Alberto de Sampaio

Alberto de Sampaio was a Brazilian lawyer and pioneer amateur photographer who left us with unique records of the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Petropolis in the 19th and 20th century.

He was born into a family of means in 1870 and his hobbies were poetry, painting and photography, a passion that he nurtured until a year before his death in 1931.

His introduction to photography took place in 1888 at the age of 18 and his most productive period was from 1905 to 1914. Alberto followed a trend that was in vogue at the time which was to create abstract and unfocused shots to hint at a subjective presence for the viewer. Untouched nature was a popular theme among amateur photographers. Technical innovations, however, and the use of photography as a simple pastime were also fashionable and Alberto knew how to explore this in his family snapshots and photos of Rio de Janeiro’s scenery.

His photographs document Brazil’s former capital, Rio de Janeiro, and the modernizations that mayor Pereira Passos (1902-1906) was introducing into the city. His photos depict a time of celebration and forward-looking projects – a city that was leaving its past behind. Memorable scenes of Rio’s deserted beaches and its streets, where the first automobiles were beginning to be seen.

As the passionate and dedicated photographer that he was, Alberto followed the progress of technology at the time. He used large wooden cameras such as the Perken, Son & Rayment (manufactured from 1892 to 1899) and more modern versions such as The Sanderson and the Folding Pocket Kodak (both manufactured in 1904), the precursors of personal photography.

The Lenses of Memory

The Lenses of Memory exhibit, which hosts Alberto de Sampaio’s photographic collection, has had three editions in Brazil. Starting with the show at Instituto Thomie Ohtake in São Paulo on Octobre of 2015, the exhibit has also visited at the Centro Cultural dos Correios, in Rio de Janeiro, and Parque Novo Anilinas in Cubatão (SP). Click to learn more about the exhibits.

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About Us

Alberto de Sampaio’s images, letters, magazines and equipment are being collected and restored to preserve the memory of this passionate amateur and the cities in which he lived and worked. He was one of the pioneers of Brazilian photography.

Through his passion for photography, Alberto de Sampaio perpetuated an invaluable part of the visual memory of Rio de Janeiro in the early years of the 20th century.

The photographs, some of which are more than 125 years old, are being restored and scanned, and will be exhibited in Rio de Janeiro – the city that Alberto documented over a period of 40 years. Follow our blog and our profiles on Facebook and Instagram to see more.

The discovery

Alberto de Sampaio’s collection was rediscovered by researcher Adriana Maria Martins Pereira in 1999 when, during a course she took at the photography club, Sociedade Petropolitana de Fotografia (Sopef), Sociedade Petropolitana de Fotografia (Sopef), she was given access to a vast collection of Sampaio’s images, negatives and cameras donated to the entity by the photographer’s grandson, Eduardo Soares de Sampaio Filho in 1985.

After an initial research, Adriana contacted Sampaio’s descendants, who offered her a vast amount of material comprised of photos and equipment, in addition to letters, albums, books, maps and postcards. In 2002 the story of the photographer and his collection also became the topic of Adriana’s master’s dissertation and doctorate thesis and over the next eight years, she dedicated herself to rewriting the story of amateur photography in Brazil, in its first years, using Alberto de Sampaio’s collection. The restoration and preservation process of the original collection began in 2013 with the sponsorship of Unipar Carbocloro, which enabled the material to be prepared for exhibition under the guidance of Adriana.

Click here to read the doctorate thesis “Amateur culture at the turn of the 19th century: the photography of Alberto de Sampaio” (“A cultura amadora na virada do século XIX: a fotografia de Alberto de Sampaio”) e and the article published by Adriana in the magazine Revista de História..

The collection

Alberto de Sampaio’s complete collection holds more than 2,500 imagens that immortalize the Belle Époque Brazil and portray aspects that are unique to Rio de Janeiro – the federal capital until 1960 – and Petrópolis. This rare set of documents, which includes albums, photographic cameras, negatives, letters, books, maps and postcards – material that has endured for almost a century – is now being restored and scanned.