant from FAPESP to continue her research with the Yanomami. Andujar remains involved with the indigenous struggle to this day, however, throughout the 1980s, she gradually diminished her photographic activity.

In 1978, she was framed in the National Security Law by the Brazilian dictatorial regime and was expelled from indigenous lands by the “Department of Indigenous Affairs”, returning to São Paulo. She then founded what would later be named the Pro-Yanomami Commission which, from the late 1970s to 1992, campaigned strongly for the demarcation of Yanomami lands as a way of protecting the indigenous people who inhabit this territory. 

The Yanomami indigenous land was demarcated in 1992, under the Collor government (1990-92). This demarcation took place in amidst a “gold rush” episode (between 1987-92). Several miners began to settle in the indigenous land when large mineral deposits were discovered in the territory, which resulted in about 1800 deaths of indigenous people, due to disease and violence.


The series “Sonhos Yanomami” (Dreams of the Yanomami) appears as a unique possibility of analysis by proposing a new documentation structure, that breaks with the documentary tradition of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th. This series consists of 18 photos and was published in the book The Vulnerability of Being (ANDUJAR, 2005). Andujar performed a series of interventions in the negatives taken between the 1970s and 80s with the Yanomami people. Adding lights of various colors, other images and compositions of “negative sandwiches”. Thus creating another kind of documentation of the Yanomami, focused on their imagination and their way of seeing the world or, as stated by Sandra S. Pedroni (2018, p. 12):

Claudia Andujar, with techniques of lights, shadows and superimpositions, opens a vision for other times, heard by the words that Davi Kopenawa shares in A Queda do Céu. Her images open up a dimension of cosmological exchanges to other ways of understanding existence and the affectionate approach that we exist in relation to the planet. It is about the opening of some cosmopolitical affinities that conceive the forest as a living entity and that has its matter crossed in the bodies. A vision that conceives nature as a chemical and spiritual entity.

It is noted that the creation of Andujar permeates the indigenous perspective in a delicate way, with a role of listening and a dialectical interaction. Which is understood by Fernando de Tacca as a third stage of the development of Ethnographic Photography in Brazil, because “the manifestations of an ethnopoetics of Claudia Andujar’s photographs make medium and image merge in an ethnographic place in contemporary art” (TACCA, 2011, p. . 191). The great innovation that Andujar offers, therefore, is to consecrate her photography as contemporary art for its native ethnolanguage, or ethnopoetics, as Tacca puts it. It transcends mere ethnographic documentation due to its dialectical relation between photographer-photographed. The photographic act functions as conversation, especially because the initial use Andujar made of photography, to better understand the country that was adopting her.

The use of hybrid techniques on the original negatives from the 1970s, made between 2003 and 2004, show a new “abstractionist” possibility that expands the documentary dimension of Andujar’s work. Or as she explains to us:

(…) when I was with them, I photographed more in black and white than in color, but also in color. When I started doing in color, I was in São Paulo in 2003 and 2004. I took my old work, reworked these old photos with superimpositions of these black and white photos with the color ones. They [the Yanomami] receive the spirits of nature through shamanic works and I tried to represent this in the photos. The photos have an overlay of the portraits with photos of a mossy rock. So, all these photos have characteristics of portraits with photos of nature elements on top, or nature animals on top of them. The Yanomami do not see man as superior to nature. For them, men are part of nature. I also think that we are part of a globality of nature (ANDUJAR, 2010).

According to Castanheira (2016, p.136), the unique value of Andujar’s work in the series “Sonhos Yanomami” lies in this expansion of the documentary perspective, through the processes of overlapping images. The more direct documentary perspective of the 1970s undergoes a readjustment of meaning through the process of subsequent alteration of the images. Thus, one flees from the indigenous idealized by Romanticism, from the “uncontacted” and “threatened”. Thus, we seek to access the invisible and cultural facts of the spiritual and real life of the Yanomami.

Image 1: Desabamento do Céu/ Fim do Mundo [Sonhos Yanomami series]. 1976-2011. Source: ENCICLOPÉDIA Itaú Cultural de Arte e Cultura Brasileiras. São Paulo: Itaú Cultural, 2019. Available at: < 18847/claudia-andujar>.

