STRANDED

The residents on the island of Tinhare in northeastern Brazil gaze at the sea in a manner that only those who depend on its generosity do. The complete absence of cars preserves a singular architecture and transports those who pass by the island to a time when women balanced wraps of tidbits over their heads, men carried heavy volumes through the streets, cars were pulled  by animals and parasols were used for long walks.

They live as time, stranded.

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There is a story behind each print.

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Seven Days Later

 

A selection of these images was part of the exhibition “Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs" and one of the images was featured on the subsequent book with the same title published by Scala. The entire collection “Here is New York” is now included in the archives of the New York Historical Society. A solo exhibition at the School of Communication at the Pontifical University of Minas Gerais, Brazil in remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks displayed this photo essay in its entirety.

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In the urban quotidian of New York’s megalopolis, offer and demand are fulfilled instantly. There is no interval. No hiatus. What is wanted is attainable. What is not available is created. And the incessant advertisements generates a demand which is instantly satisfied. When I returned to the city seven days after the September 11th attacks, the metropolis still exposed its routine of offer and demand, but the offer was one, and the demand was another.

To the commercial plea gathered others. Hundred of others. Covering all surfaces it announced absences. It approached us at each corner, and stalked us from walls and street signs. With their brilliant eyes and open smiles; in their best suits and most beautiful gowns. They offered their attributes, companies, and positions; Described the color of their skin, tattoos, height, and weight.

At a first glance, the commercial appeal was silenced by the overlapping of human pleas. But at a closer look, instead of canceling each other the messages were reinforced. The frivolous nature of advertisements became exacerbated when juxtaposed against the disaster; and the human tragedy became even more absurd. In the competition for an audience, the medium became the message. Any surface became media. From this cohabitation of concrete tragedy and the vestiges of advertising, an urban space permeated by irony was created. Within the context now experienced by the audience, street signs, and billboards were infested by ironic messages permeated by tragedy.

These images capture a brief instant in the American landscape during the aftermath of the September 11th attacks — Seven days later, they were not victims, only missing; they hadn’t declared war, they were only looking for the culprits; They were not abdicating of their rights, only respecting authority activities; They were not exploiting patriotism, they were only selling post-cards; They were not exporting democracy, only paying for its price.

~ Jennifer Cabral. September, 18th 2001.


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Extractivists

From the coast of Bahia, it takes 40 minutes to reach the farm of Julio Mello in Northeastern Brazil. I ride on the back of a truck. The hot sun releases the scent of fruits growing in the region. I can smell and almost taste caja fruit, cupuaçu and acerola in the air as I cross the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Of the Tropical Forests, it's the most generous in biodiversity. In the state of Bahia, 270 species were cataloged in a mere hectare. Even though this ecosystem is protected by Brazilian environmental laws, only 7% of the original forest is left. The forest remains to the population that doesn't migrate looking for labor in the urban agglomerations scattered in the Atlantic coast. At least patches of it. They could easily live off the forest's abundant fauna and flora but instead, they have to offer their labor in exchange for a salary and a place to live with their families. Most Brazilians have no land to call their own.

Land ownership is privilege of a few – two-thirds of all arable land is concentrated in the hands of only 3% of the population. No wonder the Landless Workers' Movement (MST) was originated in this nation. Since the 1980's MST remains as the prime advocate for land reform. It uses the invasion of large unproductive land as its main tactic to vindicate the landless. It is estimated that 166.000 families are living in squatter camps on invaded properties in Brazil.

Outside a typical mud house from this region built with straws, twigs and branches, a 2-year-old is sucking on a mango. A woman holds a broom made of dried leaves. She is meticulous as she swipes the dirt floor underneath her bare feet. She greets me with a smile and invites me to come closer. She walks out of the house with a bundle in her arms and proudly introduces her 2-days-old daughter, Joseane. The baby's father had already left to work, he will spend his day of labor working on someone else's land. At least he found a conscious landowner to work for. At the farm owned by Julio Mello, this family will sustainably collect the riches of the forest, respecting the rate of regeneration each species needs to allow the survival and growth of the Atlantic Forest. In return, the forest shows its generosity giving abundant cocoa, caja fruit, guarana, cupuaçu, cashew, Palm of oil fruit and acerola. It is as if the forest knows not many land owners are of this kind.

