Land of the living dead

May 21, 2010

It was one early March morning in 2007 while on my way to shoot an assignment in the Portuguese Language Museum that I found myself amidst a mass of people consuming crack in the heart of Sao Paulo. I had stumbled onto Cracolândia, or Crackland, and the party was one of the living dead. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people openly consuming the drug at such an early hour, oblivious to the flow of pedestrians heading to work in this megalopolis.

(Multimedia best viewed full screen)

I immediately thought that this was a story that had to be told. I needed to show the reality of life for these addicts and alert residents of the local government’s indifference to this problem in the very heart of their city. In spite of a program by City Hall and the state government for neighborhood renewal, crack is consumed freely 24 hours a day. The police appear to expel consumers from the zone, herding them like cattle to nearby streets where they continue to exercise their vice. The abuse of crack in Crackland has increased day by day in Sao Paulo and Brazil.

Police officers push crack consumers and dealers away from one block as an addict lies sleeping in the part of Sao Paulo's Luz neighborhood locally known as Crackland, March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (BRAZIL)

That that same year, 2007, I did a short story on Crackland but now, after seeing the situation so much worse, I decided it was time to do something more in-depth. I began with research into places with a clear view of Crackland from where I could work in relative safety. Without cameras I visited bars, hotels and streets around the district. I hung around trying to get a feel for the streets, get used to the behavior of the consumers and try to know them a little better. Crackland is an extremely dangerous place where users can easily lose control, and sellers can turn the simple action of anyone photographing or filming into a fatal mistake.

A combination photograph of consumers of crack in the Luz neighborhood of Sao Paulo called Crackland, taken from March 26-27, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (BRAZIL)

I chose two points to work from, a hotel across the street from a busy corner and a house in the process of being demolished as part of the neighborhood renewal. The doors and windows had already been mostly torn out and there was an unbearable smell as many crack users used the building as an open bathroom.

In the cockroach-infested hotel, colleague Fernando Donasci and I ran the risk of being discovered by the owner, who for all we knew might be involved in the drug trade. We also feared being spotted by the well-dressed, young girls who sold crack next to the front door, right under the window of the room we rented. I feared them noticing any strange movement in our window, so I periodically went down to the lobby to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. Ordinary for them meant calmly selling crack to users without paying attention to my presence.

A dealer (C) negociates crack with a consumer in the part of Sao Paulo's Luz neighborhood locally known as Crackland, March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (BRAZIL)

In the abandoned house there was a security guard whose only job was to make sure the property wasn’t invaded by squatters as it had been many times in the past. The house was riskier than the hotel in that if we were discovered by users or dealers we didn’t have any place to take refuge.

Photographer Paulo Whitaker documents from inside an abandoned building the activity on the streets around the Luz neighborhood of Sao Paulo known as Crackland, March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (REUTERS)

What moved me most during this assignment was the sheer number of minors and pregnant women consuming crack. Many women end up as prostitutes just to earn the few dollars to buy a fix, and the majority of them end up pregnant. Crack is highly addictive, and according to the users we spoke to the danger lies in the intense pleasure that comes with the first experience, a moment that never replicates itself even after further use. It’s that first rush that addicts try to repeat but never can.

Pregnant women consume crack in the Luz neighborhood of Sao Paulo known as Crackland, in April, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (BRAZIL)

The hours of greatest activity in Crackland are around dawn. Hundreds of users wander aimlessly consuming the drug. It’s not uncommon to see well-dressed people appear in luxury cars looking to buy crack. For me that’s a sign that crack is making its way into all levels of Brazilian society.


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[…] Tremendo reportaje sobre Cracolandia en Sao Paulo, de consumo abierto de crack en pleno centro de la… of-the-living-dead/  por rickeyrogers hace 1 segundos […]

Posted by Tremendo reportaje sobre Cracolandia en Sao Paulo, de consumo abierto de crack en pleno centro de la ciudad | Report as abusive

I’ve been photographing a small society of crack addicts in my hometown, Ottawa (Canada) for 3 years. I took a different approach, one where I collaborated with the subjects of the photographs and only worked with their consent and cooperation.

You can see some of the images on my website….

go to PERSONAL and enter any of the USER galleries.

There are many ways to portray drug use.

Thank you.


Posted by tonyfoto | Report as abusive

Excelente reportagem composta por ótimas imagens de um cenário triste. Parabéns ao Paulo Whitaker, ao Donasci e a todos os outros evolvidos neste trabalho.