The “Fall of Heaven/End of the World” (Image 1) appears as a way of marking the end of the world, or a form of transition between different eras for the culture of the Yanomami peoples. Having already had a previous fall from the sky, we would be in one phase among several that could form new worlds (for a more accurate elaboration on these conceptions, consult LEITE, 2013). At the same time, the other worlds continue to exist and can be accessed by shamans with access to other dimensions of the spirit. By superimposing an inverted photography of a water stream over a collage of the Yanomami, Andujar manages to give new visual meaning to an abstract narrative around their creation myth. In the words of David Kopenawa:

“The forest is alive. It will only die if the whites insist on destroying it. If they succeed, the rivers will disappear underground, the ground will crumble, the trees will wither and the rocks will crack in the heat. The parched earth will be empty and silent. The xapiri spirits, who descend from the mountains to play in the forest, in their mirrors, will flee far away. Their parents, the shamans, will no longer be able to call them and make them dance to protect us. They will not be able to ward off the epidemic smoke that devours us. They will no longer be able to contain the evil beings, who will turn the forest into chaos. Then we will die, one after the other, both the whites and us. All shamans will eventually die. When there are none of them left alive to support the sky, it will collapse.”

(Epigraph, KOPENAWA and ALBERT, 2015)

Image 2: Êxtase [Sonhos Yanomami series]. 1976-2011.  Source: ENCICLOPÉDIA Itaú Cultural de Arte e Cultura Brasileiras. São Paulo: Itaú Cultural, 2019. Available at: < 18847/claudia-andujar>.

The image “Ecstasy” (Image 2) brings the superimposition of the image of a mountain and an indigenous man lying down with an open arm, away from his body. This image has a combination of elements that refer to telluric and dreamlike aspects at the same time. The solidity of the mountain seems to dissolve in front of the bluish coloring of the image, the image of the indigenous as if floating in space and the way in which the “sandwich of negatives” was assembled. For it is montage that gives spectrality and fluidity to concrete images.

This image refers to the use of yãkoana, a type of hallucinogenic snuff, used by the Yanomami people in certain rituals to access the spirits and the invisible world. Still, Moraes (2018) highlights that: “despite the fusion, the human spectrum stands out in the landscape, especially from the torso upwards, with its volume subtly enhanced by games of light and shadow, which bring it to the foreground. This feature gives us the impression that the fluid figure is “on top” of the mountain, flying over it, which points to the idea of a shamanic flight through unthinkable heights and distances, breaking through regions inaccessible to the common human being.”

FImage 3: Toototobi Warrior [Sonhos Yanomami series]. 1976-2011.  Fonte: ENCICLOPÉDIA Itaú Cultural de Arte e Cultura Brasileiras. São Paulo: Itaú Cultural, 2019. Available at: < 18847/claudia-andujar>.

The image “Toototobi Warrior” (Image 3) is a collage of a main image of a Yanomami warrior in the foreground, inside a community hut (commonly called a maloca). This image is found in an abstract overlay that mimics fluidity in midair, mimicking the forms of relationship that extrapolate the warrior’s own body. In addition, there is a collage in the image of a group of warriors in the background that extrapolate the physical possibilities of this maloca. There is a clear representation of the connection with the extracorporeal world, sublimating the networks of relationships that, in the Yanomami mentality, also go beyond physical conceptions.


As stated by Fernando de Tacca, contrary to what was thought in the 19th Century, it is not possible to photograph the spirits. But Andujar manages to translate the Yanomami cosmovision into her work. She manages to magicalize the image (FLUSSER, 2002) through her interventions. For, as Tacca (2011, p. 121) states: “Within a phenomenological field, Claudia Andujar creates a new imagetic space, by proposing a concept-image of the Yanomami”.

