A Searing Photographic Study of Life in the City, by Miguel Rio Branco

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Maldicidade© Miguel Rio Branco

Magnum photographer Miguel Rio Branco has been shooting the underbelly of cities across the world for 40 years. A new book, Maldicidade, compiles these visceral urban photographs

Miguel Rio Branco’s work has always brought him back to cities. The photographer has long been preoccupied with the full spectrum of urban life, spotlighting raw realities with an uncompromising eye. Maldicidade, a new book of his images recently published by Taschen, compiles four decades’ worth of city-based shots, taken all over the world – though it is never specified which place is depicted in a photograph. This lack of information highlights the universal thread which runs through cities, away from the landmarks that traditionally garner attention, focusing on the sometimes gritty mundanities of everyday life.

Rio Branco attributes his interest in urban life to a childhood spent between places: with diplomat parents, the photographer was born in Spain and grew up between Portugal, Brazil, Switzerland and the United States. Now based in Brazil, Rio Branco – who has been a member of Magnum since 1980 – has been drawn to the fringes of society since first discovering documentary photography; subjects of previous series include prostitutes in Salvador, the sometimes grotesque ways humans and animals relate to each other, and bodies in visceral detail. 

In searing colour, Rio Branco addresses the struggles that can be attached to living in cities, with the small details shining through. Under the bonnet of a battered old car – old cars and decaying buildings recur throughout Maldicidade – a girl displays fresh pastries for sale; children look out from the window of a bus; a group of men stand on a tiled floor covered with spilled blood; a woman sports a wide grin that shows off her gold cross grills; and a well-dressed couple walk through streets covered in graffiti, a haunting pair of eyes in a billboard advertisement watching on above. There is a timelessness to the collection, which, though lacking signifiers of places or dates, is a coherent study of contemporary cities.

Maldicidade by Miguel Rio Branco is out now, published by Taschen.