paulo-whitaker paulo-whitaker's Profile Sun, 17 Aug 2014 18:30:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Brazil mourns presidential candidate killed in plane crash Sun, 17 Aug 2014 18:05:31 +0000 RECIFE, Brazil, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of
Brazilians gathered on Sunday in the northeastern city of Recife
to bid farewell to presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, killed
in a plane crash four days ago, as debate swirled about the
impact of his death on the October election.

Locals waited hours in line to pay their respects in front
of Campos’ coffin and watch an open-air mass attended by a
number of Brazilian officials, including President Dilma
Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. She was
briefly booed on her arrival.

Campos, a former governor of the Pernambuco state, was
mourned at the entrance of the gubernatorial palace in a
ceremony with intense media coverage.

“We lost a leader, one of the best governors that Pernambuco
ever had,” said Luiza Silva, 58, who criticized the presence of
Campos’ political opponents at his funeral.

The death of Campos, who was running third in opinion polls,
is expected to upend Brazil’s presidential race as it catapulted
his running mate, renowned environmentalist Marina Silva, to the
head of the presidential ticket of the Brazilian Socialist

“I have the sense of responsibility and commitment imposed
by the loss of Campos,” Silva told journalists as she landed in
Recife on Saturday. A devout Christian, she said an act of
“divine providence” spared her from being with Campos in the
private jet that crashed last Wednesday.

While the PSB, as Campos’ party is known, is scheduled to
officially launch Silva’s candidacy on Wednesday, a first
opinion poll showing the new political scenario is expected to
be released on Monday.

The outpouring of public sympathy for Campos may at least
initially translate into a popularity boost for Silva, who won
nearly 20 percent of the votes when she first ran for president
in 2010.

Pollsters and political commentators forecast that Silva is
likely to come ahead of or statistically tie in second place
with Senator Aecio Neves, an opposition presidential candidate
who is running on a market-friendly platform.

Brazil’s first-round vote is scheduled for Oct. 5. Rousseff,
the incumbent president, leads opinion polls.

Some analysts said that if Silva makes it to a second-round
runoff on Oct. 26, she will probably be a tougher contender than
Neves as she is more likely to appeal to younger voters who are
disillusioned with Brazil’s political establishment.

Silva also has a loyal following among evangelical voters,
an increasingly influential demographic in Brazil.

(Reporting by Paulo Whitaker; Writing by Walter Brandimarte;
Editing by Jan Paschal)

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High fashion under high security Fri, 02 Aug 2013 21:02:55 +0000 Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

A stylish, high-society blonde smelling of French perfume, inside a maximum security prison teaching prisoners to knit, truly seemed like a scene from a movie. But that’s what I found in Juiz de Fora, a medium-sized city in Brazil’s southeastern state of Minas Gerais.

Just a few years ago, Raquell Guimaraes, now 32, began working with her mother to knit clothing in tricot. They enjoyed success and with an increase in orders she needed more knitters, but couldn’t find enough. That was when she decided to visit the Arisvaldo de Campos Pires maximum security penitentiary in Juiz de Fora, about 100 miles (160 kms) north of Rio de Janeiro. There, Ms. Guimaraes found her perfect knitters, people with available time, some with as many as 20 years to spare.

At first, she presented to the prison administration a proposal to train female prisoners to produce her clothing. But after talking with the warden, Andrea Andires, they concluded that it would be more productive to work with male prisoners, an idea that at first seemed a little bizarre. These prisoners have violent histories, and the question was whether men imprisoned for offenses such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, and murder, could learn to knit tricot. This was the gamble that Guimaraes and Andires took, with excellent results.

Today 18 prisoners work to produce handmade knit clothing. And with that work they not only receive extra money but they also reduce their sentences by one day for each three days spent knitting. Guimaraes sells the creations under her Doiselles brand around Brazil, and in select stores in San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

When I reached the prison entrance to begin my story, the first thing that happened was that the guards confiscated my cell phone. Phones are prohibited inside Brazilian jails, in spite of the fact that everyone knows that many prisoners have them. I was also prohibited from photographing the outside of the prison without special permission from the warden. They explained to me that I could only photograph inside the room where the prisoners were knitting.

I went through four great iron gates, each with three permanent guards, and walked to the warden’s office, where I was greeted with lunch. When they said it was the typical prisoner lunch, I ate it with certain fear, but it was well presented and tasty.

Three heavily-armed guards and two prison attorneys escorted me inside where the prisoners were knitting. It looked like an oversized jail cell. The guards announced my presence to the prisoners, saying that I was a journalist there to do a story about their work. One attorney had with him a form for each prisoner to sign, authorizing me to photograph them. I introduced myself and asked if any would mind being photographed, but none of them objected.

