Photographers' Blog

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.

As we continued our trip at dawn, a fine rain covered us nearly all the way to Maracas, one of the towns most affected, and our intended destination. The rain made me nervous to think that maybe the drought had just ended, before I had a chance to photograph it. We were told that the misty rain was normal in the 1,000-meter altitude (3,280 feet) of Maracas, and that it wouldn’t help relieve the drought. In the countryside it hadn’t rained in the past three years, not even a mist.

Outside the city we found a family harvesting the last of their surviving tomatoes to feed to their animals. They had lost 90% of this year’s crop and this little that was left wasn’t suitable for eating.

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.

Catwalks for all sizes

By Nacho Doce

Three days after photographing the svelte models at the upscale Sao Paulo Fashion Week, I found myself in the crowded backstage of the Miss Brazil Plus-Size beauty pageant, a contrast in every aspect from body size to the organization’s budget and the cost of each dress.


Backstage the overweight models pushed their own dress-filled suitcases with no assistants to help them, very different from the Fashion Week models, each of whom had two or three people dressing, preening, and supervising them.


Television channels filming Miss Plus-Size were offering the stream to reality shows, while at Fashion Week the transmission was to a more serious audience, focusing on present and future stars in the fashion world.

Blind swans

By Nacho Doce

The sensations of those who can’t see or hear you.

When I learned of the dance school I knew it was for the visually deficient. But when I arrived I found myself with many who also couldn’t hear or speak.

It was one of the most difficult assignments I’ve ever had. I had to learn quickly the steps of their rehearsals so as not to get in the way of their dancing. They surprised me with steps and jumps in which I feared tripping and injuring them. One of the instructors was also nervous with my position, and although I soon understood their movements I knew they could change at any time. That could have been tragic for them.

What most impressed me was seeing how a deaf-mute dancer helped a blind one, and vice versa. They helped each other by holding hands to learn classic ballet together, with extraordinary simplicity and beauty. Simplicity describes the way they behaved together, and their young age made an even deeper impact on me.

Painting a favela

By Nacho Doce

Before I was able to experience a Sao Paulo favela firsthand, my knowledge of that world was mostly defined by a movie I saw only a few weeks earlier called “Linha de Passe,” or “Passing Line” in English. The title is a metaphor of the concept of teamwork, the imaginary line that connects players passing the ball in soccer. In the movie the players are the four brothers of a family, and the ball is life itself. What I took away from the movie about a slum family’s struggle to survive, was an idea of what it’s like to live on the edge of life, on the edge of a precipice.

That movie and a newspaper article about a social graffiti project in one of the city’s largest favelas ignited my curiosity, so I searched out and met founding members of the project named OPNI, a Portuguese acronym for “Unidentified Graffiti Artists.” OPNI was founded in 1997 by 20 youths in the city’s marginal slums with the goal of transforming the streets into an open-air gallery where the community can express its gripes. Of the original 20 only Cris, Val and Toddy are left after most were either arrested, abandoned the activity, or died from drug abuse.

To reach OPNI in the Vila Flavia favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo took me two hours by bus and train, the same time it takes for many of the slum’s mothers and daughters to travel to the city’s better-off neighborhoods where they clean homes for a living. That’s a four-hour round trip, every day.

Capturing souls

From the very first photograph I took of the Kayapo tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, I knew it would be a difficult nine days. They were nine days during which doctors and nurses from the humanitarian Health Expeditions carried out more than one thousand medical exams and dozens of operations on a people known for their qualities as warriors, strong and suspicious of outsiders. Few of the Kayapos understood that they were receiving aid in their benefit, for which nobody would charge them.

The field hospital was in a school annexed to the village, and on my first stroll toward their houses a mother asked for a gift in exchange for the photo I had just taken of her son. As she spoke to me in her language, translated by a man who happened to be walking past. Later I learned that even the native women who do speak Portuguese will not use that foreign tongue if their husbands are not with them.

Absolutely decided not to negotiate or “buy” their permission to photograph, I just shrugged off her demand saying that I understood. I continued on my way, only to run into her again in a short time. During the first hours there I found it impossible to recognize anyone who I had already met earlier, and suddenly I found the same woman confronting me with a “bill” for each picture I took of her, her son or any of her other children. She was aggressive and I had no resource other than to show her my ignorance of the language, even though she repeated in Portuguese, “Money, must pay.”

  • Editors & Key Contributors