Rio Carnival

As Seen By Sam Youkilis

Exploring everyday life with both wit and reverence, Sam Youkilis’ bite-sized social videos effortlessly blend grit and glamour. We discover how he captures the ineffable spirit of the world’s biggest party: Rio Carnival.

In the age of TikTok, Gen-Zers have taken to adding the suffix ‘-core’ to any emergent aesthetic trend. There was ‘cottagecore’ (picnic baskets, broderie anglaise, fruit), then ‘regencycore’ (dropped with Netflix phenomenon Bridgerton). But, despite honing his artistic outlook before the term even existed, there’s one -core that photographer and filmmaker Sam Youkilis has dominated: ‘humancore’.

It is, essentially, humans being humans – sharing snippets of life that celebrate the mundane, a nod to the time-old tradition of people watching. Youkilis has nurtured this documentarian outlook, showcasing individuals in media res of their daily lives. It’s no wonder his vertical videos have resonated so strongly (on Instagram alone, he boasts over 600k followers); his profile makes use of the humble smartphone to create digital poetry, while still being authentic and accessible. It’s a refreshing break from the daily social scroll.

© Sam Youkilis 2023 courtesy Loose Joints

Based between the USA and Italy, Youkilis’ extensive stints in Europe, South America and beyond have made his followers dream of travel: not through trite snaps of pristine beaches or high-contrast sunsets, but by elevating local custom in all its quotidian beauty. Perhaps it’s a five-second video of elderly gents playing chess in an outdoor thermal bath, a collection of clips celebrating the Italian art of scarpetta (mopping up leftover sauce with a piece of bread), or a group of men diligently sweeping the floor of a Kyoto forest. No matter the subject, he is often simply observing – a humble vantage point that gives space (and pixels) to real people.

This makes Youkilis the perfect artist to capture one of the most revered cultural traditions in the world: Rio Carnival. With an estimated two million people in attendance each year, the celebration sees citizens and tourists alike come together to party until dawn, sequinned and smiling in the Brazilian heat. And when it comes to a carnival party, there’s no place to be but Copacabana Palace. Youkilis was there too, smartphone in hand.

The Copa is Rio’s legendary playground of glamour, revered by Cariocas and the international jet-set alike. Sitting proud on Rio’s vibrant Copacabana beach, it mirrors the district’s energetic spirit in hosting sensational soirées. No soirée, however, beats the annual Baile do Copa, or Copa Ball – held each year at the apex of Rio Carnival.

Carnival season at Copa has various iconic moments: parties by the pool, a typical Brazilian feijoada lunch, live performances by Samba Schools and, of course, the raucous Ball itself. During his stay, Youkilis captured these carnival moments through unique angles that reflect the inextricable link between the hotel and the city. Be it displays of love from suite balconies, lazy mornings by the hotel pool or samba performances at the Baile do Copa, his videos reflect a vibrant community.

Out on the streets, the spirit of carnival is inescapable. Street parties known as blocos snake through the city, while beaches crowd with revellers. The ultimate place to be is the Sambadrome, a huge arena where samba schools parade in kaleidoscopic costumes. Youkilis films diverse characters throughout the capital: dancing, kissing, sunbathing, parading, juggling and even spinning through the air, a freewheeling party soundtracked to samba beats. In one video, there's even a mournful trumpet rendition of 'We Are the Champions' – a nod to the famous 1985 Queen concert where Freddie Mercury delivered one of his most iconic performances to over 600,000 people on Copacabana Beach.

Beyond the bright lights of carnival, Rio de Janeiro is a World Heritage Site heaving with natural wonders. There’s Ipanema beach for crowds and people-watching, Prainha beach for the best surfing, and iconic spots like the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain.

For Youkilis, Rio’s beach culture is the ultimate evocation of the Carioca lifestyle. One video captures silhouetted mountains as visitors take a dip at sunset, while another shows a kaleidoscope of colourful umbrellas crowding the shoreline.

This article features still photography from Somewhere, a debut monograph by Sam Youkilis published by Loose Joints.

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