I worked for two days inside with the prisoners, although the first day was cut short when the atmosphere inside the prison suddenly became tense. It seemed to me the beginning of a prison riot, with inmates yelling and banging against the doors of their cells. The guards watching over me asked me to leave quickly, because they couldn’t guarantee my safety at that moment. I picked up my equipment and left, but on my way to the main gate I realized that this wasn’t going to be a riot that would make the news. Otherwise, I would have tried anything to stay inside and cover it. It turned out to be just a problem caused by an inmate who was ill and was requesting to be taken to the infirmary. I was impressed by the solidarity between prisoners. The support that they all gave to one sick companion worked to get the guards to attend to him quickly.

On my second day inside the prison, designer Raquel was there. It was incredible to see her looking like “Barbie” next to the inmates, conversing with them and teaching them to knit. She was relaxed, compassionate, and it was hard to believe that anyone in that cell had committed a crime serious enough to lock them in a maximum security penitentiary.

I finished my story with photos of the prisoners leaving the knitting cell to be taken back to their own cells where they would be locked up, or to the courtyard for a few minutes of what they called the “sunbath.” A guard quietly moved to my side and whispered not to stand too close to the doors or railings near the inmates. He was afraid that I could be pulled away and taken hostage.

All I could think of was the contrast of that atmosphere with the one inside the knitting cell, where the prisoners have a chance to socialize, raise their self-esteem and hopefully return to society anew.

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Reasoning amid riots Tue, 09 Jul 2013 18:52:37 +0000 Fortaleza, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

If the FIFA Confederations Cup is supposed to be about soccer, the latest edition in Brazil was really about so much else. Brazilians are passionate about the sport, but with all the public spending on stadiums for that and the 2014 World Cup, the people inaugurated the Confederations Cup with protests against poor public schools, hospitals and transportation. The protests began over a sudden increase in bus fares, but that was only the catalyst for a wave of protests that swept the country, especially near the stadiums where the world was watching soccer.

They were ten days of steady protests and riots, leading up to the semi-final between Spain and Italy in Fortaleza. I had the information that protests were planned near the stadium, and because of past experience covering I went earlier this time with colleague Kai Pfaffenbach to the stadium. But police had kept the demonstrations far from the stadium in a slum area dangerous to walk in with photo gear.

After leaving the hotel we passed in front of a university where some 300 students were already barricading the main road to the stadium. It was clear that clashes would be inevitable that day.

Police had set up four separate control points to stop the protesters from approaching the stadium, so we chose the one to which the students were heading. The atmosphere became tense when the students arrived carrying bottles and stones. It was their way of announcing violence.

Protesters arrived at the police barricade screaming slogans, and the police prepared for possible confrontations. Kai and I were working close, but then it made sense to search for a different position. I found a house with a terrace that offered a different angle.

The terrace was actually a large ballroom for dance classes, and there were two positions from where I could photograph. One was a large window with a protective grill, and the other cracks in a wall I could shoot through but only have the center of the image without obstruction.

An officer’s gun accidentally fired a shot to the ground, and the already-tense situation exploded as protesters began throwing stones. Some police officers tried to calm the situation, but everyone was nervous and soon stones and firecrackers rained down on the police. The battle had begun. Police retaliated with tear and pepper gas, and rubber bullets. The gas left me unable to open my eyes, and I couldn’t take pictures for a while. The owner of the house I was in offered me vinegar to smell and reduce the effect of the gas.

Amid the battle, out of the crowd of demonstrators appeared an older man shouting and gesturing at the police. He approached them in spite of the rioting students and exchange of rocks, rubber bullets and gas canisters.

With the man’s single-minded purpose, the scene reminded me of the famous 1989 photo of a sole man confronting military tanks in Tiananmen Square.

This man in Fortaleza faced the police with paper in his hand saying that he had the power to imprison them all for their behaviour. He was overly emotional, but seemed to keep reason in his favor, and the police didn’t react against him. After a few minutes he was persuaded to move away because he was in the middle of a conflict and in serious danger. I photographed it all from the terrace.

The image was a very strong one, and was published in most of Brazil’s media and many international news sites and newspapers. But the real repercussion came when the identity of the man was revealed and he was interviewed. The man, Silvio Mota, 68, told Brazilian media that he was mad because he and his family were walking towards their home nearby and were almost hit by tear gas and rubber bullets. Mr. Mota is a retired judge, and was a member of the guerrilla movement that fought against the military dictatorship in the 1970’s.

