It's human nature to be curious about your roots, and recent advances in genetic testing have made it easier than ever to discover precisely where your ancestors came from. This curiosity drove Brazilian photographer Hugo Santarem Rodrigues to take a global ancestry DNA test in 2016 in order to discover his origins. What happened from there is an interesting look at an artist visually processing that information.
Interior is an engaging look at what happened when the photographer decided to delve into his own history and gain a better understanding of the cultures that shaped him. This began with a trip to the interior of Brazil, where Santarem spent time with Gauchos in the south, cowboys in the northwestern Piauí state, and a Quilombo settlement in Tocantins state. By photographing his way through the diverse cultures found in his own country, he began questioning what would happen when he looked outward.
“I wanted to know even more about the beginning of these cultures and also about my origin,” Santarem shares with My Modern Met. “And I, like so many Brazilians, didn't know exactly where my ancestors came from, and the project is based on this, self-knowledge, discovery. When I saw the result of the DNA test and where I had come from, I created a deeper relationship and a huge desire to know more about my origins.”
It was then that Santarem set out to visit the countries of his ancestors. Thus far, he has traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia, immersing himself in the native cultures the gave him roots. By putting a human face to printed, scientific results, Santarem reminds us of how connected we all truly are. Across time and space, there are bloodlines that tie us together and unite us across linguistic and cultural barriers.
With the assistance of Ricardo Moreira, who help with color and retouching of the images, Santarem's photo reportage is a respectful, sensitive look at the cultures he visited. In the images, we not only see strangers from far-off lands, but a reflection of the photographer himself.