For Mr. Mello exploiting the land means preserving it. He mostly collects what the forest offers. When clearing for a crop is necessary he makes sure to keep as much as possible of the original vegetation in some other area of his property. He takes me to one of the areas of Atlantic Forest he preserves. It is intact. As I step into the forest I am engulfed by the thick humid air. The sun cannot accompany us as we penetrate the vegetation, but its heat can. We haven't even walked for 20 minutes and I'm covered in sweat. The vegetation is luxurious: exotic flowers, gigantic leaves, and contorted trunks. From inside the shaded forest, Mr. Mello asks me to turn around as he points to his neighbor's property. No trees are left, only cattle herds that look like small dots on a map. The land looks naked under the thin grassed fields. The landscape is now too vast. Everything will seem small after I've being inside the forest.

A school bus passes in front of the farm's gates. Hamilton, a handy boy in the property, is burning firewood to slowly roast cashew nuts.
Like his brother's before him, Hamilton is planning to abandon school to his mother's dismay. Between smoke and smiles, he tells me about the house he wants to build for his girlfriend, and his wish to be a father one day. Dusk envelops us while the roasted nuts glow red inside a cast iron pan. Our conversation ends with the fire. As I walk away I can't help but hope for his children to stay in school, and for them to have their own piece of land one day.

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There is a story behind each print.


 

ARRASTAO

Residents of a fishing village swarm to a beach in the region of Cairu, in northeastern Brazil, for a day of labor.

Few livelihoods are as communal as Fishing. Fellow fisherman share their boats, nets and the catch at the end of the day.  Once a knowledge passed from one generation to the next that allowed its beholder a lifetime livelihood, artisan fishing is now in decline.

Unlike most regions of the country, in 2007, the State of Bahia still had more than 80% of its fishing industry based in artisan fishing according to Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency - IBAMA. But more often than not, small boats cannot compete against commercial vessels; the guidance by stars and tides is being replaced by the convenience of sonars to locate shoals, and the ecological impact of predatory fishery and pollution are turning once plentiful fishing now scarce.

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This house is not yours

After ringing the door bell, the gate was open to us. A polite and timid maid walked us through the garden. the owner waited for us by the door. My parents were received with a warm welcome by Dona Lourdes, their friend of many years, and I, after being properly kissed and hugged, escaped to see the backyard. Immense buildings surrounded the property on all sides. The only allowed view was the sky above. The sunlight was still plenty for the decade-old-trees guarding the house. Fruits like Papaya, coffee and Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) waited to get ripe. Orchids housed by trees, thanked the hospitality with splashes of color on each branch. Pots were carefully planted with herbs that were used as spices as well as medicine. The memory of my daD crushing Boldo for his eventual hangovers came right back to me, as I saw some Peumus boldus growing there.

This backyard would’ve been unnoticed when growing up – just a typical house in my neighborhood. My Aunt Nenem’s place had an immense loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica) attracting all kinds of birds, combined with a fish tank and wondering ladybugs – one would always come back home with me, inside a match box. At my Aunt Efigênia’s house, I would spend hours making bubbles using the stems of mamona, better known as, castor oil plant. No straws back then. Sometimes on my way home from school, I would stop by the Jaboticaba tree, at my friend Raquel’s house, for some snacking. And all neighbors knew about the avocado tree next door: “It’s so big, it could kill you”, as some would describe the ripened avocados that fell out of the sky. But all I had to do was to look up at the suffocating presence of skyscrapers over this house, to be reminded that places like those no longer exist. My hometown of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil, has become a permanent construction site. All houses from my childhood memories have been torn down, long ago. Progress, some say.

I’m invited inside. The table was set. Coffee, biscuits and pão de queijo, the regionally famous cassava flour bread, were served. A maid was standing by. Available and waiting. I am the only one who notices and acknowledges her constant presence. But I avert her eyes with obvious embarassement and shame on my face. “Why don’t you sit down, Have a cup of coffee, and Eat some pão de queijo?”- I dared to ask her only in my thoughts. As everyone else in the room I go back to ignoring her as we were taught to do.

My parents were having lively conversations and old stories were being shared like cups of coffee. I couldn’t resist the architecture and started to wonder around the place. Inside, religious relics blessed and protected the home. Even from the precise ticking of the clock. Time was still. the Family history was hanging on the walls as if intact. I walked down the hallway and found one of the rooms. A mosquito net and the open window made the humid South American air even more pronounced. Dona Lourdes walks in. “You can come and stay, anytime you want. This house is yours”, she said. And during that afternoon in May, I pretended it to be. unlike the maid. She knows better.