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Indians, or farmers-to-be? Mon, 15 Apr 2013 17:53:17 +0000 Maraiwatsede, Mato Grosso, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Sixty years ago Brazil’s Indians had their territory demarcated, when they lived in a rich forest from which they extracted their food. Their rivers were teeming with fish, and their jungles with wild animals.

Today, in the 21st Century, many Brazilian Indians live a completely different situation, trapped in corners of their land by settlers who are large and powerful farmers that invade native territory to plant soybeans, sugar cane, and pasture to raise cattle.

We recently visited the Indian village of Maraiwatsede in the central western state of Mato Grosso, a region dominated by cattle ranches and soy farms. Little remains of the native forest that belonged to the Xavante tribe. Much of this land is not officially registered so it was invaded by ranchers trying to expand their holdings. There is even a clandestine city with nearly 1,000 inhabitants built on Indian land.

Because it is a remote location, without much policing and almost no control over borders, power and law in this region is established by those who have more money and more land. The existing law is one of the wild, with force, violence and corruption prevailing.

In the 1960’s, when the the virgin forest was still vast, the Xavante Marwaiatsede tribe lived within their territory of 165,000 hectares but were later expelled by the military dictatorship which argued that it wanted to build a highway through it. The truth was that they wanted to hand the land over for farmers to exploit it.

At the beginning of 2013, after several clashes and deaths between farmers and Indians, Brazil’s Supreme Court determined that the territory belonged to the indigenous people, and that the Xavantes Maraiwatsede could return to occupy their native lands. The government sent National Guard troops to protect the Indians from any angry farmers.

It took two days of driving over a potholed road through dangerous rainstorms to reach the village with a reporter. Before arriving we stopped in a small city that was the operating base for the government’s Indian affairs department, Funai. Funai had to authorize our contact with the Xavantes, and after a delay we finally got the permission and continued on to Maraiwatsede.

We reached the village at the end of the day, and although we were immediately introduced to the Xavante chief Damiao, who received us with interest, we all decided to wait until the next morning for the first interview. I had visited Indian villages before, and knew how important that first contact is. It’s important not just for us but also for them.

A photographer arriving at a village like that is usually dazzled by the Indian dynamic. Their gestures, shapes and colors of clothing and objects, all are very beautiful and inspiring. On the other hand, for the Indians, any contact with a journalist provokes a mixture of suspicion, distrust and curiosity.


Indian villages have a natural unity and peculiar dynamic, characterized by ritual obligations, matrimonial exchange, and norms of reciprocity, all very different from our customs. I perceived this clearly one day as we interviewed Damiao. He and other leaders rarely would look at Caroline, the journalist I was traveling with. They would look only at me while answering her questions, which ruined my chances of photographing them naturally. I was sure it was because Caroline is a woman, and the relationship between men and women in their culture is different from ours. It seemed to me that this type of conversation rarely happens with female participation, shown by the fact that the 20 Xavante natives at the interview were all men.

I photographed the tribe over four days, in which time I felt a mixture of joy and pain at the same time. Before contact with white men, the Indians lived from hunting and fishing. Today the forest is almost gone and the rivers are being polluted. Food as they know it is scarce. Funai periodically sends them basic foodstuffs.

The invading farmers didn’t believe until the last moment that they would have to leave the occupied land, so when the order came they left behind crops, cattle and even their belongings. When the Xavante Indians visited the abandoned farms they found animals, small plantations, clothing and furniture. We went with them to one where there were five cows, which made them think of food.

The Indians began to fire their shotguns at the cows from the window of the pickup truck, one, two, three times, with no effect. It was kind of funny to see that, considering that if the cows were wild animals the Indians would have adopted a strategy to hunt them down. But hunting a cow with buckshot doesn’t work, and they had terrible aim as well.

In one place the Indians became furious when they spotted motorcycle tire marks. They were sure that it was from a farmer who had returned to invade their land again, and we followed the trail for hours without finding anyone. It was probably better that way, because who knows what they would have done with the invader had they found him.

Back at the village I met an elderly woman carrying a large tortoise. I followed her as she quickly built a fire and laid the animal on its back in the flames. I have to admit that the sight of it impressed me, a white man from a different culture who thought it ridiculous to burn a poor tortoise alive. But for the Indians it was simply one of their sources of food.

I approached the fire slowly, looked and slowly started shooting without saying anything. Of course it wouldn’t help for me to say anything because we didn’t speak the same language. After photographing a while and with the tortoise fully cooked and ready to eat, one of the woman’s children asked me to stop because they were ready to eat. One of them told me that only the elderly should eat tortoise because it’s an animal slow to move like they are.