Posted by JeffBernardes | Report as abusive

Assustadora essa matéria, e o governo federal ao invés de tomar conta das nossa fronteiras para coibir a entrada de drogas, uma vez que não produzimos cocaina no Brasil, fica fazendo turismo internacional, em apoio a governos que burlam as regras de boa conduta

Posted by Herculano | Report as abusive

Great work by Paulo and Fernando. I’m very happy with the final result. congrats!

Posted by leocaobelli | Report as abusive

Es uno de los trabajos mas completos que he visto, destaco de este reportaje, la valentía y coraje de dos colegas trabajando en equipo, me agrada que se hayan animado a hacerlo, la complementación de video con fotografía es difícil pero ustedes lo logran magistralmente con una edición limpia y sobria.
El tema seleccionado para hacerlo es impactante, considero que el audio en off debió ser en portugués con traducción al inglés. Felicitaciones Paolo, haces que me sienta orgulloso de haber compartido cobertura contigo

Posted by granjapix | Report as abusive

[…] Vejam o vídeo e o relato de Paulo Whitaker no site da Reuters. […]

Posted by Garapa | Coletivo Multimídia – Cracolândia na Reuters | Report as abusive

Failure on government leadership is spreading all over from Oil Spill, Obesity, Drug Using and a continuous Economic Meltdown when greed and fears mars the simple laws of offer demand. Investment is supposed to follow a simple equation inv = inv + profit.

I live in Campinas just one hour from Cracolandia and I have to admit that I am not surprised for many reasons. First of all I am a scientist that Bill Clinton released his first speech for reelection on my PhD at Penn State Univ. on May 10, 1996. Second the media is highly distorted toward profitability and protect its own income distorting a more reality to let humans pursue a balance for their existence.

The world does not need democracy but any form of government that is honest and efficient protecting human endeavors and the functioning of society. Brazilian has a flawed and corrupt democracy that we are forced to endorse. Cracolandia is not different from oil spill in the Mexican Gulf as well as a broad infringement of my ‘scientific discovery’ in the USPTO that Examiners, Inventors, and Attorneys are violating my patents with flawed patents that even do not work besides I already sent 11 letters to Mr. Obama demanding that Hydrology in the patenting system be examined by Hydrologists and not lay people that do not understand advanced Hydrology from my PhD textbooks. Do any search on the word TUBARC standing for tube + arc and you will find out what I am referring to.

Cracolandia is as bad as Oil Spilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as Obesity, economic meltdown and a continuous government failure on public affairs.

Life works this way as we are born face problems solving them and getting ready for new ones down the line. I am aware that classic science from my ‘scientific discovery’ cannot be ignored and will be swallowed if they want advancement. I just want it taking place on my life time so my project keep going beside such minor negligence to test our patience.

In the future humans will learn the basic principles of a healthy lifestyle curbing drugs, obesity, sedentariness, etc.

Posted by Tubarc | Report as abusive

[…] Land of the Living Dead >>> link […]

Posted by Terra dos Mortos Vivos — | Report as abusive

The sad thing is, that if cannabis was legal, these people would be eating better and be more well adjusted. People use drugs because they want to alter their state of mind to get a new perspective on things. Life is full of pain and suffering. Drugs are a way to mitigate that pain.

People are going to use drugs no matter what other more “well adjusted” people think or want. Cannabis cannot kill you. It is impossible to smoke yourself to death. If the money spent cracking down on cannabis was instead used to remove crack and other deadly street drugs, there would still be plenty of money left over for educational campaigns that teach people to be responsible, and avoid deadly habits. Remember “drink responsibly”?

Alcohol can do the same thing that crack does. It just takes longer. But alcohol is legal. That means that millions of people can quietly kill themselves in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. They can go to the store and buy their alcohol legally and then go home and poison themselves to death.

No war on drugs will ever work. What people need, is help in understanding what drugs can, and will do. They need to know which drugs can be handled safely, and which ones can take you over, and cast you into pain and suffering. They need to know how drugs should be used, in order to provide the sensations they seek, and how to refrain from abusing them.