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Along a river

At the village of Corrego do Andre, in southeast Brazil, Wania Isabel da Silva (13) insisted that I followed her to her favorite place. I thought she would take me to the river that runs beside her house. The River Sao Joao is famous in the area for the fishing it provides. To my surprise, she took me to a dirt road in the opposite direction of the river's bank. Her two brothers, Wando Pereira da Silva (9) and Gracemar Apolinario da Rocha (4) followed along.

I asked why they wouldn’t go swimming on such a hot afternoon. I wasn't expecting to hear that the clear waters of the river were polluted. But for local folks, the rareness of the fish had been enough evidence of the contamination of the river. Suddenly, we were interrupted by the youngest brother saying out of nowhere: "My father likes Brazilian rum". Hinting the reason why the father left the family and moved away to another town. They would take me to the house his father had started to build for the family. It was abandoned. They had moved next door where their grandmother, Dona Teresa gladly welcomed her daughter and three kids. 

As we reached a tree with an immense top and shade the girl said she would love to have a picnic there one day. She probably never had the chance. According to family plans, she was being sent away to live with her aunt in a big city where she could find better opportunities, not only to study but also, work. In 1999, Unicef estimated that 14.5% of the Brazilian girls, age 10 to 14, worked as maids. Wania probably added to these numbers.

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Amusements of America

Amusements of America is listed in the Guinness book of records as the largest traveling amusement park in the country. Cities east of the mississipi, including the Caribbeans are visited from March to November, by hundreds of portable rides and games of chance followed by the hands to operate them. The caravan of workers travels over 20.000 miles setting up the carnival scene just to desmantle it a few hours later.

Relatives, lovers, fathers and sons join the nomadic lifestyle of unpredictable destination and erratic hours, as the only means to estabilish a family life. For those who passes by, the movement is constant and amusing. For those who stay, the movement is endless and stagnant.

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Local

This was week 1 of 2 that I would be without a car. And so, a walk in the neighborhood took a completely different meaning: it was no longer for leisure, but out of necessity. I told myself: it would be a good opportunity to see the community, use local services like the library and public parks and shop at local stores.

But when I looked for a grocery store, all I could find were stale vegetables and white bread on the shelves; When I wanted a bakery or coffee shop, there was none to be seen — unless you call Dunkin’ Donuts one; and the public library was closed — summer hours threatening to be effective year around, because of State budget cuts. I saw a neighborhood forgetting what it was like to be a thriving community and starting to acknowledge it was barely making it.

According to a 2001 census, there are about 4,081 people, 1,747 households, and 1,070 families residing in Lawrence Township with me. Well, they might live here, but they are not shopping locally. The concept of “local” is going 20 miles north to the next strip mall. SUV required. The habit of walking around the neighborhood disappeared. And with it, came entire stretches of town with no sidewalks in sight.

When I lost count of how many store fronts were boarded up, I realized the radio announcements of a weak economy had materialized right down the block. Months of vacancy had now become years, and any attempts to keep the empty real state presentable were as abandoned as any expectation of an economic recovery. My inconvenience is easy to deal with for two weeks, what’s hard to face is that, what’s gone is probably not coming back to this neighborhood any time soon. 

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COLUMBUS

The Columbus Farmer’s Market started in 1929 as an auction space for livestock and farm equipment in New Jersey. But antique vendors were attracted by the large crowds and started renting space to sell their goods. Today, tables, stores and pavilions spread throughout 200 acres, turning into one of the largest outdoor bazaars on the East Coast. Tens of thousands of visitors from Central New Jersey and Philadelphia visit the market each weekend.

But what started as a commerce of Collectibles and Antiques, hand made goods and foods evolved into a haven for China imports and mass produced trinkets. Given the obscure origin of most products it’s not surprising that in 2003, the Columbus Farmer’s market was charged by a group of record companies for not enforcing regulations to prevent tens of thousands of counterfeit CD’s from being openly sold in its grounds.

Observing its crowd was as irresistible as acquiring some of its bargains. 3 Kelbasas, 1 gumball machine, and some .25 cents’ books later here is some of what I’ve captured.

 
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NO RNC

Manifestations, protests and arrests throughout New York City during 2004’s Republican National Convention.

 

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