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Images of distant cultures

An exhibition of photographs by ethnographer Harald Schultz chronicles his experiences working among indigenous peoples

Fifteen-year-old youths of the Waujá tribe are adorned with paint for a competition in 1964. Men and children paint one another in preparation for the games.

Harald Schultz/MAE-USP Collection Fifteen-year-old youths of the Waujá tribe are adorned with paint for a competition in 1964. Men and children paint one another in preparation for the games.Harald Schultz/MAE-USP Collection

While working as ethnographer among the Umutina Indians of Mato Grosso do Sul between 1943 and 1945, Harald Schultz of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul received an arrow through the arm from an Indian who believed he had outstayed his welcome in his village. Schultz was rescued by other members of the tribe, eventually recovered, and the event – related in Vinte e três índios resistem à civilização (Twenty-three Indians resist civilization) (ed. Melhoramentos, 1953) – was treated as a minor setback that did nothing to discourage his interest in other cultures.  The ethnographer filmed and photographed the Indians along with collecting tribal artifacts throughout Brazil as well as in countries like Peru and Bolívia that border it.  “He was one of the pioneers in the field of visual anthropology in Brazil, creating a photographic record of enormous technical and artistic value,” says Sandra de La Torre Campos, an anthropologist at the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology of the University of São Paulo (MAE/USP).

A number of Schultz’ photographs can be viewed at two exhibitions traveling throughout museums in the state of São Paulo.  The first, Harald Schultz, olhar antropológico (Harald Schultz, the anthropologist’s eye) depicting indigenous children, opened in 2011.  Harald Schultz, fotógrafo e etnógrafo (Harald Schultz photographer and ethnographer), the second exhibition, launched in 2012, portrays the aesthetics of bodily adornments, headdresses, and paintings.  “Shultz’ photographs are important to anthropology because we can use them for ethnographic and historical studies of the time in which they were taken,” says MAE researcher and docent Marília Xavier Cury, curator for both exhibitions.  “The cultures change and what the photographs show are the cultures at the time and place in which they were taken’” she adds.  The collection of photographs that Schultz left  is precious because it enables research and several comparative studies to be carried out on indigenous cultures of the past and the transformations they have undergone.

Schultz beside a Kadiwéu woman, in Mato Grosso do Sul (1942), photographed during a documentary produced by the former SPI

FUNAI Indian Museum – Brazil CollectionSchultz beside a Kadiwéu woman, in Mato Grosso do Sul (1942), photographed during a documentary produced by the former SPIFUNAI Indian Museum – Brazil Collection

Harald Schultz (1909-1966) was born in Porto Alegre to a Brazilian mother and a German father.  He studied in Germany from age six to 15 before returning to Brazil, where he developed a passion for photography.  “He photographed Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas in Ijuí, state of Rio Grande do Sul, who invited him to work in Rio de Janeiro during the 1930s,” recalls Shultz’ widow, the anthropologist Vilma Chiara, now 86.  It was in the former national capital that Schultz began his work in 1939 with the Indian Protection Service (SPI now known as the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Indio – Funai) – under Marshal Cândido Rondon.  Schultz also attended courses taught by Curt Nimuendaju, a German ethnologist who dedicated 40 years to the study of Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

In 1947, Schultz left the SPI for a position at the Museu Paulista at the invitation of Herbert Baldus, a German professor of Brazilian ethnology at the São Paulo School of Sociology and Politics.  Schultz also attended Baldus’ classes.  According to Cury, “He was a talented photographer and a very good collector of artifacts, but had no academic training.”  “In fact, Harald was more interested in dealing directly with the Indians and actually preferred filming and photography,” says his widow Vilma, who often accompanied him in the field as professional anthropologist.  Schultz would stay in the villages for months.  His widow recalls Schultz’ frequent visits to 25 de Março Street in the commercial district of São Paulo, where he would ask the shopkeepers for donations of every variety.  He would then exchange these items for artifacts: ornaments, baskets, ceramics, woven mats, hammocks, among others objects of Indian manufacture now part of the Museu Paulista collection.

The ethnographer from Rio Grande do Sul wrote monographs and gathered archaeological material for research.  His articles were published in magazines abroad, and his photographs frequently appeared in the pages of National Geographic.  Schultz and Baldus had a good partnership.  “Baldus would often go into the field and Schultz would then join him to begin his work in iconography and/or artifacts collecting,” says Cury.  By 1965, he had made 57 short films depicting the dances, rituals, and manual work of the Javahé, Karajá, Krahô, Uruku, and Waurá tribes, among others.  Today these films can be found in the MAE/USP archives, along with a collection of 1,227 slides.  But there is more – much more – in the hands of Walter, the son born to Shultz and Chiara.  “In Paris, where he lives, he has 24,000 slides of his father’s photographs that date back to 1950, the year we married,” Chiara recalls.