Catalogued through the effortless lens of June Canedo, the photos in Brazilian Girls serve as a vibrant archive of the women of Brazil. When I first met June she was cat-sitting for a woman in Brooklyn and we made small talk about trying to be artists in New York. From there we went backward through her history of travels: Australia, Berlin, Brazil – where she was raised as a young girl – and America, where she was born. Growing up in a Brazilian home, the idea of the perfect Brazilian woman was something Canedo always rebelled against – but in looking at her candid photos of women on the beach it is clear that Brazilian women are much more than their monotonous portrayals in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Brazilian Girls celebrates a diverse image of the women of Brazil and serves as a physical representation of the photographer’s found self-acceptance.
Dazed Digital: Although your new project is titled Brazilian Girls, most of the photos seem to be of older women. The word “girls” seems to carry more loaded connotations than just denoting age. Was there a specific context that you wanted to establish by titling your project “Brazilian Girls”?
June Canedo: To be honest, I prefer the look and sound of “Brazilian Girls” more than I do “Brazilian Women”. I have photographed Brazilian women and girls of all ages for my book and decided that referring to a girl as a woman is just as strange as referring to a woman as a girl is, so I just had to pick one. I also acknowledge the inadequacy of contemporary American vocabulary to describe what makes a female a woman. From my experience, neither sex grows out of their diminutive classification. Maybe it does take a female longer to acquire the name “woman”, but I also often hear grown men being referred to as boys when their actions indicate signs of childish behavior or weakness.
DD: Where did you find the most interesting girls to shoot?
June Canedo: I spent more time in Bahia during this visit to Brazil and I found the crowd to be more lively there. Down south things are a little bit more in order (cleaner, neater, etc) – Bahia is a bit more chaotic.
DD: Who was your favorite “Brazilian Girl” that you’ve photographed?
June Canedo: Women who are sixty and older are always devastatingly cute to photograph.
DD: Thinking of my grandmother specifically, Hispanic women tend to be flashier and more exuberant in their dress well into their latter-years. My grandmother was 60 when she got a dragonfly tattoo on her lower back. Have you theorized the “trope” of the mature Spanish woman?
June Canedo: I praise their confidence and courageousness, but am often disappointed at their resistance to change. I have no patience for tradition.
DD: Growing up in Brazil, did you feel like there were certain expectations for what a Brazilian woman was supposed to be?
June Canedo: Certainly. I was never allowed to cut my hair because “girls are supposed to have long hair”. I was always expected to make my bed and clean my room, while my father would tell my brother that cleaning the dishes was a woman’s job. And everyone around me not only accepted this, but encouraged it. As a result I am a total clean freak and I like to refer to myself as decent cook, but I was always skeptical of these notions. I still cringe at Brazil’s most popular Sunday program, Domingão do Faustão. The host, a large male with a loud voice, invites guests on the show (often other men) to sing and play games while a band of half naked girls dance in the background. I’m talking about Brazil’s most family friendly show here, which airs right after church service, lunch and Sunday soccer, so you can imagine how hard these social standards would be to break in Brazil.
DD: Did you try to rebel against that?
June Canedo: If you ask my mother if I rebelled, the first thing she would say is, “My daughter is crazy.” I have shaved my head twice, I grow out my body hair, my arms are tattooed, I have a septum ring, and my clothes are all pretty baggy. I definitely don’t strive to look like a Victoria’s Secret model like a lot of Brazilian women do. So yeah, I guess I did rebel.
“I try to remain detached from themes and allow the stories to unfold naturally. My photos revolve around my subjects and the bits and pieces of their personality"
DD: How has your relationship with your mother changed over time and through photographing her for the series?
June Canedo: As early as I can remember my mother would ask me to take her photo as she finished dressing for dinners and parties. I’m pretty used to photographing her by now. She is always kind and patient and she trusts me entirely. My relationship with my mother remains unchanged.
DD: There's a statistic that's something like, Brazilian women spend an average of $240 a year on beauty products and within the next few years that number will outpace the consumption habits of most markets, including the US. Living in both Brazil and America, how would you compare the two in terms of beauty standards?
June Canedo: I often question whether society has actually progressed or is it just the world that I’ve created for myself that is fluid. I left home when I was seventeen and have lived in three different countries since. From time to time I like to leave my alternative bubble and revisit old places and friends. This is usually when it is most evident - that beauty standards for the feminine remain mostly unforgiving everywhere, no matter what country I visit.
DD: Your work seems focused on specific localities as with Brazilian Girls – how does the theme of place influence your photography?
June Canedo: I try to remain detached from themes and allow the stories to unfold naturally. My photos revolve around my subjects and the bits and pieces of their personality, which only materialize once the film is developed and the photos are in front of me. Sometimes the subject becomes a product of the environment and sometimes they are completely disconnected, but the story only comes together in the end.
DD: You’ve written “when I'm sitting in a room full of Americans I feel Brazilian and when I'm sitting in a room full of Brazilians I feel American.” You’re a Brazilian woman but also something more of a hybrid. How do you perceive your identity?
June Canedo: I am Brazilian and American in equal parts and I can relate to both equally. However, my least favorite questions are the unavoidable: Where are you from? and What do you do? I’m in my early twenties so my life is in constant flux. The only thing that made any sense last year was picking up the camera again. I’m still very much working on my identity.
DD: You were living in Brooklyn but you’re back in Brazil now to finish out your photo project. In visiting Brazil, what were you hoping to experience?
June Canedo: Next time someone asks, “What is your nationality?” I want to be able to answer confidently, “Brazilian”. I couldn’t do that without spending two months drinking Caipirinha’s on the beach and photographing the bread and butter of this country, the women.
Follow Gabby Bess on Twitter here @seemstween