The Xavante Indians from Maraiwatsede were expelled from their land and managed to recover it 40 years later. They were very happy to have won this fight, but are still unsure about the future. They found their lands transformed from great forests into pastures and plantations, and survive on food from the government.

The new generations of Indians increasingly want to assimilate the new culture, while the older ones struggle to preserve their traditions. I think the big challenge will be for these Indians to adapt to these new times, especially with so much deforested land in a country that each year breaks new records of agricultural production. Will they become the next big farmers?

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A recycling hero Thu, 21 Mar 2013 15:35:03 +0000 Santana do Parnaiba, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Today’s Brazil is synonymous with great promise, as the country of the future with tremendous economic potential. But in terms of our care for the environment, we are far from being a global example.

Although we are the world champion in recycling aluminium cans, we still have many polluted rivers and cities, and our rainforests are being devastated to make room for soybeans, cattle and sugar cane. Recycling cans is high thanks only to the thousands of poor who survive by collecting them.

Roberto da Silva is one of those people – poor and unemployed. Years ago the Tiete River was teeming with fish, but while Roberto gets his food today from the river too, it’s not by harvesting live fish from its waters but rather by fishing tons of plastic PET containers from the river polluted by South America’s biggest city. He collects containers in Santana do Parnaiba as they come floating downriver from Sao Paulo 20 kms (32 miles) away, and sells them to a recycling center.

For the average 700 kg of plastic per week that he pulls from the river, Roberto makes about $4,000 a year. He works with a partner, Esmeraldo, in a tightly coordinated division of tasks. Roberto paddles his makeshift boat down the river, picking up plastic PET containers, until the boat is full. He then returns to the shore where Esmeraldo takes the boat to offload the cargo, as Roberto returns to the river in their second boat.

The containers have to be emptied of any liquid that might increase their weight and give a false reading. I was impressed when Roberto said to me, “It’s not right [to sell the plastic with false weight] and we have to work correctly. We are poor but not thieves like our politicians.”

Roberto doesn’t waste any time when at his task. I found it incredible that they don’t use any protective equipment – no gloves, boots or anything. Even the days I spent with them, when I offered him boots and gloves to protect them from the rotten, stinking river, he laughed and said, “I would rather have the value of those in money.”

He must have attained a high degree of immunity after 12 years of sticking his hands and feet in the dead waters of the Tiete. He said he has never caught any kind of disease during the time he’s been in contact with the river. It must be a biological phenomenon.

The days I photographed their work I used rubber boots, but the rotten smell of the river was unbearable. The heat on the sunny days gave me a headache.

At the recycle center the filth and stench were overbearing. But the worst part of all was the man to whom Roberto sold his material, and his treatment of Roberto. Nobody but him was allowed access to the scale as he weighed the sacks of PET, so Roberto’s efforts were valued in the dark.

Roberto is a hero of recycling.

I hope he never has the health problems associated with anyone working in the putrid waters of the Tiete river. So just in case he changes his mind, I left him my rubber boots.

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National sport, national passion Fri, 21 Dec 2012 17:33:25 +0000 Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Soccer is the passion of Brazilians, whether they play it themselves or fervently root for a club in the national league’s annual tournament dubbed the Brasileirão, or big Brazilian championship. The 2014 World Cup will certainly cause a frenzy in the country, and if Brazil were to win then we can expect a week-long national holiday.

The World Cup’s opening match will take place in Sao Paulo’s brand new Arena Corinthians, still under construction but over 50% completed. Brazil is in a hurry to finish its stadiums, so in the case of Arena Corinthans there are 2,000 workers employed around the clock.

Those workers are being pressed to work hard and fast, so like any worker under pressure, they need a stress outlet.Some 500 of them have formed 40 teams to play their own soccer tournament in a small court-sized field next to the stadium, organized by the team of engineers.

They’ve named their tournament the “Brasileirinho,” or little Brazilian championship, in contrast to the Brasileirao. The names of the teams are also taken from names of world class clubs. For example, there is the Ruim Madrid team, as a play on the name of Real Madrid, but meaning “Bad Madrid.” Then there is Barcelama, combining the name of club Barcelona with the word “lama,” or mud. I was actually hoping the final would be between these two, Bad Madrid and Barce-Mud.

The matches were held in intervals between the day and night shifts, without stopping the progress of the construction. At the start I thought they would be aggressive matches with a lot of fighting, but I was surprised from the start that they weren’t at all.

