The Propaganda Photographs of Silvino Santos

Silvino Simões Santos Silva was born in Portugal in 1886, and emigrated to Brazil in his youth. He began his career as a photographer and painter in Manaus, Brazil in 1911. Silvino Santos is most famous as a cinematographer filming documentaries about the Amazon region. He filmed No País das Amazonas in 1922. Theodor Koch-Grunberg’s explorations in South America were chronicled in Silva’s 1924 film No Rastro do Eldorado.

Santos was also a photographer of high repute, and early in his career, Julio César Arana commissioned Santos to film and photograph a very important inspection of his rubber production operations in the Putumayo River basin of Peru. Rubber was becoming much in demand during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Amazon rainforest was the main source of rubber at that time. Peruvian Amazon Company, owned by Julio César Arana, was one of the largest rubber companies. People would go out into the rainforest to find and tap rubber trees, then the latex would be brought to company outposts.

Silvino Santos – Una Mujer y su Hija (1912)

Local indigenous tribes were the only source of labor for collecting latex, and since most people would not voluntarily perform such hard labor for the low compensation, the tribes were captured and enslaved. Workers who did not return their quota of latex were beaten and tortured. Some Indians fought back, but were no match for the superior armament of the rubber companies. Some fled to the most remote parts of the rainforest. It is rumored that their descendants are still living in these remote areas, in tribes that still avoid any contact with the outside world. Over 30,000 Indians were killed in the Putumayo region alone. Julio Arana was responsible for mass murder, but he didn’t care as long as the profits kept rolling in.

Profits were threatened when reports of the atrocities in Amazonia reached Great Britain and the United States. These countries could put diplomatic pressure on Peru to stop the Peruvian Amazon Company. Stuart J. Fuller, United States Consul in Manaus; and George B. Mitchell, British Consul in Manaus, were dispatched to Peru on a joint mission to inspect the Peruvian Amazon Company operations in the Putumayo region in 1912. They would be accompanied by Carlos Rey de Castro, the Peruvian Consul and friend of Julio Arana. Rey de Castro hired Silvino Santos to be the expedition’s official photographer and make sure that the photos did not reflect negatively on the Peruvian Amazon Company.

Silvino Santos – El Capitán Francisco y sus Mujeres (1912)

Santos took over 200 photographs, of which 187 were chosen by Carlos Rey de Castro and Julio César Arana to be put in an album titled El Album de fotografias tomadas en Viage de la Comisión Cónsular al Rio Putumayo y afluentes-Agosto á Octubre 1912. At the time, this album was widely distributed in an attempt to refute the charges against the Peruvian Amazon Company. About a hundred years later, a single surviving copy was discovered and published on the internet here. Some of the photos include young girls, and are on-topic for Pigtails.

The first photo in this article shows a cute little girl standing beside her mother, who is seated. The caption of this photo, which was written in English, states “The husband of the lady sitting was eaten by the Boras.” Sympathy is intended for the little girl who lost her father, and the woman who lost her husband to the “savage wild Indian cannibals”. Showing how the good people of the rubber company brought the blessings of civilization to the Indians is a theme of the album. The Boras are of the Huitoto (aka Witoto) stock. They did not routinely practice cannibalism, but at times sought to gain courage from an enemy warrior by eating his flesh.

Silvino Santos – Parejas de Indios Jóvenes (1912)

Next is a photo of a Huitoto chief and his two wives. Santos posed them with interlocking arms, looking directly at the camera with dignified expressions. This was hoped to be seen as an example of the healthy, happy Indians working for the rubber company. No photo of anybody with scars from beatings will be in the album. Note that one of the wives was a child bride, a topic covered in a Pigtails article here.

Muchachos de Confianza (Trustworthy Boys) and their wives are the subject of the next photo. This is much like the previous photo. Indians employed by the Peruvian Amazon Company are dignified and healthy. At least half of the wives are too young for marriage by our standards. Females are in the front, perhaps because it was thought that nude females are more photogenic than the males. Muchachos de Confianza were Indian quislings who cooperated with the company to oppress others. When there were reports of abuse that could not be denied, Julio Arana attributed it to the excessive zeal of the Muchachos de Confianza.

