Photographers' Blog

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.

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.

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.

Rio’s ballerinas

By Pilar Olivares

When I first reached Ballet Santa Teresa’s school for underprivileged girls and met the students, I didn’t take a single picture. I didn’t dare to. The girls, who are almost all from families living in some form of social risk, approached as if confronting me, dancing and yelling.

For a while I felt like an intruder. They were wearing jeans instead of ballet dresses, and were listening to Rio’s famous funk carioca music. At my home in a mountainous neighborhood of Rio, I hear funk floating towards us from the surrounding shantytowns known the world over as favelas.

So these girls, completely fascinated by this music that I find irritating, shut off their music players as soon as Vania arrived. Vania, a former professional ballerina and now director of the school, doesn’t like funk either, and doesn’t like them to listen to it. The girls, who can be as rude as they are angelic, hurriedly dressed and suddenly became purely feminine as they put on their makeup for an important rehearsal. Several of them didn’t know how to use makeup, so Vania came over to help.

Gabriel just wants to play

By Ricardo Moraes

What would people say if I told them that I met a footless boy who plays football? (Of course, since I’m talking about Brazil, football is really soccer.) I don’t think even my family or closest friends would believe me. Luckily, I’m a photographer and can show them. The beautiful part of this story is not just that Gabriel plays football without feet, but that he plays incredibly well.

Gabriel Muniz, an 11-year-old boy born with malformed feet, grew up like most Brazilian children with a soccer ball by his side.

Gabriel became famous after he was featured on a TV sports program. Those scenes of him demonstrating great skill with the ball hadn’t left my mind, so I was excited about the opportunity to photograph him. But while on the road to Campos do Goytacazes, where Gabriel lives, I kept thinking that maybe the TV show had been overproduced and that he couldn’t really be THAT good.

Farewell to Fafá

By Ueslei Marcelino

Once upon a time, there was Fafá.

A brave lioness, wild by nature, strong and imposing, Fafá was born and raised in the Brasilia Zoo, and she was undoubtedly one of its biggest attractions.

The star’s last show, however, was a most unusual scene, inside a CAT scanner. Fafá, nearly 18 years old, had stopped eating, had bleeding nostrils, and suffered seizures, and everyone who cared for her at the zoo became concerned.

A complex plan was orchestrated by the zoo to take the lioness to a veterinary clinic. After a heavy dose of sedatives, she was moved from her cage to a litter and transported to the clinic.

A star that shined for me

By Ueslei Marcelino

It’s always a challenge to photograph nature, and the moon is certainly a part of that. Everyone at some time has looked at that giant orb shining in the sky.

In recent months I felt the urge to try my hand at photographing it. The simplest way is to record the moon up there alone, suspended in the dark. The hardest is to capture it with something in the foreground that can cause more visual impact.

This July 3 I had already identified a place where the moon would appear, so all I needed was that interesting foreground object. My chosen place was at the Pantheon of the Fatherland monument, in the political center of Brasilia between the Planalto presidential palace, the Supreme Court and Parliament.

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