Salvador in Brazil is the colonial port city of perfect sunsets, delicious food and a rich Afro Brazilian culture. You can indulge in a delicious seafood stew or deep-fried street food, while strolling through the colorful colonial architecture. In 2010 New York based photographer Mikaela Gauer went on assignment and captured her experience in one of Brazil’s most unique cities.

What was your favorite thing about the culture of Salvador?

Salvador is a fascinating port city, combining rich West African traditions and colonial Portuguese influence in Bahian culture. There are many things about Salvador that are unique like the art, the food, the dance, the religion – as well as its physical layout, as the city is divided between its Lower Town and Upper Town connected by the Elevator Lacerda. It feels very different from Rio or Sao Paulo because of its distinctive culture and history.


It seems that you captured its colonial architecture. How does architecture inspire your work?

I’ve always loved architecture and design because it says so much about when and how a place came to be – it speaks to the history and development of the city and its culture. Salvador feels like an old world city as it was founded in the 1500s, especially in the city center of Pelourinho where there is a concentration of colonial Portuguese architecture.

Tell me about that seafood stew, looks amazing!

Moqueca is a seafood stew made with dendê oil. I grew up on the coast and love all kinds of seafood. When I came back to New York, I tried Moqueca in a few Brazilian restaurants but it just wasn’t the same. I ended up finding a good recipe online and taught myself how to make it – it’s actually really easy. I substitute the dendê oil with either coconut or vegetable oil, so it is not so heavy.

You also spent some time in the beach at night. Who are the people in your photograph?

On one of my trips to Salvador, I went with a crew from Trace Magazine to produce the Brasil 2010 issue on Afro-Brazilian culture. We wanted to shoot a natural Salvadorian girl and ended up finding Rebecka on the beach outside of Salvador. She spoke no English – and I don’t speak a word of Portuguese. We basically started communicating using body language and somehow I convinced her to be the model in our fashion story the following day. She is such a natural beauty and had amazing energy. This shot was taken behind the scenes while we were shooting at night outside of the city. We’ve kept in touch ever since, although we still use Google translate on Facebook to communicate.

Music is also a huge part of Brazil’s culture. How was it like in Salvador?

Bahia is home to some of Brazil’s best musicians – Caetano Veloso, Carlinhos Brown – as well as a wide range of musical styles like samba, reggae, and salsa. In Salvador, there is music everywhere. In Pelourinho I saw some amazing street performances at Terreiro de Jesus and Terça da Bênção. Late at night, you sip on capirinhas and dance with the locals.


The sunsets look beautiful. Any tips on shooting sunsets?

Patience and timing are key, because the light at this time of day can change quickly and dramatically. These pictures are not retouched – a storm had passed and the colors in the sky were just so dynamic and vibrant. I’ve always found sunsets after a storm to be the most beautiful. In general, I like to shoot in the early morning or during “magic hour” – just before sunset, or at dusk, because when the light is low it enhances everything around it. You just have to be in the right place at the right time to capture it. Mobility is also key. Often the sky will change and I have to jump in the car or on my bike and chase the light before it vanishes.


Article by: Laura Rodriguez Castro.