It is the lack of spiritual awareness that causes people to turn to drugs in their search for comfort that cannot be had in this world. Drugs have their place in society. But just like anything else, they can be abused. Fire has a place too. But abuse or intentional mishandling can cause devastation. These people are the victims of a combination of ignorance and suffering. They need help. But because society refuses to understand drugs, those caught in the pit of addiction are seen as less than human and not worthy of aid. It’s sad. We as human beings need to grow up and deal with these issues directly. Sending people to institutions to be warehoused does nothing to solve the root causes of these kinds of problems. Casting them into the street only harms society as a whole. The suffering of your brothers and sisters will inevitably become your own suffering as well.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

In other words, a Democracy based Government, “for the people, by the people”, is flawed as society continues the downward spiral of gluttonous drug use. The effects of the oil spill in the Gulf on the seafood industry will send more and more people to fast food resulting in obesity. Then, finding themselves overweight, they will all rush to crack use in order to overcome obesity. The next economic boom will be manufacturing crack utilizing Hydrology while syphoning the oil to power Government buildings.

After 30 minutes of research, I can only conclude that I have to get high to better understand this man’s reasoning.

Posted by RandyWill2 | Report as abusive

I´m so glad now that the world can see the brazilian´s face.I´ve bee seeing this situation for so long and the politician´s concening are only about the world cup, that´s sounds great.

Posted by clavi | Report as abusive

hola soy chilena y llege aqui buskando informacion sobre esta maldita droga… es realmente impactante y felicitaciones a la persona que hizo este reportaje, gran trabajo que bueno que halla gente que le interese este problema que no es solo de brasil si no que es mudial….aqui en chile esta llegando silenciosamente y quiero informar a la gente…. seria bueno que subtitularan el reportaje en español …..saludos y felicitaciones !!!

Posted by perro | Report as abusive

We need to be honest to the functioning of nature.

During human evolution drugs as well as smoking or alcohol were not part of our physiological functioning. Even more, our ancestors did not have fast food, candies, etc.

Unhappily the best food for man may not be that good to the economy like fruits and vegetables bringing no revenue to the advertising industry to help human face and embrace a healthy lifestyle. Also, to collect taxes.

The best solutions to human existence are certainly unfriendly to the economic system for neither profiting nor collecting taxes.

All strange substances that our organism face may lead to side-effects rarely delivering any advantage because of new component to a physiological functioning. Alcohol is good to the industry and collecting taxes but decisively not to our own health.

Drug problems are not that hard to address since humans do not need it, but obesity is associate to learning to feed ourselves accordingly is a certain burden to address that politics are dodging constantly. Lots of our politicians are overweight and unfit.

By 2040 if the obesity trend continues according to some research Americans will become 85% obese growing from the 33% nowadays. Leading the obesity trend is Australians, Canadians, Britons, etc.

As far as I know reasoning does not require anybody to get high, just opening their eyes and grab some ongoing dynamic functioning a few inches from their perception. Well, it also require some sort of brain performance.

Nature is in charge and always will be as a single misstep can lead to a fall and fast punishment for breaking nature Laws – Gravity. Those ones searching for a balance may endure a long and enjoying existence.

Posted by Tubarc | Report as abusive

Take away the Crack and we’re basically left with images of the poverty and human misery people turn to drugs to escape.

Tonyfoto – good pics and yes, there certainly are different ways to portray drug usage and the issues around it.

Posted by desik | Report as abusive

Frankly, I don’t see how this differs from downtown Los Angeles….why do Americans get glossy eyed over photos of addicts in other countries and turn a blind eye to their own fellow citizens in similar trouble? Oh right, in America we are taught that if the world fails it is America’s fault….and if AMerica fails, it’s America’s fault. What a quaint package of charity…and how easy that package is to puch away when we don’t want to look anymore.

Posted by guestcomment3 | Report as abusive

those pictures kind of remind me of the mindless blank faces of old people on the slot machines in the casinos.

There will always be a way for people to escape with whatever means they have. I totally agree with the person who suggested legalizing canibis – as it offers a safer less personal and society damaging effect.

Personally my release is the other kind of crack – just as addictive though.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

stop droping aid and start dropping bombs

Posted by koertek | Report as abusive

[…] dérive, le journaliste a remarqué un beaucoup d’enfants et de femmes enceintes. Pour réaliser ce document ahurissant, il s’est mêlé à la foule, mais sans appareil photo. Crackland est un endroit […]

Posted by “Crackland” | Report as abusive

Congrats Paulo, clearly doing this journalism is more than a job for you. Your work emanates adventure and a search for the sparkle amongst the mundane.

Posted by andyinmadrid | Report as abusive