Silvino Santos – Dos Matrimonios de Funuñas (1912)

The next photo, of two married couples, was meant to show Indians treated well by the rubber company, same as the previous two photographs. Another similarity to the previous photos is that the girls appear to be too young to be wives. Perhaps Silvino Santos emphasized adolescent girls and young women because he felt they would attract the most attention, and thus best serve the purpose of propaganda photographs.

Silvino Santos – Indios Jóvenes (1912)

Indios Jóvenes is the title given the next photo, even though the subjects are all female. Carlos Rey de Castro refers to them as “indias” in his note on the photo. Rey de Castro, in the note, asks why Mitchell (the British Consul) described the girls as “weak”. Rey de Castro asks if it could be because of their lack of modesty.

Silvino Santos – Huitotas Civilizadas (1912)

Huitotos Civilizadas is the title of the last photo by Santos in this article. The women and girls are shown as respectable civilized people like us, all because of the benefits provided by Julio César Arana and the Peruvian Amazon Company. Clothing in this photo seems to be fancy dress freshly laundered and put on for the photograph. The Huitoto tribes in the area did later adopt western-style clothing, but everyday dress was less formal than shown here.

Amazon Yanayacu Lodge – Familia de Nativos (circa2021)

Today, even many missionaries do not insist on western clothing. In the warm very humid rainforest climate, clothing that is not frequently changed and laundered provides a breeding place for bacteria and fungus that can adversely affect the health of the wearer. Today the Huitoto wear clothing like White Peruvians (estilo criollo), but some tribes in tourist areas have devised a new “Indian style” that they wear when tourists visit. The last photo shows 21st century Boras dressed tourist style. This is the same tribe that allegedly ate the husband of the woman in the first photo.

Random Images: Partito Comunista Italiano

Pip discovered this little gem in a historical archive of Steven Lowenstam. It is a poster from the Italian Communist Party (Partito Comunista Italiano, PCI). Lowenstam shot this poster while in Rome in 1984. The PCI was officially disbanded in 1991 due to widespread shifts in political structure.

(Photographer Unknown) – Italian Communist Party poster (1984)

The quality of this image is not very good so we do appeal to any readers who may have a copy in their collection to send us a better image. More information on who may have shot the photo for the poster would be welcome as well. There is some information about the Party on the internet but nothing so far on publicity campaigns included those that may have lead to this poster.

Paticia (below) found this much cleaner version of the poster:

PCI poster closeup (c1984)

Telling it like it is: Victoria Grant

As I have mentioned many times, I watch a lot of documentaries. There is so much about the world that does not make it past the mainstream media filters. The internet is a blessing in that regard because it makes alternative information more accessible to the general public. Pigtails in Paint is a case in point.

I came across a short video produced in 2012 of a speech by 12-year-old Victoria Grant about the nature of the banking system and how money works. Naturally, this is a well-rehearsed speech but I think the point is that the key concept is simple enough to be understood by most reasonably educated young people. Efforts by economists to make certain aspects of this system seem complex when they are not is really a cynical diversion to keep the public from realizing just how obviously unjust it is. Grant has followed up on this theme in subsequent years.

Victoria Grant and the Public Banking Institute - Public Banking in America (2012)

Victoria Grant and the Public Banking Institute – Public Banking in America (2012)

You can see the whole speech here.

Advent of the Attack Ad

In the United States, tomorrow is an election day. A couple years ago, I saw this interesting ad featuring a little girl. It was a scare tactic to get voters to vote for President Johnson in the 1964 election. His principle opponent, Barry Goldwater, was regarded as a warmonger and expressed a willingness to use nuclear weapons. It was designed to impress upon voters the gravity of their decision during a period of nuclear brinksmanship.

Tony Schwartz - Daisy Ad (1964)

Tony Schwartz – Daisy Ad (1964)

What I did not realize at the time was its historic importance as a landmark in political elections and that many believed it was responsible for Johnson’s landslide victory. Although the Johnson campaign staff was condemned for airing this powerful but indirect ad hominem attack, some commentators credit it for opening the door to the more vicious examples we see today. The ad was aired only once on September 7, 1964 and featured two-year-old Monique M. Corzilius counting the petals on a daisy before cutting to a missile launch countdown. You can read more on the “Daisy” Ad on Wikipedia where you can also view the entire ad.