The rules were the same as professional soccer except that they invented a new disciplinary card between the yellow and the red; this one was blue. The blue card is used as punishment for serious misconduct that doesn’t merit expulsion. Whoever receives the blue card sits out of the match for a few minutes, and then has to promise to donate three kilograms of non-perishable food to a charity.

Another interesting detail is the color of the synthetic grass. Instead of the usual green, they used a disconcerting gray. Green is the color of the Palmeiras soccer club, the archenemy of Corinthians club, the owner of this new World Cup stadium. I was told that all things green are prohibited there.

In fact, a company that provides services to the stadium once sent workers with green safety helmets. They were strongly recommended to change them for another color, or face the risk of having their contract cancelled.

All things of the national passion.

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Mad dogs and motorcycles Wed, 12 Dec 2012 18:04:12 +0000 Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Riding on two wheels in South America’s biggest city is not very safe. Authorities say three motorcyclists die every day in Sao Paulo.

The term “motoboy” in Sao Paulo is synonymous with an angry rebel, one of the thousands of motorcycle couriers also known as “cachorros loucos,” or “mad dogs.” Most of them are totally reckless, racing along the high speed corridors formed between the rows of vehicles stuck in heavy traffic. The driver of any car who doesn’t give the right of way to the “mad dog” will be cursed, kicked and likely lose their rear view mirror to a motorcycle handlebar or a gloved fist.

Whenever we Paulistanos are in traffic and a motorcyclist stops next to us, our hearts start beating faster. Apart from the aggressive behaviour of motoboys, not all of them are true couriers. Thieves take advantage of the sheer quantity of them to hide amongst them and drive like them, but to rob vehicles of bags, purses, and anything else in sight.

Recently, laptops have become the prime target for those “moto-crooks.” When a traveler arrives at Sao Paulo airport, taxis will usually recommend not to use any laptop along the way, because the risk of a passing motorcyclist stealing the computer is big.

The city of Sao Paulo has approximately 950,250 licensed motorcycles, of which around 200,000 are registered to couriers. In a city of some 20 million inhabitants, that means motoboy couriers make up one percent of the population.

When I began this story I thought it would be easy to get good pictures. I drove my car through the city listening to a radio station that only broadcasts traffic reports. I expected that whenever I heard of an accident involving a motorcycle, I could race to the scene and shoot. But in practice that was far from what happened.

Moving quickly in Sao Paulo is impossible. In a city where traffic jams of 100 miles (160 km) are common, traffic is heavy all day long. I also found that the perspective from the ground wasn’t ideal to show the quantity of bikes on the streets. I needed to shoot higher from bridges, but walking with photo gear here is very dangerous. Theft of photographer’s equipment has increased greatly, even during big events.

The best solution I found to document the life of the motoboys became quickly obvious – I had to become one myself.

When I was in college here in Sao Paulo I used a motorcycle, so I had some experience. But I did get scared the first days of this story, because both the city and I had changed a lot in the past 20 years. Two days into the story, I began to feel comfortable.

The professional motoboys are incredibly fast, always racing and desperate to make their deliveries. Accidents always happen, either with other types of vehicles or even between two or more bikes. One day I photographed two motoboys who had crashed into each other, and as they awaited the ambulance they argued over whose fault it was. One of them was cruising along the dotted line between rows of cars, and the other crossed between two cars and right into his path without looking.

Another day I came across the body of another motoboy who became a statistic. He was racing between lanes when he lost control of the bike, bounced off the rear of a car stopped in traffic, and into the bus lane.

His helmet was cracked in two by the impact with the bus, and he died. I was extra cautious returning home that afternoon, after that lesson on the fragility of life.

Riding a bike can be a great pleasure, with the wind blowing in your face, the feeling of freedom, agility of evading traffic, and the convenience of parking. All this is especially true in the megalopolis that is Sao Paulo, but these are all minor when compared to the risk of becoming involved in an accident.

After two weeks back riding a bike and fighting for my space with some five million cars, I felt relieved to get back into my own car, never mind the hundred-mile traffic jams.


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Brazil’s homegrown Gaudi Thu, 11 Oct 2012 19:24:51 +0000 By Paulo Whitaker

The last time I took pictures in one of Brazil’s favelas my luck was very different. That was in Rio de Janeiro in 2010, when I was covering a police invasion of the Alemão slum. A bullet perforated the windshield and hit me in the shoulder as I sat transmitting pictures in the backseat of a taxi. Fortunately, I recovered quickly.

By contrast, this time I shot a feature story about a gardener cum architect in São Paulo’s second-largest slum, Paraisopolis. Although Estevão Silva da Conceição’s creation draws an immediate comparison to one by Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, he had never heard of Gaudi nor seen any photos of his work before building his own home here.

