Photographers' Blog

Musical recovery

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Crisvan Reyes suffers a type of bone cancer and has undergone unimaginable medical treatment at his young age of 11, including the amputation of his right arm. In spite of that, smiling and laughing, he makes jokes and teases other kids as he plays the drums during a rehearsal of the orchestra sponsored by the Alma Llanera Hospital Care Program. This is the last rehearsal before the program’s first anniversary concert.

The Alma Llanera Program is one of the most recent initiatives of Venezuela’s musical education program known as El Sistema, whose most famous alumnus is Gustavo Dudamel.

Barely a year old, the Alma Llanera Program is specifically for children who are going through medical treatment and are hospital-bound. It teaches them to play a musical instrument for the length of their stay, and allows them to continue afterward at one of El Sistema’s regular orchestras.

It was both surprising and moving to hear the profound effect that music has had in nine-year-old Emily Aponte, a cancer patient who has been in the program for four months. She told me, “I really enjoy music and feel better when I play. When they give me chemo, I imagine being at home playing my violin.”

“Your friend’s light bothers me,” Angel told me after being interviewed by our TV crew. Angel is just seven years old and says his right arm was amputated due to cancer. His vision is also very bad because he has cataracts, and the bright lights annoy him. But his undeniable happiness when he’s playing the cymbal, is simply touching.

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.

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.

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.