Carnival, from film to Paneikon

February 21, 2013

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was a staff photographer at the Isto É news magazine when I was assigned for the first time to cover the Carnival parade of samba schools. The year was 1986, and I was 24.


From then to now coverage of the event changed a lot, I changed a lot, and even Carnival changed a lot. By coincidence that was the first year that the parade was organized by LIESA, Rio’s Independent League of Samba Schools, which still organizes it today.

I felt as if I had received a present.

I went to the parade with the joy and excitement of someone going to a World Cup or Olympics. Back then 14 samba schools competed in one long night, while today there are 12 split across two nights. When the last school hit the runway I was on my 48th roll of film as if it were my first. Such was my joy at covering.

The headquarters of the magazine was in Sao Paulo, so as soon as the parade ended I headed to the airport, and then straight to hand in my film. I had a 3pm breakfast as the film was being developed, and the editor arrived to look over the 150 rolls from the three photographers who covered Carnival. I still recognize that as my first lesson on self-control in a big event.

I later covered three more Carnivals for Isto É, one of which stays in my memory, the one from 1988. It poured rain then, a true deluge in Rio that I knew would cause problems. As soon as the parade ended I handed my film to one of the other photographers who was going to Sao Paulo, and I sleeplessly headed to Petropolis, a mountain town outside of Rio. There I came across one of the region’s worst tragedies, with 134 victims buried by landslides.

My next Carnival stint was with Jornal do Brasil newspaper for the six years from 1989 to 1994, followed by periods covering for Reuters, then the Lance sports daily, and back to Reuters. The only year that I managed to take a respite from so many Carnivals was in 2007, but I got sick and I spent most of the five days in the bathroom at the family beach house we rented. So much for a Carnival break.

Reuters was all digital by the time I returned to the agency in 2001. We still worked with two photographers, and although I could transmit everything from the press room at the Sambadrome, it was still very exhausting with all the trips back and forth to the runway to photograph and pick up digital cards from my colleague.

In 2005 we began to cover with three photographers, which was an ideal number to divide ourselves between the runway and the photographers’ tower. But the big change came three years later with our Paneikon remote editing software, as we no longer had to return to the press room to transmit. That meant kilometers less of hiking, and more time photographing.

From 2008 onward we also managed to have a new photographer among the three of us each year, a photographer who was covering the Rio parade for the first time with a fresh eye. Carnival is not an easy event to cover because year after year everything looks the same, with each samba school similar to the previous.

The parade of photographers has included Bruno Domingos, Jose Miguel Gomez, Jorge Silva, Ueslei Marcelino, Nacho Doce, Ricardo Moraes, and now Pilar Olivares. Bruno and Ricardo have since covered several times with me, but this year Pilar was the fresh eye. Even so, I was surprised when I asked her what she thought of her first Carnival, and she said that the first night was great, but the second looked all the same.

I couldn’t stop thinking that my first Carnival was 27 years ago.

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