It is in this encounter/conflict between the mythical field and the photographer that a new type of shaman is decanted, the photographer himself, as the creator of concept-images. For the Flusserian paradigm (FLUSSER, 2002 and 2008), the creation of writing served as the victory of technique over prehistoric magical thinking. The basis for understanding his concept of “technical image” lies in two facts: 1) the fact that technique and magic are irreconcilable opponents. And that, with the invention of writing, we began to experience a hegemony of technique in most civilizations. 2) The fact that the invention of the technical image appears as an attempt to re-magicize the image. For Flusser (2008), the concept of technical image emerges from images produced by machines and that have reproducibility (BENJAMIN, 1994a) in their nature, from the daguerreotype to GIFs. 

Flusser (2002) appropriates Walter Benjamin’s thought on reproducibility to propose that prehistoric images contained magic because they were the product of thought and not yet constrained by technique. The emergence of writing, a technique, would be the betrayal of image. Writing, then, would come to dominate thought through its technical procedure. And the images would suffer under this same technical domain. The creation of photography was an attempt to bring back the magic to images and make the production of images independent of technique. However, the technical image, originated with the invention of photography, was a type of image that came to be managed by the agency of the apparatus, of the machines, of the device, which are themselves a product of technique.

Flusser (2002) argues that devices seek to dominate the processes of image creation, and that the agency of the devices implies their perpetuation and their continuous development. In this sense, points out Flusser, the only way that photographers have to fight against the machine and take the reins of producing meaning in the image is by using a jeitinho that does not let the devices do what they want.

Also, based on Flusser’s thinking and Benjamin’s thinking, Fontcuberta (2010, 2014a, 2014b) proposes the concept of post-photography, which analyzes the effects of the technical image for the 21st century, with digitization. Fontcuberta decrees that, in the general context, the devices have already won the battle, as they managed to develop (or evolve) to the point that the generation of images no longer depends on human agency. 

There are countless examples in this regard, from drones, surveillance cameras, satellites, cell phones and applications with specific factory-ready formatting. What’s more, with the adverse effect of creating a new kind of image under the mastery of technique, an image that is so convincing that it surpasses any notion of reality. Especially since it appears to be reality as it is.

If we agree with Fernando de Tacca’s (2011) argument that Andujar manages to magicalize her photographs through the representation of the Yanomami cosmovision, especially in the series “Sonhos Yanomami”, it can be inferred that she fulfills the “game against the apparatus” that Flusser points out as the only way out to oppose the mechanical agency and the hegemony of technique. More interesting is to observe that, in order to magicalize these images, the subject dealt with belongs to a worldview that is not in the canon of the technical white man.

Or, as Neves & Cardoso (2017) state, the images in this series represent the fusion of indigenous bodies with their environment, transcending the duality body versus mind or human being versus nature. The photographs show the rite of passage “by which the physical bodies of these indigenous people are transformed into states of energy and become spirits of the forest, the Shamans and the Xaripë” (2017, p. 151). Perhaps the possibility of post-history also announced by Flusser (2002), at least in the aesthetic sense (DUARTE, 2011) is transposed precisely by this search for a new understanding, possible only through the encounter of a radical alterity (VIVEIROS DE CASTRO. 2002).

PS: As always, I apologise for possible grammar problems on the post, I will happily take critiques on this since I’m not a native speaker and translated this in a rush.

PS2: A version of this text was first published in portuguese at FLORES-COELHO, Caio F.. Cosmovisão, pós-fotografia e Claudia Andujar. In: Charles Monteiro; Carolina Etcheverry. (Org.). Arte e cultura visual no Brasil dos anos 1970. 1ªed. Porto Alegre: Editora Fi, 2020, p. 19-34.

Bibliographic references (Brazilian format)

ANDUJAR, Cláudia. A vulnerabilidade do ser. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2005.

______. Entrevista concedida à Rubens Fernandes durante o II Fórum Latino-Americano de Fotografia. São Paulo, 20 de outubro de 2010. Disponível em: <>.Acesso em: 23/06/2019.

AZEVEDO, Dúnya. A imagem do índio na fotografia: entre documento e invenção. In: XXXI Congreso ALAS Uruguay 2017. Montevidéu, 03-08 de dezembro de 2017. Disponível em: Acesso em junho de 2019. 

BENJAMIN, Walter. A obra de arte na era de sua reprodutibilidade técnica. In: ______. Magia e técnica, arte e política: ensaios sobre literatura e história da cultura. Obras Escolhidas. Vol. 1. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1994a.