Estevão built his house that mirrors parts of Gaudi’s famous Park Guell in Barcelona, without dreaming that someone else so far away had his same style, a century earlier.

The Casa de Pedra – House of Stone – is built of stone but with the walls decorated with every kind of imaginable discarded object from plates, cups, statues, bicycles, and pieces of ceramic, to old telephones. I found ashtrays from hotels in Brazil and around the world, mugs of regional festivals, and antique toys.

What I found especially curious were some security cameras in the entrance to the house. I asked him if it was a dangerous place and if he had been robbed. He answered, “We have all kind of people living in the slums, but these cameras here are all fake, just decorative.”

Inside, a warren of stairways and tiny corridors lead to a roof garden at the top of the house. I climbed the last ladder with difficulty, about eight feet up, and found it so tight that I had to pass my gear first and then squeeze myself through. But the reward came in the form of a beautiful overview of the slum of Paraisopolis, which is home to more than 80,000.

Photographing inside the stone house was a different adventure. I could not take much equipment because everything was tight, and I felt insecure at times when climbing inside. I had the feeling that anytime I might break through the framework.

In Paraisopolis all homes are constructed by its residents, but the stone house built by Estevão, the “Brazilian Gaudi,” really stands out for its unique design and for the use of recycled materials that give it a different color amidst the slum.

During the three days I spent photographing there, Estevao and his family showed me how much art is present in his life. His subliminal connection to the Catalan Gaudí is real and true.

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Brazil’s exclusively inclusive church Fri, 14 Sep 2012 16:17:46 +0000 By Paulo Whitaker

In Brazil we have a saying, “Soccer and religion are sacred.” Here, as with one’s choice of a favorite soccer team, one’s choice of religion is also not up for discussion. When I discovered here in Sao Paulo a church run by a missionary and a pastor who are lesbian partners, I thought it would be an interesting photo story.

In this megalopolis, there already are a few evangelical churches that are inclusive, accepting people regardless of race, color, economic situation and sexual preference, but the Cidade de Refugio (City Refuge) is the first in Brazil to cater almost exclusively to the gay community. This church, part of the network of the evangelical Assemblies of God, is led by Lanna Holder, a lesbian activist who uses the title of Missionary.

This story was particularly difficult because of the number of subjects involved, and the need to get their and the church’s trust. I confess it took me a while to reach a level of confidence with them so that my pictures were natural. There was also a lot of suspicion among the congregation due to recent financial scandals involving different churches.

Missionary Holder had a complicated past as a young woman, having gone through drug and alcohol addiction, and suffered the discrimination of a lesbian in conservative society. She found her way by converting to Christianity. She says she dropped everything in the name of Jesus and came to join the Assembly of God church where she began to preach. At that time she married a man, had a son, and began preaching against all those aspects of her previous life: drugs, alcohol and homosexuality. Then, fully acknowledging her homosexuality, she separated from her husband and opened the Cidade de Refugio with her new partner, Pastor Rosania Rocha. They call their church a “missionary church.”

The first day I went to a Sunday mass, Holder presented me to the worshipers to explain that I wanted to photograph their congregation. She asked those who didn’t want to be photographed to please change their seats and move to the corners. She directed her words especially to anyone who was not openly gay in daily life.

The worshipers were initially intimidated by my presence in the temple that fits only about 250, and I was the only one not there to pray to Jesus. Every seat was occupied and it was difficult to move about. I took the whole range of lenses with me, but with space so tight I couldn’t use the 300mm, my favorite lens.

It took about three visits for them to become used to my presence, and then it became easier to get the images that really show the emotions and reactions of a church dedicated to the LGBT community. At any given moment, Holder would call on stage the newest members of the church. The first-timers were expected to confirm in front of the congregation that they would be frequent worshipers. It was a moment of glory for them.

I was photographing on stage during those moments, and Holder turned to me and asked me to accept Jesus and join them. It was a very uncomfortable situation for me, but I thanked her and told her I already had God with me.

The last mass I attended was on the first anniversary of the church’s founding, with the Cidade de Refugio overflowing with worshipers. The had to put extra chairs on the stage to accommodate all.

After a few weeks of insisting, I managed to get permission from Missionary Holder and Pastor Rocha to visit their home. They told me that they are working on a project to enlarge the church, and that they will marry next year. At the rate their church is growing, it occurred to me that the famous saying might have to be changed, to “Soccer, religion and sexual orientation are sacred.”

