Photographers' Blog

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.

I was impressed by the mixture of races and colors among the girls, each of them beautiful and brave.

I had just moved to Rio and my most frequent question is how the people get used to living with the violence. Most of the girls at the Santa Teresa Ballet are victims or witnesses of domestic violence, and some of them are already mothers themselves.

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.

An extreme year

2012 is the year of extremes in northern Brazil. Two regions of the country’s vast north suffered their worst natural disasters in recorded history, but they were opposite disasters, with floods in the Amazon and drought in the northeast. Reuters photographers Ricardo Moraes and Bruno Kelly covered both stories. Their contrasting accounts follow:

Ricardo Moraes writes from northeastern Bahia State:

People suffering without water but full of hope, was what I found in the state of Bahia, facing its worst drought in half a century.

We flew to Salvador da Bahia and immediately left for Maracas, one of the towns most affected by the drought. We stopped for the night in Feira de Santana, where we saw women and children drawing buckets of green water from a drying reservoir to give to their livestock. Since there were only women we couldn’t approach them too closely, as our presence without their men nearby would be disrespectful, according to their culture.

Rose’s Divine Love

By Nacho Doce

Deep inside the massive favela called Brasilandia, one of the biggest of Sao Paulo’s wretched slums, lives Rose with her husband Ivo and their three disabled children. I first learned of Rose’s predicament while doing a feature story about the AACD clinic for disabled children. I immediately arranged for us to meet for the first time in their slum at 5 am, the time they leave for a weekly session of physical therapy.

Their alley didn’t appear on my taxi’s GPS, and we got lost in the dark maze. I had to wait for a more decent hour closer to 5 am before phoning them for help. With their directions, I finally reached the top of a steep alley, and found myself practically inside a “boca de fumo,” best described as an open air crack den.  It wasn’t until Ivo quickly rushed to meet me and spoke to one of the addicts, that I heard the words, “Taxi free to pass.” I was relieved.

We hiked downhill through two steep alleys to reach their house. In the living room, their three mute children, Samille, 9, Dhones, 7, and Izabely, 6, were sitting in a row on a red felt-covered sofa, in front of a wall covered with green and brown mold. The scene struck me as both sad and beautiful.

Village of joy

By Ueslei Marcelino

Deep in the Brazilian heartland, where the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin dissolve into the central plateau,  I had the opportunity last week to spend a few days in the village of joy.

What I dubbed the village of joy is the home of the Yawalapiti tribe. One day last week, a group of us were escorted into the Xingu National Park by members of the Darcy Ribeiro Foundation and the Cavaleiro de Jorge cultural center, and arrived at the circular Yawalapiti village under an enormous full moon.

The mood was one of celebration. The Yawalapiti, one of the 14 tribes living inside the Xingu National Park, were preparing a new “quarup,” a ritual held over several days to honor in death a person of great importance to them. In its original form, the quarup was a funeral ritual intended to bring the dead back to life. Today, it is a celebration of life, death and rebirth. From the very oldest to the very youngest, all the members of the Yawalapiti tribe participate in the preparations.

The truest of smiles

By Nacho Doce

What brought me to the AACD (Association for the Aid of Disabled Children) clinic for the first time was Dani, a 16-year-old girl who had been diagnosed with severe scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. When Dani’s mother, a close friend, showed me her x-ray it was a shock. All the doctors they consulted repeated the same diagnosis and solution – surgery. We didn’t doubt that surgery was one solution, but her mother wanted to find a less radical one that wouldn’t leave her daughter with a metal rod in her spine limiting her movement. Dani exercises every day at home with a therapist to change her posture, and began visiting AACD. Admittedly ignorant of the range of problems that cause so many children to become disabled, I was astonished by what I saw – children with severe conditions fighting physically and mentally to improve their lives.

It was the children’s smiles and willpower that drew me to them from the start, as much to those who couldn’t move as to those who couldn’t speak or sense. The parents and even the therapists also showed incredible strength. Once I asked Yara Santos, 9, “How are you able to smile all the time?” Yara tried to answer me, but due to her condition I couldn’t understand. Her mother and therapist could, and they answered for her. “There’s no recipe for smiling,” were Yara’s words.

Another girl who impressed me with her willpower was Luara Crystal, 5, as she lifted weights to strengthen her body against the genetic disorder known as brittle bone disease. Her middle name seemed curious to me, so when I asked the therapist about that she said that when Luara was born and diagnosed with the condition her mother chose Crystal for her fragile bones.

Everywhere a Crackland

By Paulo Whitaker

Crack consumption is an epidemic in Brazil. In virtually every corner of the country there are users of the drug, so we decided to produce a photo essay to cover a wide geographic area. Seven photographers in seven cities during 24 hours. The story titled “24-7, Crack in Brazil” is about crack use in public view in 2014 World Cup host cities Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Salvador da Bahia and Curitiba.

In most of the cities our research showed that users logically confine their consumption to areas with little police presence, such as alleys and deserted streets. In contrast, crack use is so widespread in Sao Paulo that users and dealers gather in the city center with no fear of the police.

Our first concern was safety. Addicts do not normally pose a danger but others involved, such as traffickers and police, will react if they sense our presence. I spent nearly a month in Sao Paulo revisiting the streets of a district known for a long time as “Cracolandia”, or “Crackland,” where I did a multimedia story in 2010. Early this year police routed the addicts and dealers from the two abandoned houses near the bus station where they used to hang out, but since then they have regrouped to other locations.

From the Quake to the Cup

By Mariana Bazo

Nearly 300 Haitians are stuck in Inapari, a tiny Peruvian village on the border with Brazil. They are victims of the 2010 earthquake in their country and traveled weeks chasing their dream of simply getting a job. They believe that in Brazil the upcoming World Cup is creating great opportunities.

Some 3,000 kilometers after leaving home, they reached the Brazilian border only to find it shut to them, closed to stop the wave of their compatriots that began to arrive after the disaster.

They wait in the middle of the jungle and understand little. They’ve bet everything on this chance, selling or just abandoning all their belongings back home to make it this far. They now have nothing in Haiti and can’t reach their destination, nor can they return. They even asked me why they’re not allowed to cross the border, assuring that they are good workers and are willing to work hard to live better.