Photographers' Blog

Tainted paradise

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Sergio Moraes

Back in the 1960s, when I was just a kid, I remember watching swimmers in Guanabara Bay and seeing dolphins race alongside the ferries that transported people to and from the city of Niteroi and Paqueta Island. Beaches like Icarai in Niteroi and Cocota on Governor’s Island were very popular.

So I felt sad when I took a boat through the bay on an assignment recently and photographed discarded sofas, old children’s toys, rubber tires and a toilet seat among many other objects that littered the filthy water.

A sofa is seen near a fishing boat on Fundao beach in the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

I was born in this area when it was still called Guanabara, before it was renamed Rio de Janeiro state in 1975. I still miss that old name, which was a reference to our beautiful but now polluted bay.

A toy is seen at Pombeba island in the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

I hope to see these waters cleaned up before the 2016 Olympic Games, when the sailing events will be held here. But after spending a couple of days seeing how dirty the bay has become, it will be a massive job. I pray that a piece of floating debris will not hit a boat during the sailing competition, or a stray plastic bag will not affect the outcome of who stands on the podium and who doesn’t!

Old ships are seen at the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

As I photographed Guanabara Bay, I thought back to my time covering the sailing at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The biggest concern there was sharks – nothing compared to the problems that sewage could cause for our Games if it’s not cleaned up in time.

A streetcar desired

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Pilar Olivares

“Why is Bonde crying, Mom?” my six-year-old son Caetano asked me. I hadn’t noticed it before but he was right. Bonde, the little streetcar that was retired but is still ever-present in our neighborhood, is depicted as tearful in graffiti, posters, stickers, t-shirts, and souvenirs. The yellow trolley that was part of the old train system for more than 115 years and became an icon of Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Teresa neighborhood, doesn’t circulate anymore. Bonde is crying, and so are the neighbors!

Last August 27th was the two-year anniversary of the great Bonde accident in which six people died, including the conductor, Nelson. That was the day Nelson became a hero when, realizing that the brakes were failing, he began screaming to the passengers to jump as he struggled with the mechanism until the fatal impact. That’s why Nelson appears in Bonde graffiti with a big smile on his face, and shops sell posters with his emblematic face.

As I photographed the neighborhood before and during the anniversary, I spoke to residents of Santa Teresa, which is my neighborhood too. I began to understand their feelings and devotion for Bonde, whose loss they still cry over.

The new soulless Maracana

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

Last Sunday, June 2, I returned to Maracana to cover Brazil and England playing a friendly soccer match that was also the re-inauguration of this iconic stadium. The first sensation I felt when entering the building was nostalgia for the old Maracana. The new one is beautiful and modern with fantastic lighting, but it didn’t move me. The truth is, it’s no longer Maracana, but rather a different stadium built for the 2014 World Cup. Even the acoustics are different.

It is no longer, as legendary player Nilton Santos called it in the 50’s, “an enormous pressure cooker.”

My first experience with Maracana was when I was 6 years old. That was in 1968, a magic year for a boy who just began to become passionate about soccer and with the Botafogo club, known in Rio as “O Glorioso,” or The Glorious One. That year I witnessed Botafogo being crowned champion of the state championship, and winning the Brazil Cup the following year.

The Pope is pop

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

When we recently received the official agenda for Pope Francis’ July trip to Rio de Janeiro, we went straight out to photograph the sites he will visit. Brazil has 123 million Roman Catholics according to the last census, more than any other country. Since Rio is the world’s most irreverent city, according to its own residents, all Popes are received here with the slogan, “The Pope is pop.”

And with the large number of events in which he’ll participate here, that slogan will be on everyone’s minds.

Cariocas, as we natives of Rio are called, have a joke for everything, including for all the delays that we see happening in the construction of stadiums for next year’s World Cup. Our slogan of the moment is “Imagine that during the Cup”, and we use it for everything. If we run into a traffic jam, someone will inevitably say, “Imagine that during the Cup.” If a beer is too warm, if a restaurant’s service is slow, or if a day is rainy, we blurt out, “Imagine that during the Cup.”

When tragedy turns to joy

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I never imagined to find so many tragic stories that end with joy, until I discovered the project called “Praia para Todos”, or “Beach for Everyone.” The project, sponsored by the NGO Instituto Novo Ser in Rio, offers recreation and sport to the physically handicapped on Saturdays at Barra da Tijuca beach, and on Sundays at Copacabana. The project is run by physical therapists and students, all of them volunteers. They built ramps on top of the sand so that wheelchairs could easily reach the water’s edge.

In my first contact with the organizers, I asked for help to meet some of the visitors so that I could follow their personal stories. The first one I spoke to was Patricia Alves de Souza, 41, the mother of an incredible boy named Jorge, or Jorginho. Jorginho, 11, was born prematurely with brain paralysis. Jorginho is crazy about soccer, and doesn’t tire of telling stories about his favorite team, Vasco da Gama. He knows everything about Vasco.

Jorginho has always dreamed of going to the beach and swimming in the sea. Since he lives in Iraja, a middle-class neighborhood 35 km (20 miles) from the shore, the first time he was able to go to a beach was in 2009, but he never reached the water. His mother, who was abandoned by her husband after Jorginho was born, couldn’t push the wheelchair on the sandy beach at Copacabana.

Rio from above

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

Flying over Rio is always incredible. Seeing my city from the sky reveals its beauty from new angles.

My recent flight over the city was focused on the renovation work being carried out at the Maracana Stadium, which will host games for the Confederations Cup this year, the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games.

With these big events fast approaching, we are constantly monitoring the progress of building works. The new roof being installed at Maracana is supposed to be its big moment, marking the beginning of the end of renovations.

Carnival, from film to Paneikon

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was a staff photographer at the Isto É news magazine when I was assigned for the first time to cover the Carnival parade of samba schools. The year was 1986, and I was 24.

GALLERY: BRAZIL’S CARNIVAL

From then to now coverage of the event changed a lot, I changed a lot, and even Carnival changed a lot. By coincidence that was the first year that the parade was organized by LIESA, Rio’s Independent League of Samba Schools, which still organizes it today.

I felt as if I had received a present.

I went to the parade with the joy and excitement of someone going to a World Cup or Olympics. Back then 14 samba schools competed in one long night, while today there are 12 split across two nights. When the last school hit the runway I was on my 48th roll of film as if it were my first. Such was my joy at covering.

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.

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.