Photographers' Blog

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.


Not once did any of the Plus-Size models react against being photographed, showing no shame for their big dresses. I found their self-esteem wonderful.


Although fascinated by the contrast of the two events, I was also impressed by one similarity. All the women, the slender ones and the overweight ones, paraded with the same nervousness and dignity past the spectators. The morning after the pageant, Miss Brazil Plus-Size was hospitalized for the stress of competing, the demanding rehearsals and lack of a proper diet, all of which sound very familiar 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.”

Favela fighter

When I reached the Chapeu Mangueira favela in Leme, a slum that borders on Copacabana, I was expecting to do a story on a martial arts school for poor kids. But there I met “Nativo” (Native), expert in what is today called MMA/NHB, or Mixed Martial Arts/No Holds Barred fighting. Nativo is the nickname of Fabio da Conceicao Ventura, 25, a lifelong resident of the same slum. Nativo told me how he was born in Chapeu Mangueira, and when he was just five he watched his mother set fire to herself to escape her miserable life. Two years later his father kicked him out of the house and he found himself on the streets.

In the streets Nativo learned to steal before joining up with drug traffickers. He told me how he first liked to rob tourists on Copacabana Beach, but then how it was really being part of a drug gang that made him feel most protected. He made it obvious to me that the gang came to be his family. With them he would spend hours consuming drugs and taking care of business inside the slum.

I started to photograph him and accompanied him around the narrow streets of the favela that was “pacified” by police in June, 2008, as part of a government program. Nativo showed me the places where drugs used to be commonly sold, and where he sat with his rifle giving cover to the gang.

The most painful story

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last Thursday, April 7, a gunman entered under a false pretext the Tasso da Silveira school in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, carrying two pistols and dozens of rounds of ammunition. An alumnus himself of the same school where he had a history of being bullied and mental illness, he lined children up facing the wall and shot two dozen of them, before turning the gun on himself. Twelve students were dead, and others are still agonizing in the hospital.

This is the most painful type of story for most photographers, when a senseless tragedy involves children. The two Reuters photographers who covered the shooting and subsequent funerals speak here of their experiences, and how they coped professionally and personally.

Sergio Moraes, 49, father of two, writes:

I woke up on April 7, the morning a gunman attacked students at Tasso da Silveira middle school, with a slight headache only hours after celebrating my son’s 18th birthday. A journalist from the newsroom called early to tell me that a man had entered a school in a Rio suburb and injured a few people. It sounded serious but since there were no apparent fatalities I called my colleague Ricardo, who was closer, and asked him to go to the school. It was only when I began to monitor my news sources that I realized we had a huge story on our hands, and I raced to Realengo, the middle class neighborhood where the school was. I called Ricardo and assigned him to the hospital as I arrived at the school.

Boxing their own worst enemy

On some of my first trips around Sao Paulo after moving here, I caught glimpses of life under the city’s many highway viaducts, whether it was of people storing recyclable waste or even living under the bridges. I refer to my roaming excursions in this city as “trips,” because this massive city of nearly 20 million inhabitants is a world in itself.

The shadow of aspiring boxer Laercio is projected on a wall as he uses a discarded truck axle for weight training at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

One day, as I gradually widened my geographic range and knowledge of my new city, I spotted people practicing sports under one bridge. It was a brief view but long enough to register in my mind. So when I read soon after about a boxing school under a viaduct and went to search it out, I realized immediately it was the same one I had spotted that day.

Aspiring boxers train at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct as cars drive past in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011.  REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Aspiring boxer Laercio (R) trains with his coach Mauricio Cruz at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 14, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Under the bridge I met former pro boxer Nilson Garrido, the founder and owner of the school. Six years ago Garrido started a project in which he created several boxing academies under the viaducts of Sao Paulo. His goal was to take the sport to the poor and marginalized population. In the meantime the project attracted other people who started to contribute a small monthly fee for the use of the gym.

Floods and landslides: A global view

In recent months floods and heavy rain have affected many different parts of the world, from Australia where an area the size of France and Germany combined was under water to the devastating landslides in Brazil that killed over 500 people.

Here are three stories from photographers, Tim Wimborne in Australia, Tom Peter in Germany and Bruno Domingos in Brazil, detailing how they overcame the challenges they faced to get pictures on the wire.

AUSTRALIA
Tim Wimborne

The mud covered friends of Andrew Taylor (2nd R), pose around a destroyed piano, as they help his family clean their house after flood waters receded in the Brisbane suburb of Westend January 14, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Huge floods have wreaked havoc across the globe. Australia has experienced some of the worst of it with headlines dominated by an “inland tsunami” killing many around the town of Toowoomba. The much larger flooding however was far more passive in its advance over millions of hectares and into the heart of Australia’s third largest city.

Land of the living dead

It was one early March morning in 2007 while on my way to shoot an assignment in the Portuguese Language Museum that I found myself amidst a mass of people consuming crack in the heart of Sao Paulo. I had stumbled onto Cracolândia, or Crackland, and the party was one of the living dead. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people openly consuming the drug at such an early hour, oblivious to the flow of pedestrians heading to work in this megalopolis.

(Multimedia best viewed full screen)

I immediately thought that this was a story that had to be told. I needed to show the reality of life for these addicts and alert residents of the local government’s indifference to this problem in the very heart of their city. In spite of a program by City Hall and the state government for neighborhood renewal, crack is consumed freely 24 hours a day. The police appear to expel consumers from the zone, herding them like cattle to nearby streets where they continue to exercise their vice. The abuse of crack in Crackland has increased day by day in Sao Paulo and Brazil.

Police officers push crack consumers and dealers away from one block as an addict lies sleeping in the part of Sao Paulo's Luz neighborhood locally known as Crackland, March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci (BRAZIL)

That that same year, 2007, I did a short story on Crackland but now, after seeing the situation so much worse, I decided it was time to do something more in-depth. I began with research into places with a clear view of Crackland from where I could work in relative safety. Without cameras I visited bars, hotels and streets around the district. I hung around trying to get a feel for the streets, get used to the behavior of the consumers and try to know them a little better. Crackland is an extremely dangerous place where users can easily lose control, and sellers can turn the simple action of anyone photographing or filming into a fatal mistake.