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Everywhere a Crackland Thu, 05 Apr 2012 14:48:39 +0000 By Paulo Whitaker

Crack consumption is an epidemic in Brazil. In virtually every corner of the country there are users of the drug, so we decided to produce a photo essay to cover a wide geographic area. Seven photographers in seven cities during 24 hours. The story titled “24-7, Crack in Brazil” is about crack use in public view in 2014 World Cup host cities Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Salvador da Bahia and Curitiba.

In most of the cities our research showed that users logically confine their consumption to areas with little police presence, such as alleys and deserted streets. In contrast, crack use is so widespread in Sao Paulo that users and dealers gather in the city center with no fear of the police.

Our first concern was safety. Addicts do not normally pose a danger but others involved, such as traffickers and police, will react if they sense our presence. I spent nearly a month in Sao Paulo revisiting the streets of a district known for a long time as “Cracolandia”, or “Crackland,” where I did a multimedia story in 2010. Early this year police routed the addicts and dealers from the two abandoned houses near the bus station where they used to hang out, but since then they have regrouped to other locations.

The city now has several mini Cracklands instead of just one. The difference now is that the police frequently patrol the largest of the new Cracklands, which is only six blocks from the original one. I managed to locate a resident of the neighborhood who agreed to allow me to use his apartment window to photograph from. The day I returned with my camera to take some test photos the police had decided to base a permanent patrol there, and the street was empty. I easily found the addicts’ new location just two blocks away, but I was faced with the task of finding a new place from where to work in safety.

In the first Crackland I worked from a hotel, but due to the owner’s involvement in the drug trade I had to keep the purpose of my stay a secret. In this new location I found another hotel where the owner was quick to accept the real purpose of my presence. He provided me with a room with the best view of the activity on the street. With a few meters of black cloth to drape over myself while shooting, I darkened the room to reduce reflections on the windows and to hide myself. With almost no streetlight I set my camera at ISO 12800, using anything from a 16mm lens to a 600mm. I was tense most of the time as my window faced a bar where traffickers were always hanging out, and anyone spotting me could put me in grave danger.

The most interesting scene I photographed was a young, well-dressed man arriving at around 2 am. Dealers approached him and sold him crack, which he smoked on the spot. I shot a photo of him taking off his watch and then joining a group of addicts sitting on the street.

A few days later I returned to the hotel to shoot some video for a multimedia piece, but when I arrived the owner called me aside to tell me that street merchants and staff at the bar knew that there were journalists in the area reporting on the users. He advised me to come back another week because if they saw me shooting I’d be in serious trouble.

Crack has a quick, devastating effect on people of all walks of life. It’s a trip that’s easy to go on, but very hard to get off of.

Here are comments from the other photographers who contributed to this project:

Edison Vara in Porto Alegre:

I began the search for crack users before dawn on March 19 with my son Diego, also a photojournalist. It didn’t take long to find a place with users, but it did take a while to get close enough to talk to two street dwellers with pipes in their hands. At first Rafael, a 24-year-old former metal worker who now lives on the street smoking crack, wanted money from us to buy the drug. We refused and when I asked him if he wanted something to eat he yelled, “No! We just want crack, and we only have one rock.” Rafael and his friend Thiago agreed to let us photograph them, so while Diego photographed I brought the car close and kept it running in case of any emergency.

Suddenly a boy who looked no more than 12 years old appeared with one arm in a cast. He began screaming, “You’re going to screw us, taking photos smoking crack!” We were sure he was sent by dealers who were observing us from a distance. Next to them was a homeless man lying on pieces of foam and covered with a blanket so he wouldn’t appear in our pictures. Only later did we discover that he was a dealer selling in the neighborhood. We managed good photos, but after 30 years as a photographer I have to admit that it was degrading to watch youths throwing away their lives.

We moved on to another neighborhood until we came across a man and a pregnant woman sleeping on the sidewalk. They discovered our presence and reacted quickly, and when friends of theirs began to appear we carefully “left” the area with no time for explanations.

Checking out another tip in the Humaita neighborhood, we noticed people coming and going in the entrance to an abandoned factory. We called one of them over to talk, and after explaining that we wanted to photograph for a news report three of them accepted to allow us in. It was very dark inside and only 100 meters from a favela with many dealers, we worked quickly and managed the photos. The feeling we shared was one of having completed the assignment, but with great sadness for seeing human beings in that situation.

Rodolfo Buhrer in Curitiba:

After a lot of searching in the crack area I found a woman named Carolina, willing to help us with the story. From one of her windows I had a privileged view of addicts smoking crack, as well as dealers and prostitutes roaming freely in the neighborhood. I arrived at her home in the early afternoon and photographed the first consumers in full daylight. I remained there shooting for the next six hours, until well into the night.

