Photographers' Blog

A living culture in downtown Rio

Rio de Janiero, Brazil

By Pilar Olivares

On the first day I appeared as a stranger, to photograph them without knowing their history or their story. The second day I understood what was going on and was able to talk with them at length about what they were doing. The third day I sat and had coffee with them, laughed with them, and listened to them talk about their villages and how hard it is to be in the city.

They are Indians from Brazil’s most remote corners, about to be evicted from the place where they have lived for over six years, the historic Indian Museum next to the famous Maracana soccer stadium.

The eldest of the group told me, “In the city you need money. You can’t do anything without it. In my village I just fish, live in the forest, and listen to the sounds of nature. What do I need money for?”

Marize, a member of the group who was raised in the city but has a warrior’s heart, remembers her Guaraní ancestors as she paints her face in the way that they did when they went to battle.

She can’t stop crying as we drink coffee and she recalls what happened four days earlier when a police squad was sent to evict them from the building they have been adamantly defending.

A place that even the rain has abandoned

Across the drought-stricken states of Brazil

By Lunae Parracho

As white dust follows your car along dirt roads that cut through a maze of dry arteries while the burning sun dries out your skin, you realize that the wilderness is all around you.

A meek, skinny cow stares intently at everyone passing by, as if some stranger might bring it water or food. Starving goats roam here and there, chewing on dry twigs and looking for something to drink.

After losing my way and walking for an hour or two between dry twigs and spiny cactus, I run into Hildefonso standing in front of his house. Time has also got lost in this wilderness and the farmer spends his days waiting for the rain to come. He has already waited two years in vain.

I’m still losing friends

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Rio de Janeiro is a truly diverse city where people of different types and economic classes live side by side. Many of its slums, or favelas, are strongholds of drug gangs who openly operate with high powered weapons in full view on the streets.

Despite the violent scenario, this mix of races and economies is the beauty of our city, and on the streets we are all the same people, and our friendships are as diverse as the city.

Being raised in a typical neighborhood, I’ve had my share of sad experiences related to violence, mostly in my adolescence by losing friends who became involved with bandits, or seeing some wonderful people losing their way with drugs. Every day we heard stories about young neighbors who had bad luck or made bad choices, and ended up in jail or were killed by the police.

A roof for the roofless

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

It was close to midnight on Sunday night, the hour at which 1,200 families planned to occupy 11 vacant buildings in downtown Sao Paulo. Their mission was to improve their own living conditions by occupying and squatting in the buildings long enough to make their eviction a long, drawn-out legal process, and in the meantime, go on with their daily lives.

When I arrived at the meeting place for one of the building occupations, there were around 150 families sitting along a wall with their suitcases. The leaders were registering the names of all present, to keep control over who would enter the empty building. Elsewhere around the city, there were ten more groups like this one, ready to act.

These are members of a well-organized group known as the Movimento dos Sem-Teto, or Roofless Movement. The movement’s members are people who live in precarious housing in high risk areas, mostly in slums known as favelas. Contrary to what the group’s name implies, most of the family heads have jobs. They are largely not homeless but rather in need of stable, dignified housing that allow them to carry on with their lives. Their organized occupations of buildings are almost always in the city center where many of them work, and where they can’t afford to live in decent housing. The lack of a more extensive subway system in a city with more than seven million private cars circulating also makes it difficult to live on the outskirts and commute to work in the center.

Mad dogs and motorcycles

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.

Brazil’s Highway of Death

By Nacho Doce

As Marcondes walked to his truck, his wife and mother said goodbye with the words, “Be careful and may God be with you.” I knew why they talked that way; the highway that he was going to take from Rondonopolis to Sorriso in the fertile state of Mato Grosso is nicknamed the “Highway of Death.”

GALLERY: BRAZIL’S TRUCKING LIFELINE

Marcondes and his father, also a truck driver, know it very well. It’s the highway famous for frequent accidents, where drivers pay little attention to the law and the narrow single lanes mean that trucks nearly touch as they pass each other in opposite directions.

This road that bisects unending plantations of cereal grain is full of potholes caused by thousands of fully loaded trucks a day, each weighing nearly 70 tons.

Brazil’s homegrown Gaudi

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 king of the Amazon

By Bruno Kelly

It was a dream come true for me to accompany the men who fish the pirarucu, South America’s largest freshwater fish. It was even more so to do it in the region of the Juruá River, one of the most inhospitable, winding and virgin rivers in the Amazon Basin.

The pirarucu, also known as the arapaima, is considered a living fossil. The adventure to fish them began from our departure from Manaus in an amphibious plane able to set down on dry land or water, called a Grand Caravan. Our pilot assured us that this is one of the few light aircraft certified to transport the president of the United States, and that left us much less nervous since we were heading into a region with nothing more than jungle and rivers below us.

During the flight I learned that the fishing would only take place during the night, which was a shock as I knew there would be absolutely no light.

The silent drummers

By Nacho Doce

A photograph may be deaf and mute, but it speaks through the interpretation and feelings of each viewer. We might say that feelings are among the few things not yet globalized in the 21st Century.

SLIDESHOW: MUSIC OF SILENCE

For the second time I found myself doing a story on handicapped children in Brazil, but this time deaf musicians were very different from blind ballerinas. What I found truly gratifying about the ballerinas was what they achieved deserved fame. Well after finishing that story, they performed in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics. This time we decided to do a story on a music school for deaf children, only to find out after that they are invited to play Brazil’s National Anthem on their drums in the opening ceremony of the upcoming 2014 World Cup.

As the ballerinas always had their eyes closed it made it easier to portray them as blind, but with the deaf musicians it was more difficult. The majority of them don’t use a hearing aid which would have served as an obvious reference, and my pictures don’t have sound. I discovered their peculiar reason for not wearing the aid, especially those over 14 years old; they were ashamed to wear them on the street for aesthetic reasons, something I realized was natural at that age.

Brazil’s exclusively inclusive church

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.