Photographers' Blog

A world without smiles

By Lunaé Parracho

The northeastern city of Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest, is a major tourist destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and popular festivals. Its Carnival is considered the world’s largest street party.

In spite of being idyllic in so many ways, this city suffers from an unprecedented explosion of violence in recent years, part of a national phenomenon with the migration of violence towards the north. While the murder rate has dropped more than 63% in the southeast in the past ten years, it has increased 86% in the northeast. That is according to the 2012 Map of Violence compiled by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies.

GALLERY: FAVELAS IN ARMS

In Salvador, the murder rate has risen over 250%.

One of the police officers I spoke to summed up the situation clearly with his own personal tragedy. “We’re living in the middle of a war. I try not to leave home, and  when I do I’m armed,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. He knows what it’s all about – his son was killed recently by a thief to steal his iPad. Just a teenager, he died as he was returning from school on the street near their home in an upscale neighborhood.

Across the city in the Fazenda Coutos slum, Lucia Menezes, 53, avoids going out too. “I only leave home to go to church,” she told me. Lucia also lost her son Ebert, 24, shot by police in their neighborhood on the city’s outskirts. The police allege that their patrol was shot at by five men, and that Ebert was hit during the firefight. Neighbors and family say that Herbert was not a criminal and was unarmed, and that he was shot in the back of the head.

Heartbroken, Lucia said she fears the police and therefore will not pursue punishment for her son’s killers. “God will be the one to judge this, because Jesus has eyes of fire.” She would still like to see the results of a real investigation only to have her son’s name cleared. “He was not a bandit,” she said.

When tragedy turns to joy

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I never imagined to find so many tragic stories that end with joy, until I discovered the project called “Praia para Todos”, or “Beach for Everyone.” The project, sponsored by the NGO Instituto Novo Ser in Rio, offers recreation and sport to the physically handicapped on Saturdays at Barra da Tijuca beach, and on Sundays at Copacabana. The project is run by physical therapists and students, all of them volunteers. They built ramps on top of the sand so that wheelchairs could easily reach the water’s edge.

In my first contact with the organizers, I asked for help to meet some of the visitors so that I could follow their personal stories. The first one I spoke to was Patricia Alves de Souza, 41, the mother of an incredible boy named Jorge, or Jorginho. Jorginho, 11, was born prematurely with brain paralysis. Jorginho is crazy about soccer, and doesn’t tire of telling stories about his favorite team, Vasco da Gama. He knows everything about Vasco.

Jorginho has always dreamed of going to the beach and swimming in the sea. Since he lives in Iraja, a middle-class neighborhood 35 km (20 miles) from the shore, the first time he was able to go to a beach was in 2009, but he never reached the water. His mother, who was abandoned by her husband after Jorginho was born, couldn’t push the wheelchair on the sandy beach at Copacabana.

Indians, or farmers-to-be?

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.

Circus of the Alley

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

A few days ago I ran into Brazilian muralist Kobra in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Vila Madalena. He told me that in that same city square where we were standing in front of his graffiti, jugglers gather every Monday night.

GALLERY: SCENES FROM THE CIRCUS

So the following Monday I headed to the square at around sunset, and found them exactly as Kobra had told me – a group of jugglers in the middle of the square surrounded by and covered with graffiti. Before I even took out my camera I asked one of them if he expected more to arrive. “Uyy,” he answered. “In about an hour this place will be packed.”

I was about to experience what’s known as the Circo do Beco, or Circus of the Alley.

The end of a dream

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

The historic building known as the Brazilian Indian Museum, located next to Rio’s even more famous Maracana soccer stadium, was donated to the Brazilian government by the Duke of Saxe in 1865. The Duke’s intention was to create a center for research into the Indian cultures, but by 1910 it had become a center for the protection of Indians, the predecessor of what is today known as the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI.

In 1953 it became the Indian Museum, and remained that way until 1978, when the museum was moved to another location and the building became abandoned and derelict. In 2006 a group of Indians squatted in the building and ambitiously named it Aldeia Maracana, or Maracana Village.

Those Indians, who survived by making and selling crafts, dreamed of making it a cultural center for their tribes. They lived in the building for nearly 7 years, until last Friday when they were forcibly evicted.

A recycling hero

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.

Rio from above

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

Flying over Rio is always incredible. Seeing my city from the sky reveals its beauty from new angles.

My recent flight over the city was focused on the renovation work being carried out at the Maracana Stadium, which will host games for the Confederations Cup this year, the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games.

With these big events fast approaching, we are constantly monitoring the progress of building works. The new roof being installed at Maracana is supposed to be its big moment, marking the beginning of the end of renovations.

Carnival, from film to Paneikon

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.

GALLERY: BRAZIL’S CARNIVAL

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 tragic legacy of KISS

Santa Maria, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

It was an unforgettable end to enormous pain and a ravaged mind. The last day of coverage of one of Brazil’s greatest tragedies touched me so much that I’m only going to tell how the story ended.

The morning of January 30, 2013, I met a woman who was devastated, confused, and completely lost inside of herself – wounded to the heart.

The first contact with her was moving. We arrived at a building on the outskirts of Santa Maria and knocked on the door of apartment 121, on which there was a message left by children offering help and consolation for a woman named Gelsa. In spite of the obvious clue that inside lived the mother of a disaster victim, we hadn’t reached that place by chance; we were led there by Carlos, a friend of Gelsa, the woman whose small family had now been reduced to just one, herself.

The KISS that ended in tragedy

Santa Maria, Brazil

By Edison Vara

It was early Sunday when my cell phone began ringing nonstop. Reuters called to inform me of a tragedy that was happening in the Kiss nightclub in the city of Santa Maria, with more than 70 known dead initially. That number would soon rise past 230. After more than 30 years as a photojournalist I was still jolted by the news, grabbed my equipment, and left for the site three hours away.

When I reached the gymnasium in Santa Maria where the bodies were being taken for identification, I was shocked to see the parents, children, brothers and sisters of victims searching for information, but I had to photograph all these moments of desperation, with respect for those who didn’t want me to.

The gym’s courtyard was soon transformed into a two-way street of coffins entering and leaving, difficult scenes to photograph. Four soldiers passed by carrying a body barely covered with a white sheet, without a coffin, to a waiting hearse.