The big picture: Miguel Rio Branco captures incongruous city life

Decay and renewal are encapsulated by fresh pastries on a banger’s bonnet

This picture is taken from a book called Maldicidade by the Brazilian photographer Miguel Rio Branco. The title translates literally from the Portuguese as “malice”, but it carries too the echoes of the words “city” and “cursed”. Rio Branco grew up the son of a diplomat, citizen of the world and for half a century his camera has given him similar licence. Though earlier work, photo essays for National Geographic for example, focused on very specific communities – the young fighters of the Santa Rosa Boxing Academy in Rio de Janeiro or the prostitutes and street children of Salvador de Bahia – he has come to reject expected labelling of time and place.

The photographs in Maldicidade are uncaptioned, drawn from a lifetime of wandering the backstreets of New York, Havana, Barcelona and beyond. Rio Branco looks for those contrasts between grimy decay and daily renewal that are the universal fascination of city life. This picture, of a tray of fresh pastries served under the open bonnet of a beaten-up car, depicts exactly the kind of incongruity that his camera waits for. The colour and sweetness of those cakes contrast with the greys of the car and the street.

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