Bug Splats

I noticed this item and it reminded me of protest street art writ large. Although it is a kind of escalation of the art form, given the magnitude of the issue, it seems perfectly appropriate here. And you will not find any local people calling this an eyesore or defacement of property.

Combat is messy, but in the modern age of advanced technology, combatants can destroy their targets from a distance, practically eliminating any emotional impact. This godlike power has no small psychological affect and drone operators often refer to kills as “bug splats”, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed. To challenge this insensitivity and raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan—where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, an operator sees not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face. The child featured in the poster is not named, but is reported to have lost both her parents and two young siblings in a drone attack.

MQ-1 Predator camera footage - Not a Bug Splat Installation (2014)

MQ-1 Predator camera footage – Not a Bug Splat Installation (2014)

The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in the hope that it will become a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites. Read more here.

Soviet Postcards, Part 9: Abram Shterenberg

This is the last (for now) installment of my Soviet Postcards series. Although this artist had a wide-ranging career as a photojournalist, it seems he did have a period in the 1930s when he had a special affinity for children.

Abram Shterenberg - Children in the USSR (1933)

Abram Shterenberg – Children in the USSR (1933)

This is the cover of a—perhaps unique—hand-made album of 12 vintage photographs mounted on card stock and bound by string. Since it was published by Prague University, the captions were written in Czech. This album featured Shterenberg’s photographs of young Soviet children in a state-run summer camp. Some of his images were then made into postcards and there are a few variations of “Olya”.

Abram Shterenberg - Оля (1935)

Abram Shterenberg – Оля (1935) (1)

Abram Petrovich Shterenberg (Абрам Петрович Штеренберг) (1894-1979) was born in the Ukraine and began his apprenticeship as a photographer in 1909 before fighting in World War I. After working in B. Tapuskyansky’s studio in Tashkent, he joined the art and photography department of the Red Army in 1919. He began working as a photojournalist while living with his brother David, a painter, in Moscow in 1926, concentrating on post-revolutionary social issues. He made his name as a portraitist, showing a fondness for extreme close-up, an economic range of tone, strong chiaroscuro and soft focus. He joined the artist group October—founded by Aleksander Rodchenko and Boris Ignatovich. Accused of formalism, he returned to photojournalism, becoming well-known for his photographs of collective farm life and Uzbek landscapes. Later in life, he returned to portraiture while working as a photographic correspondent for the news agency Novosti.

[June 9, 2014]  I was able to uncover another version of the Olya image; I don’t yet know how many variations of this toddler were turned into postcards.

Abram Shterenberg - Оля (1935) (2)

Abram Shterenberg – Оля (1935) (2)

[August 11, 2014] Here are a couple more—this time of a girl named Igusia.

Abram Shterenberg - Игуся (1935) (1)

Abram Shterenberg – Игуся (1935) (1)

Abram Shterenberg - Игуся (1935) (2)

Abram Shterenberg – Игуся (1935) (2)

A Second-a-Day

It is so easy to be out of touch with the latest technology as it is changing so rapidly around us. One of the remarkable new phenomena is the practice of using one-second clips and patching them together to tell a story. On one level, it is an interesting innovation but it also speaks to the need to find new ways to catch our attention while we are bombarded by media imagery. It also speaks to the diminished attention spans of those who have adapted well to the use of certain new technologies.

Ordinarily, I would wait to post something like this until it was properly researched since little material that comes my way is particularly timely. However, an associate of mine—who sends me a lot of curious leads—sent me this one. It is a second-a-day film just posted on YouTube on March 5, 2014. It is a part of the Save the Children, UK’s Syria campaign. It covers the change of circumstances of a little girl from one of her birthdays to the next in a theoretical scenario in which military aggression has taken place in the U.K.  Watch the video here.

Save the Children, UK (2014) (1)

Save the Children, UK (2014) (1)

Save the Children, UK (2014) (2)

Save the Children, UK (2014) (2)

This is an impressive little actress as the rigors of composing this piece and the sincerity of her numb expression at the end demonstrate.