______. A pequena história da fotografia. In: ______. Magia e técnica, arte e política: ensaios sobre literatura e história da cultura. Obras Escolhidas. Vol. 1. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1994b.

CARTIER-BRESSON. O instante decisivo. In: ______. O imaginário segundo a natureza. São Paulo: Gustavo Gili, 2015.

CASTANHEIRA, Rafael. Poéticas da resistência: a representação do outro nas fotografias de Claudia Andujar e Miguel do Rio Branco. In: Revista Mosaico, v. 9, n. 1, p. 125-144, Jan./jun. 2016, p. 125- 144. 

CLAUDIA ANDUJAR. In: Enciclopédia Itaú Cultural de Arte e Cultura Brasileiras. São Paulo: Itaú Cultural, 2019. Disponível em: < 18847/claudia-andujar>. Acesso em: 21 de Jun. 2019. Verbete da Enciclopédia.

DUARTE, Rodrigo. A plausibilidade da pós-história no sentido estético. In: Trans/Form/Ação, Marília; v.34, p.155-180, 2011, Edição Especial 2.

FLUSSER, Vilém. Filosofia da caixa preta: ensaios para uma futura filosofia da fotografia. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 2002.

_______. O universo das imagens técnicas: elogio da superficialidade. São Paulo: Annablume, 2008. 

FONTCUBERTA, Joan. O beijo de Judas: fotografia e verdade. São Paulo: Gustavo Gili, 2010.

______. Pandora’s camera: photography after photography. Londres: Mack Books, 2014a.

______. Por um manifesto pós-fotográfico. In: Studium, Unicamp, Campinas, v. 36, 2014b. Disponível em: Acesso em junho de 2019.

KOPENAWA, Davi. ALBERT, Bruce. A queda do céu: palavras de um xamã yanomami. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015.

LEITE, Eduardo Marcelo. Realidade absorvida: a fotografia empírica de Cláudia Andujar. In: DE JESUS, S. (Org). Anais do VIII Seminário Nacional de Pesquisa em Arte e Cultura Visual: arquivos, memorias, afetos . Goiânia, GO: UFG/ Núcleo Editorial FAV, 2015, p. 157-166.

LEITE, Tainah Víctor Silva. Imagens da humanidade: metamorfose e moralidade na mitologia Yanomami. Mana,  Rio de Janeiro ,  v. 19, n. 1, p. 69-97,  Apr.  2013 .  Disponível em: Acessado em 13 de maio de  2020.  

MORAES, Ana Carolina Albuquerque de. Claudia Andujar e Marcello Tassara: O transe yanomami na fotografia e no cinema. Artelogie [Online], V. 12, 2018. Disponível em:: Acessado em: 13/3/2020.

NEVES, Ivânia dos Santos. CARDOSO, Ana Shirley Penaforte. Pelos olhos de Cláudia Andujar: necropolítica e coetaneidade entre os Yanomami. In: REDISCO, Vitória da Conquista, v. 11, n. 1, p. 140-157, 2017.

PEDRONI, Sandra Suzani. As imagens de Claudia Andujar e os conflitos territoriais na Amazônia Yanomami. In: VI COMCULT – Congresso Internacional de Comunicação e Cultura.  Universidade Paulista, Campus Paraíso, São Paulo – Brasil, 08 a 09 de novembro de 2018. Disponível em: Sandra-Suzani-Pedroni-UFRGS.pdf. Acesso em junho de 2019.

TACCA, Fernando de. O índio na fotografia brasileira: incursões sobre a imagem e o meio. In: História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro, v.18, n.1, jan.-mar. 2011, p.191-223.

VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Eduardo. A inconstância da alma selvagem. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2002.

ZERWES, Erica. Os dois lados da moeda: humanismo e militância em Claudia Andujar e Nair Benedicto. In: BRANDÃO, Angela, TATSCH, Flavia Galli (org). Anais X Jornadas de História da Arte – Política (s) na História da Arte: redes, contextos e discursos de mudança. São Paulo: Programa de Pós-Graduação em História da Arte, 2017, p. 442-453.