Darwin Mentorship: Meet Rodrigo Oliveira

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira

Rodrigo Oliveira is a photographer we expect to see a lot more of. Coming to photography naturally through curiosity, Rodrigo’s work embodies an open queerness that fills the frames of his personal work. . When we came across Rodrigo’s work, its authenticity and seemingly effortless beauty stopped us in our tracks. Darwin Magazine is working with Rodrigo on our mentorship to help develop a new body of work around black queer lives in Brazil, we recently caught up with him to find out why photography, why queer stories.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira
Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira

Q: Your photography work really got my attention with its use of colour, composition and natural feel it seems to embody. How did you get into taking pictures?

I started out with the advance of mobile photography when I couldn’t afford to shoot on a professional camera. I made sure that the camera on my phone was the best I could use at the time and it really led to me making portraits and engaging with photography at a very natural and authentic level. I used to study tourism and later biology so I decided to buy a DSLR to start taking pictures like those I saw in National Geographic’s magazines. From there on I tried different things in photography and realised portraiture is what I do best.

Q: You live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. How does the city influence the photographs you take?

I think that I’m heavily influenced by the ‘Carioca’ culture, the people from Rio. It’s the vibrancy of many clear sky days, the abuse of colour on people’s clothes, the several complexions of skin I find here… I could go on and on… the experiences of someone living in Rio is unique, it shapes you. Colour is something that is really important to me in my work, beautiful warm tones with colours illuminating somebody, that to me is how rio has found its way into my work.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira
Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira

Q: Within your photography, queer lives occupy the frames and spaces you document. What made you focus on this community and people in particular?

It was the rise of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency. As I’m sure your readers are away, his policies are anti-LGBTQIA+ and have deeply impacted those around me. I wanted to use my camera to tell real stories of real queer people, its an important time here for our rights as people to live in freedom and happiness, somebody needs to document and work with the community to ensure our voices are heard.

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira

Q: How do you approach creating new portraits?

I like my portraits to feel real so in order to do that I look for real moments, I like to wait and spend time with the person before I take a photograph of them. To me, that’s how you get them to show parts of themselves which are less guarded. A lot of my portraits that people see are from events and taken on the queer scene from lounge bars to techni parties. I really wanted to capture all the extravaganza that was happening around me. I love to work that way, feel the music and the beat, the vibe of the environment putting you into the moment with the people as you take a photograph. It makes me feel I’m part of the moment, not just a bystander recording events. 

Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Oliveira

Q: The colours and tones within your work are stunning. What influences do you draw upon when creating your work?

There are so many! I think that I’m inspired by my own culture first of all, I love how Brazilians communicate through colours. And as for other artists I feel influenced by the works of Min HyunWoo, Gleeson Paulino, Kristin-Lee Moolman, Lelanie Foster… I could take all day haha

Q: What do you hope to get from the mentorship?
The opportunity to learn from someone who knows the industry, learning the skills I need to make a living as a photographer. And most importantly, how to make it into the market without compromising my values as an artist and my goals to bring visibility and respect for my community.

Q: Is there a project you’re currently working on you’d like to share with us?
Yes! Although I can’t say much before we get some things ready. My partner and I are working on a documentary with and for the black trans community in Rio de Janeiro. We’re still on the planning phase but working it through as we wait for the crisis we’re living to end.

See more of Rodrigo’s work here –

Follow him on IG @rodyoli