My quest to find the brothers’ studios in Maputo and Lisbon
curator and historian at Museu da Presidência da República, Lisbon’s Presidential Museum. Not only was their studio well placed, he told us, unusually, it had a telephone — further evidence of their position and status.
Sitting in a grand, oak-panelled room within the museum complex, with paintings of Portugal’s past presidents looking down on us, Bruno produced the gelatin silver prints on glass, of Presidents Carmona and Pais that the brothers had taken. The images had been included in a 2010 exhibition at the museum that he had helped curate. Later photos of us were taken for the museum’s Facebook page. As a result, several months later, I heard from Paulo Azevedo, a researcher who sent me his self-published book about the Lazarus brothers.
My ongoing research and growing inquisitiveness led to a family holiday, in December, to Mozambique — now a very different place from the one my grandfather knew. Having gained independence from Portugal in 1975, its subsequent years have been turbulent, experiencing civil war, economic instability and corruption.
Palm trees still nod and sway on Maputo’s main boulevards but the modern city lacks the allure and
The Lisbon studio had a phone, a sign of success
Exploring Maputo, I felt they were with me
bewitching exoticism of its past. In Café Continental, a popular, central Maputo landmark, I met Dr António Sopa, former director of historic archives in Maputo. Talking above the noisy clatter via an interpreter, Dr Sopa explained why he felt the Lazarus brothers were such accomplished photographers. “The sheer quality of their work,” he said, pointing to their pictures in front of me, “and their use of perspective. They were the ones who [sometimes] photographed from above.” Their book, A Souvenir of Lourenço
Marques, was the first photographic album ever produced about the city. It is now a rare, collector’s item, a copy of which can be found in the British Library. They went on to publish two more albums.
They photographed the elite, he continued, including Governors, Commissioners and members of the British Council. Their postcards and albums were a means of conveying life in LM to the outside world. He thought their subsequent move to Lisbon, in 1908, was likely to have been due to their successful coverage of the visit of Crown Prince Luis Filipe of Portugal to Mozambique in 1907 — the first member of the royal family to visit the Portuguese colonies in Africa.
Dr Sopa then disclosed yet another revelation: that he believed that the brothers had also worked in Malawi.
As I explored Maputo, to my surprise, the Lazarus brothers’ presence was with me wherever I went — their record of the city had created a strange sense of familiarity as I walked past the buildings that they had photographed. Images appeared in unlikely places — in the railway station where pictures depicted its early days and in the black and white photos of old buildings lining the walls of our hotel lobby.
It was drizzly and humid on my final day and I was not certain that I would find the actual address of the brothers’ studio. Like much of the city, downtown Bagamoya St, previously named Araújo St, is a curious mix of decaying colonialera pastel-painted elegance and ugly modern concrete office blocks. It also happens to be the city’s red light district.
Pacing up and down the street, armed with a photograph from Google Street View (marked with a hand drawn arrow), a fantastic local guide and the advice of a renowned, retired Maputo-based historian, I finally located my grandfather’s studio.
One hundred and eight years after he left the city and just over two years after my father’s death, I was standing outside a one storey corrugated roofed, semi- whitewashed building. This narrow street’s name and numbering might have changed over the years but there was no mistaking it. It was here that they made their significant contribution to the early history of photography — a record of which exists in private and public collections all over the world.
Despite discovering so much, I feel frustrated about the vast amount that I still don’t know, especially about their personal lives.
Even though the brothers were the catalyst that brought me to Mozambique, I had not expected to leave with such an intense feeling of connection, pride and vast curiosity to explore their legacy further.