Image shows spreads from Quilo magazine

Quilo magazine paints a portrait of contemporary Brazil

The “bookish” photography magazine launched by Mico Toledo captures how writers and artists are responding to the country’s sociopolitical landscape

Mico Toledo’s new self-published project takes a look at contemporary Brazil through the lens of short story writers and photographers. Divided into sections based on Brazil’s five regions, the magazine roams the length and breadth of the country across more than 300 pages. It weighs almost a kilo, making the name Quilo – meaning ‘kilo’ in Portuguese – particularly apt.

The book’s moniker also stems from Quilombo, the name given to centuries-old communities originally formed by people who had escaped enslavement in Brazil during the 1800s. To Toledo, these rural “strongholds” symbolise “strength, community, and power in the face of hatred, systemic violence and bigotry”. He felt it was a fitting reference for his magazine surveying life in Brazil in the shadow of Bolsonaro’s right-wing government, which was ousted with the election of Lula late last year. “I wanted to pay homage to the Quilombos, associating the magazine as a safe haven for alternative stories to unfold and flourish.”

One of the stories in Quilo directly touches on Quilombos, in the form of Valda Nogueira’s story Entre os Espíritos e os Peixes, which documents a small Quilombo called Sepetiba along the Rio de Janeiro coastline. Despite being legally entitled to the land, people who live in Quilombos – quilombolas – are fighting off farmers and developers encroaching on their space in a constant battle for their rights. “So to see the beauty of its pictures, its inhabitants and the continuation of its traditions gives me hope.”

Photograph shows a stack of Quilo magazine with a orange-brown cover
Spread from Quilo magazine showing the contents page and a photograph of a person wearing a mask

The publication is described as “a road trip across the many arteries” that criss-cross Brazil, and this sense of place is evoked by the references to the regions in all of the story headlines, as well as the maps giving a more detailed guide to each area.

Led by New York-based agency Porto Rocha, Quilo’s design was “inspired mainly by books and graphic materials from Brazilian Modernism. The intention was for the design to feel contemporary yet timeless, to give weight to the photography,” explains designer and co-founder Felipe Rocha.

The text-heavy cover design belies the wealth of imagery within, and gives plenty of space to the “punchiness and weight of the logotype” which was designed to tap into the ‘kilo’ reference. The simplistic Kraft paper used for the cover was designed to channel a “more rustic and bucolic Brazil, constrasting with modernist references”. Once inside, however, the photographs shine as intended, with plenty of full-bleed spreads to pore over.

Spread from Quilo magazine featuring a map of Nordeste of Brazil on a yellow background
Spread from Quilo magazine showing a full-bleed landscape photograph with mountains in the background across both pages

While Toledo describes all of the stories as powerful, certain ones resonate with him personally. Tommaso Protti’s project Terra Vermelha is significant in how it chips beneath the surface of an idyllic “Attenborough” depiction of the Amazon, instead showing the “conflict, violence and fight for indigenous rights”.

“Rodrigo Oliveira’s Carioca Negro and Queer is another project that’s so close to my heart,” Toledo says. “In it, Rodrigo documents the Queer Black community of Rio de Janeiro with so much tenderness and poetic eye. In a country known for its violence towards the LGBTQ+ community and a social landscape post-Bolsonaro I think these powerful portraits show a defiant and confident community flourishing against all odds. They portray love, empathy and hope.”

Spread from Quilo magazine featuring a black and white photograph on each page
Spread from Quilo magazine showing a person with white paste covering their arms leaning on a chess table

Jatobá, Camila Svenson’s project made in a gated community near to São Paulo, also feels close to home – literally. “I grew up in a very similar place, surrounded by neighbours, always watched by them or by security cameras that constantly surveyed us in order to protect us from the outside world, creating a sense of fear, a sense of mistrust towards the other,” he says. “There is a familiar quietness in these landscapes. Her work surveys this surreal place, empty pools, empty streets, here everyone drives, no one walks,” he continues, describing it as a space between “fact and fiction”.

With the publication, Toledo hopes to “expand the canon of documentary photography to include more diverse voices from South America” rather than the same Europeon and North American figures, noting that very few publications or films focus on Brazil. That said, Toledo was keen to create a pathway between South American talent and the English-speaking world, hence the magazine being published in English.

Spread from Quilo magazine featuring a profile portrait with blue tones and a photograph of a person wearing a corset
Spread from Quilo magazine showing a photograph of a building across both pages

Toledo is a creative director at Mother London, and has been living outside Brazil for over 20 years. As such, he describes Quilo as “a love letter to a home left behind, a sort of longing in the form of a magazine, but also a celebration of its diversity, its stories and visual culture”, he explains.

“I’m hoping that each story here gives people a real sense of Brazil beyond the clichés, a Brazil that persists … beyond the challenges that exist inside its own borders,” he says. “A country full of complexities, full of contradictions, yet full of beauty and hope.”

Spread from Quilo magazine featuring text and a photograph of people stood in a field
Spread from Quilo magazine showing a map of Centro-oeste in Brazil against a red background
Spread from Quilo magazine