By the time I got to see the video, there were already a lot of comments: I would say the usual gamut of mindless sentiment and requisite hate-mongering. One comment caught my eye because it is something I might have said if I hadn’t given it deeper thought. I think the commenter’s eagerness made him or her too hasty. Nonetheless, the idea was a valid one and one that I have made a few times on this blog (here and here): namely, the image of a little girl is a compelling one and that fact has not escaped the notice of top publicity people. The detractors were equally hasty, condescendingly pointing out that this is a non-profit organization and that perhaps such patent manipulation might at least have a noble purpose. Now, I am not personally familiar with Save the Children and I will not risk defamation by making declarative statements about that organization specifically. But I have learned in my years of study that almost any organization big enough to be known to the general public is driven by monetary forces that inevitably distort its stated mission and it is wise for us to view any publicity—whether it be called advertising, public relations or propaganda—with skepticism.

On another note, I would be delighted to know more about the production of this video. Perhaps the actress (or her family) will have interesting stories to tell about being selected and fascinating facts about its shooting.

Dorothy Hope Smith

Dorothy Hope Smith is best known for her iconic image of a baby for Gerber’s. Here she takes on WWII propaganda, which was literally everywhere at the time. Propaganda art featuring children is almost a subgenre all its own. In the future I will likely do a longer post on this, but until then, here’s one to tide you over:

Dorothy Hope Smith – Don’t Kill Her Daddy with Careless Talk


Fidus, Part 1

Hugo Reinhold Karl Johann Höppener, a.k.a. Fidus, was one of the more prominent Symbolist painters and illustrators of the Art Nouveau style, known as the Jugendstil in his native Germany.  In fact, Jugendstil got its name from the famous magazine Jugend, to which Fidus was a regular contributor.  In his youth Fidus was on the cutting edge of liberal politics, founding a commune and even submitting work to one of the first homosexual magazines, Der Eigene, though later he attempted to join the Nazi Party and was rejected.  While it’s true that the philosophy and politics of artists are notoriously fickle, my hunch is that Fidus never really supported the Nazis but tried to integrate with them as an act of self-preservation and to keep his work in circulation.  If so, the ploy failed, as the Nazis censored and confiscated his work on the grounds that it was decadent, a fate suffered by many artists under the oppressive Nazi regime.  Among Fidus’s favorite subjects was the nude child, particularly the nude young girl.


Fidus – Der Wolken (detail) – Jugend No. 4 (1896)

Fidus – Wasser-Rosen – Jugend No. 12 (1896)

Fidus – Wasser-Rosen – Jugend No. 12 (1896)

Fidus – Frühlingslust – Jugend No. 13 (1896)

Fidus – Frühlingslust – Jugend No. 13 (1896)

Fidus – Der Undankbare – Jugend No.15 (1896)

Fidus – Der Undankbare – Jugend No.15 (1896)

Fidus – Die Kugelläuferin – Jugend No. 19 (1896)

Fidus – Die Kugelläuferin – Jugend No. 19 (1896)

Fidus – Schlingpflanzen – Jugend No. 23 (1896)

Fidus – Schlingpflanzen – Jugend No. 23 (1896)

Fidus – Schwule – Jugend No. 27 (1896)

Fidus – Schwule – Jugend No. 27 (1896)

Fidus – Das Feigenblatt – Jugend No. 20 (1897)

Fidus – Das Feigenblatt – Jugend No. 20 (1897)

Fidus – Untitled – Jugend No. 28 (1897)

Fidus – Untitled – Jugend No. 28 (1897)

Fidus – Glück – Jugend No. 29 (1897)

Fidus – Glück – Jugend No. 29 (1897)

Fidus – Du sollst nicht tödten! – Jugend No. 38 (1897)

Fidus – Du sollst nicht tödten! – Jugend No. 38 (1897)

Fidus – Advertisement for Vegetarian Restaurant (1900)

Fidus – Advertisement for Vegetarian Restaurant (1900)

Fidus – (Title Unknown)

Fidus – (Title Unknown)

Wikipedia: Fidus


From Bill Tree on July 11, 2012
I’m happy to say that I own the print “Schwule”. Not yet framed, but cherished all the same.