Index World Press Photo
September 2011 | Edition Fifteen     

Close Up profiles some of the world’s leading photojournalists – those who have led by example and can serve as role models for a new generation. In this edition, António Sopa looks at the life of one of Africa’s best-known photographic pioneers.

In June 2009, an unmistakable, uninterrupted musical lament sounded at the Palácio Municipal in the Mozambican capital Maputo.

It marked the death of Ricardo Rangel, one of the last and most distinguished cultural survivors of the 1920s generation in the country, which included the poets and journalists Noémia de Sousa and José Craveirinha.

Born in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) on 15 February 1924, Ricardo Achiles Rangel was of mixed African, Greek, Chinese and Portuguese descent.

His father, a Greek named Makris, left his Mozambican family and fled to the Congo, where he knew his European wife and children would be arriving from Greece.

Rangel was just four or five years old at the time. His mother, Joaquina Dias, would later marry the ‘aged’ Marcelino Luís Rangel, a nurse. From a young age, Rangel was educated at the home of his maternal grandparents, where his sister, Clarice, and four uncles also lived. The family later moved to Maxaquene, where his uncle Amosse bought land and built a house.

Rangel finished his school education in Chibuto, where his stepfather was living. With his grandmother he learned the Ronga language and culture, the dominant ethnic group in and around the city of Maputo.

The allies’ victory at the end of the Second World War and emerging global literary and artistic trends had a profound influence on the young Rangel.

In Mozambique, where white and mixed-race children were already being born to settlers, a group of young artists began to document local scenes, laying the foundations for modern art and literature in the country.

Though Rangel was one of a small elite of black and mixed-race artists, essentially made up of primary school teachers, performers and nurses, he soon understood the social injustice and discrimination which colonialism embodied.

In 1947 he joined the Movimento dos Jovens Democratas Moçambicanos (Movement of Young Mozambican Democrats).

Together with Noémia de Sousa, José Craveirinha and Dolores Lopes e Lopes, he prepared a manifesto demanding the colony’s independence from Portugal, and was arrested.

Spirited and restless, Rangel also wrote poetry, and the weekly ‘O Brado Africano’ published a number of his poems under the pseudonym of ‘António Raivas’.

And it was around this time he began to develop a taste for jazz, acquiring his first records from North American sailors who docked at Mozambican ports.

He was one of the masterminds behind the first Festival de Jazz in 1973, featuring South African groups The Jazz Clan, The Jazz Revelers and the ‘4 Coronets’ and the ‘Hot Clube de Moçambique’.

It is not yet clear when the first African photographers emerged in Mozambique. An early reference to Ambasse Abdula dates back to 1927, but it is likely that there were African, mixed-race and Asian photographers much earlier than this.

After a brief career in mechanics, where he was an assistant at the Garagem Salema, Ricardo Rangel began working in the darkroom of the photographic studio of Otílio de Vasconcelos.

Then, with the photographer Hermínio Curado, his colleague at Foto Portuguesa, he went to work in Beira during the 1950s.

When Curado fled to Salisbury (now Harare), Rangel suddenly found himself with equipment and took over the management of a studio, capturing images for the city’s different tobacconists. He saved some money and bought his first car.

But it was through the press that Ricardo Rangel made his name, joining the editorial board of Mozambique’s major newspapers.

In a rare text written by Rangel himself, he describes joining the newspaper Notícias da Tarde in 1952.

He would subsequently join other popular and prestigious periodicals in the colony, such as Notícias, A Tribuna, Diário de Moçambique and Notícias da Beira and the magazine Tempo, where he joined forces with other major journalists (Rui Cartaxana, Ribeiro Pacheco, Mota Lopes and Areosa Pena) to form the ‘Sociedade de Redactores, Ld (company of editors).

By the time he became a professional photojournalist, Rangel had already fully mastered photographic techniques.

His work revealed the technical artistry for which he would become famous, and his vision: ‘Fotografar o Homem em primeiro lugar' (‘putting humankind centre stage’). But it was at A Tribuna, through his great photographic features showing the contrasts between the ‘city of concrete’ and the ‘city of reed’, that his images rather that the text became the stars of the show.

By the 1960s, Ricardo Rangel was already famous among the small local elite, and was known as the ‘leopard’ of Mozambican photography.

His first exhibitions in Mozambique date from this period: in Lourenço Marques, jointly with the photographers Basil Breakey and Rogério Pereira on one occasion, and in Beira.

Ricardo Rangel gained national and international recognition only after the country's independence from Portugal, when his images could be freely exhibited and published.

This greater visibility would also influence a younger generation of Mozambican photographers.

Due to the lack of qualified technical staff, he was gradually forced to take on managerial roles: head of photographic reporting for the Notícias newspaper in 1979; director of the weekly Domingo in 1981 and, finally, director of the Centro de Documentação Fotográfica (Photographic Documentation Centre) in 1984. The 1980s saw the start of a series of international exhibitions: Berlin and Stockholm, Basel, Milan, Denmark, Glasgow, The Turin International Contemporary Art Exhibition, New York's Guggenheim Museum, Paris, Lisbon, Johannesburg’s South African National Gallery and curatorship of Alfredo Jaar, (with Peter Magubane and Themba Hadebe).

Two photographic albums from his first works were also published: Ricardo Rangel: Fotógrafo de Moçambique = Photographe du Mozambique and Pão Nosso de Cada Noite = Our nightly bread.

As head of the Centro de Formação Fotográfica, (now the Centro de Documentação e Formação Fotográfica, photographic training and documentation centre), Ricardo Rangel trained hundreds of professional photographers.

He continued to photograph intensively while engaged in teaching. The Centre’s collections include images taken during the last years of his life.

In contrast to his best-known prints, Ricardo Rangel later embraced the use of colour and was putting on regular photographic exhibitions across the country. There are hundreds of extraordinarily beautiful prints which deserve to be seen and appreciated by all of us.

Copyright 2011, all rights reserved by the photographers