Photographers' Blog

Circus of the Alley

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

A few days ago I ran into Brazilian muralist Kobra in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Vila Madalena. He told me that in that same city square where we were standing in front of his graffiti, jugglers gather every Monday night.

GALLERY: SCENES FROM THE CIRCUS

So the following Monday I headed to the square at around sunset, and found them exactly as Kobra had told me – a group of jugglers in the middle of the square surrounded by and covered with graffiti. Before I even took out my camera I asked one of them if he expected more to arrive. “Uyy,” he answered. “In about an hour this place will be packed.”

I was about to experience what’s known as the Circo do Beco, or Circus of the Alley.

They began to play music, which to my delight was the same music I listen to by choice. Just the sounds of Manu Chao, one of the founders of the now defunct Mano Negra band, and Brazilian singer Criolo, made me feel at home. Meanwhile, more people kept arriving for the art of magic, and I took out my camera and discreetly began taking pictures. I didn’t want to interfere with their juggling.

I noticed children with their mothers learning to juggle, and I couldn’t help smiling behind my camera.

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.

Photographers should always be ready

After six long days covering fashion shows in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the best opportunity to produce a nice shot happened on the last day, at the last show: a model tripped over at the beginning of the show.

A model falls down while she presents a creation from Cavalera's collection during Sao Paulo Fashion Week Winter 2011 in Sao Paulo, February 2, 2011. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

During Cavalera’s show at Sao Paulo Fashion Week, models were made to walk through a big puddle of water while artificial rain fell, so the floor was very slippery. When the show began, I concentrated on shooting all the models as there was a big chance that somebody would fall. Indeed, it happened! When the fourth model came towards the end of the soaked catwalk, the poor girl slipped, very close to the photographers pit, but quickly smiled and got back on her feet. The photographers’ reactions was funny because when a model trips they shout and celebrate the fall as an opportunity to make a good picture. The public, on the other hand, applaud in support of the model.

I was using a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with a 70-200mm lens, ISO 500, f4 and shutter speed of 1/320. I shot 24 frames from the beginning until the end of the fall.