Photographers' Blog

Life on the margins in Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

By Zohra Bensemra

There are so many slums in Pakistan, and they can be home to all sorts of communities – Christians, Shi’ites, Afghan refugees, or Pakistanis fleeing violence or seeking jobs.

But whatever their background, they all face the same struggles in their daily lives. The divisions of religion and nationality are less important than finding clean water, a space to study, or a battered toy for a young child to play with.

Working in these areas requires great respect for the residents, and the photographer must be aware of cultural taboos.

Photographing women is very difficult. There have been several cases where women have been killed because a photograph or a video showed them clapping, laughing or singing. If someone in the slums objects to me taking a photo, I will delete it immediately. It’s not worth making them suffer for an image.

For me, a picture I shot of an empty pink party dress represents the struggle to show many Pakistani women through photography. They may have a good time or wear bright colors but you will rarely be allowed to record it. The dress shows a woman’s presence by her absence.

Slumdog gringos

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Pilar Olivares

One day I decided to check out rumors that there were gringos living in the famous but feared “favelas” of Rio. I went to the Vidigal favela and asked residents if they knew any foreigners living there, and they confirmed, “This place has been invaded by gringos. Look around a while and you’ll see a parade of them, even Peruvians, Ecuadorians, from everywhere.”

Although the term gringo was originally coined in Mexico to refer to Americans, here it refers to any foreigner, even myself, a gringa from Peru.

GALLERY: FOREIGNERS IN FAVELAS

There in Vidigal I met Ekaterina, an attorney from Russia who is living in the favela with her Chilean boyfriend, Marcos. Spending a day with them was like training myself to be a translator – Ekaterina doesn’t speak Spanish and is only just learning Portuguese, so her best language of communication here is English. Between photographing and interviewing, I often ended up in the middle of the couple and their language problems.

I’m still losing friends

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Rio de Janeiro is a truly diverse city where people of different types and economic classes live side by side. Many of its slums, or favelas, are strongholds of drug gangs who openly operate with high powered weapons in full view on the streets.

Despite the violent scenario, this mix of races and economies is the beauty of our city, and on the streets we are all the same people, and our friendships are as diverse as the city.

Being raised in a typical neighborhood, I’ve had my share of sad experiences related to violence, mostly in my adolescence by losing friends who became involved with bandits, or seeing some wonderful people losing their way with drugs. Every day we heard stories about young neighbors who had bad luck or made bad choices, and ended up in jail or were killed by the police.

Brazil’s homegrown Gaudi

By Paulo Whitaker

The last time I took pictures in one of Brazil’s favelas my luck was very different. That was in Rio de Janeiro in 2010, when I was covering a police invasion of the Alemão slum. A bullet perforated the windshield and hit me in the shoulder as I sat transmitting pictures in the backseat of a taxi. Fortunately, I recovered quickly.

By contrast, this time I shot a feature story about a gardener cum architect in São Paulo’s second-largest slum, Paraisopolis. Although Estevão Silva da Conceição’s creation draws an immediate comparison to one by Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, he had never heard of Gaudi nor seen any photos of his work before building his own home here.

Estevão built his house that mirrors parts of Gaudi’s famous Park Guell in Barcelona, without dreaming that someone else so far away had his same style, a century earlier.

Learning the lessons of the slums

By Danish Siddiqui

If you are flying into Mumbai, the first thing you’ll see from mid-air are the visually beautiful rows of slums. I have always treated the slums and their inhabitants with respect.

GALLERY: MUMBAI’S SLUM LIFE

Every metropolitan city (at least in India) has slums, as more and more people travel to the cities for better opportunities. Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a planned neighborhood.

Mumbai has a number of slums, the largest of which is called Dharavi. In fact, it is also one of Asia’s largest slums. I started photographing the slums of Dharavi when I moved to Mumbai two years ago. I tried to explore the slums block by block, lane by lane. I still haven’t finished half of it.

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.

Fishing to survive in Cité Soleil

By Swoan Parker

“I’m living in a bad place and didn’t want to get involved in any bad things”, is what 27-year-old Wilkens Sinar told me. His neighborhood, Cité Soleil, is one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and just 500 miles from the United States. This densely populated area located near the capital of Port-au-Prince houses families who mostly migrated from the countryside in search of work. Unable to afford the rents in most of the capital, they have no other choice but to settle here where powerful gangs operate rampantly.

As I walked through the endless maze of shanty homes built of pieces of concrete or junk metal latched together, the smell of raw sewage permeated the air. I found myself at the seacoast where small boats were docked and fishermen were either setting off or returning with their catch of mostly small crabs and fish.

I watched the activity for a while before striking up a conversation with Wilkens, and his friends and fellow fishermen Dieufait Louis-Pierre, 27, and Mackenson Dollus, 28. It was 6 am and the three were just returning from collecting their crab baskets that they had set out the night before.

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.

When the smoke clears…

Tons of garbage floated alongside debris of charred wood. Residents hurried about, trying to save whatever belongings they could. There were no flash floods, but I was wading through knee-deep flood waters to cover the aftermath of a fire in Manila’s equivalent of Venice.

A fire broke out at night in one of Manila’s most densely populated cities, Malabon City, known for its year-long floods due to the coastal city’s gradual sinking. When the smoke cleared at dawn the next morning, an estimated 300 houses were burned to the ground.

As I went through the narrow streets, measuring only half a yard wide, almost all the residents I saw warned me: “Be careful!”, or “Don’t move back, you will fall in neck-deep murky water!” They were not exaggerating. Everywhere I looked, heads were sticking out among charred wood floating in the blackened water.

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