At one point when the addicts displayed great nervousness after consuming a considerable quantity of crack, they began to look repeatedly in my direction. Nervous myself, I began sweating and breathing harder.

Every time I saw someone lighting a pipe I would hold my breath and shoot. After the first few photos I felt both shocked and saddened by what I was seeing. The reaction that crack produces in consumers is extreme. They become restless, changing their clothes constantly, and always searching for another crack rock that may have fallen on the ground. It’s very sad to witness this. At the end of the night they just disappeared.

Bruno Kelly in Manaus:

Crack is not as widely used in Manaus as in other parts of the country, and that made it harder to find a public place of consumption. I learned from one source that addicts gather before dawn to smoke at a certain plaza in the city center, but when I arrived there I heard unfortunate news; A man had been found dead there earlier, so it was not going to be a normal night.

Instead of trying to photograph from afar, I decided to speak to an addict first, but he immediately recognized me as a journalist and took off. Almost immediately a young man who had the physical appearance of a minor appeared and he began to talk about himself. He was 23 years old, once imprisoned for stealing a mobile phone, and now a regular crack user because he found the effect stronger and more intense than other drugs he had tried.

A strange car passed by from time to time, and my greatest fear was of being caught by the police. I didn’t want to create problems for the addict, and I also had no idea what kind of attitude they would take with my presence. A short time later two skinny and badly-dressed women appeared at the plaza and began to smoke crack. The same car passed again and the women finished their rocks. It was just another dawn in the center of Manaus.

Ricardo Moraes in Rio:

Rio’s Cracklands are inside favelas, which makes photographing them much more difficult and dangerous. The one that harbors the most crack addicts is Jacarezinho, also one of the most violent. Crack is a new phenomenon here because until recently the criminal gangs prohibited it as a drug which becomes addictive too quickly, and doesn’t yield big profits. With the recent war on trafficking and the growth of paramilitary militias expelling gangs from the area, all this has changed and the communities have degenerated.

Instead of trying to photograph from a distance through a car window, I initially arranged to enter a favela with the permission of the local gang leader, but a few days before the assignment there was a battle for control of the market and my contact was lost. The only strategy left was to work from inside a taxi.

The day of the assignment I began before dawn to search for addicts in the streets of the city center, a little safer than a favela and far from the control of gangs. As I circulated with a driver we had a scare; A man who had been observing us driving around a square where there were crack users jumped out from behind a tree and tried to attack us with a stone. He was so drugged that he barely hit a tire with the stone, and we sped away.

We continued to search and found some addicts under a train bridge. It was only while editing the photos later that I spotted a few dealers pointing at us. I also discovered that they had disappeared from the following photos. We never new the risk we were in.

Late into the night we returned to the place where I had managed first contact with the gang leader, and that was where we met an addict who accepted being photographed. He was already high but I photographed him smoking crack behind the building where he lives. When he asked for money for more crack, I got up and left.

Lunae Parracho in Salvador da Bahia:

After several failed attempts to photograph crack addicts during the day, it was 8 pm and I only had four hours left. I called a “brother” who said he had a “brother” who knew a guy in the historic city center. We were led from one alley into another and into a bar where a gang was playing dominoes for money. The place was eerie, but strangely familiar. A Worker’s Party logo was painted on one wall, and on the other a scene of a tropical island with palm trees and boats on a beach.

The brothers talked it over with a local crack dealer as I got a drink and ate a boiled egg. What seemed like an hour passed until one of them came back to tell me that the photos were authorized as long as the dealer himself didn’t appear and the place wasn’t recognizable.

It was close to 10 pm and I grabbed my backpack and met the guys in the alley where the crackheads usually smoke. There were five there in the alley, the oldest of whom said that he’d been in the life of crack for more than 20 years, and that it’s a dead end. He said he’d tell me more after taking a “shot.”

A woman told me I could photograph all of them because everyone already knew they are crack heads, and that nothing matters anymore. I got close enough to use a 24mm lens and they smoked as if I wasn’t even there. The smell of the burning rock was strong and other users appeared and approached. Only then did I learn that after the “shot” comes paranoia, and the story changes. It was as if I was suddenly in another place, with different people.

Two of them came to my “brother” and asked him for money. The woman who spoke calmly before suddenly also wanted money and threatened to break our car. Others surrounded the dealer and demanded more rocks. He tried to show he was still in control, but then told us to move fast to the car, and he climbed in with us. We were forced to leave without finishing the assignment or interviews I had planned. But we were alive.

(View a large format gallery of the images here)



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