Category Archives: Brazil

More Thoughts on Saudade

 

Living Room. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

In my last post I wrote:

This [most recent] trip to Brasil was an eye-opener for me on a few levels. I felt that I was walking on a tightrope in… the country… I became very conscious that behind the myth of a magical/spiritual Bahia lies a very difficult, and sometimes unbelievably harsh, world of poor, landless, and/or homeless people who suffer yet are determined to surmount obstacles. They struggle daily to survive – and do not always succeed.

I saw a great deal of poverty and began to understand that it is difficult to break through social and economic obstacles (due to the dramatically unequal distribution of income ) – *many* people live in destitution. Black Brazilians are among the poorest. Throughout the country, they live in sprawling favelas (slums) or in abandoned buildings and warehouses, as part of the Movimento dos Sem-Toto (Roofless Movement).  In the Bahian countryside it is common to pass through small villages where the housing is barely basic and where multiple generations of people live together. Quilmbos (also known as mocambos), are plots of land given to those who are entitled to slavery reparations. There is a pervasive lack of decent education there too. The chances of getting out of these conditions are slim to none.

Man in Living Room. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Yet I also saw strength, endurance, and hope surface in daily life. Upon reflection, I understand this hope to be related strongly to religion. Perhaps it is because the state of Bahia is at the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture and that the Baianos (as the people are called) practice religious and festive traditions that go back to their African ancestry. While I was at the coast, I had the opportunity to experience three different celebrations of Iemanja (the goddess of the sea). In the region of Chapada Diamantina, I witnessed the preparation of the local Patron –  a part of the Umbanda religious celebrations in one particular small village. Umbanda combines Catholicism, African, and Kardecistic religions and is headed by a Catholic saint (sadly I missed this celebration because of food poisoning).

Mother and son on the doorstep of one of Salvador’s Movimento dos Sem-Toto buildings. Salvador, Brasil

Living Room. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Saudade is the word Portuguese colonists used to express their longing for their mother country; it is considered a melancholy nostalgia for something that may not have even happened and thought of as a central element of the Portuguese soul. It is said that this was the same feeling that was intrinsic to the African population that arrived in Brasil as slaves and who were sick and nostalgic for the homeland from which they were uprooted. It continues today as the millions of Afro-Brazilians hold on to their culture, religion, and traditions. And yet, nevertheless, I was able to see how these utterly impoverished people are able to find love and joy in the everyday, despite acute daily hardship. They are extroverted, are touched by the mystical, and ache for something long-gone. Looking at my photographs, with the distance of just a few weeks, I see that much of what I caught on camera was a mere glimpse of narrow lives, people with a shared past, a long history but an uncertain future.

Girl. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Boy. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Girl. Quilumbo near Cachoeira, Bahia, Brasil

Woman. Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

 

Saudade: Traces of the Past

Igatu Chapada Diamantina

Photograph, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudade)

“Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter ‘repented,’ changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again… The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.” – Introduction to Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento

Effigy, Brasil

Efigy, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

I just finished the second of two back-to-back photography workshops with Ernesto Bazan (this one in Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brasil). We visited families in Arandai and Velho Mocambo(?), explored a few out of the way places (i.e., at the end of long, dry, pocked, iron-filled dirt roads), and had the opportunity to watch a celebration of Umbanda. It was quite overwhelming as children from the homes we visited, ran around posing and trying to grab each photographer’s attention. Multiple generations live together, and both calm and pandemonium abound. Likewise, the festivities we witnessed had equal shares of order and chaos. It was easy to get lost in the throes and, as a photographer, to lose intention.

Focusing (no pun intended) is difficult. It is a trait that I must nurture, when a great deal of activity surrounds me. I have to remember to do what I am naturally inclined toward, rather than be swallowed up by the waves of movement around me (or, alternatively, do what I think is expected of me when I take pictures with other photographers). When I heed my own voice I tend to turn in a different direction from others. I do not do this to be contrary or non-conformist but rather to find my own space. I get lost in the details, layers, cracks, and crevices, rather than be swept away by the whole; I go at my own rhythm. Looking until something – almost always intangible – captures me. I then try to transform that particular something into an image.

BEd, Andarai, Brasil

Bed, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

After initial inner struggles (and many poor shots thanks to these fights with myself) what calls to me are typically the quieter and less certain spaces of my surroundings – the things that can be overlooked because they may be too quotidian or too spare. But, I respond to these with my heart – they feel like psychological layers. It is a dance between “me” and “object” – and I explore the space where we intersect. How it manifests itself to me and then how I translate that feeling into image is unclear to me (at least for the moment.) I simply allow myself to be carried with it and go with the grain. Like saudade or pentimento, the photograph becomes an utterance detached from context, thereby giving it a unique integrity and opening it to abstract or new meaning.

This trip to Brasil was an eye-opener for me on a few levels. I felt that I was walking on a tightrope in both the country and my work. In regard to the Brasil, I became very conscious that behind the myth of a magical/spiritual Bahia lies a very difficult, and sometimes unbelievably harsh, world of poor, landless, and/or homeless people who suffer yet are determined to surmount obstacles. They struggle daily to survive – and do not always succeed.

Homeless, Salvador, Brasil

Woman, Salvador, Brasil

With this as a background, it seems almost trite to talk about my photography. But I am discovering that the  pictures I take are responses to the spaces and places where I work in. During these weeks in Brasil I figured out that I must feel comfortable in my own skin and do what is right for me. It is something I always know but do not always allow myself to remember and act upon. In Brasil I felt strong links to saudade, something that escaped me entirely when I visited the country in 2015. After a while it was difficult not to see it everywhere. Yet, despite the melancholia there is strength and hope that seems to prevail even under some of the more dire circumstances.

My work is not straight documentation but, rather, a subjective (and limited) description of experience. In framing the material subject of a photograph I express an embodied tactile knowledge – it is a gesture toward turning familiar places and objects into visceral experiences. But my photographs barely scratch the surface (or layers) of this state of being, of saudade.

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Landscape, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Landscape, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Poster, Salvador, Brasil

Poster, Salvador, Brasil

Bela Bahia

Salvador, Brazil

Warehouse, Salvador, Brasil

I’m now past the halfway mark on my travels. After beginning my trip to Brasil with two weeks on my own, I’ve just now completed the first of two photography workshops. Below are a few photographs taken over these last nine brilliant days with Ernesto Bazan, and the four wonderful people who joined me with him.

Igreja Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Brasil

Igreja Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Brasil

Salvador, Brasil

Beauty Salon, Salvador, Brasil

Salvador, Brasil

Warehouse, Salvador, Brasil

Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

Living Room in House, Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

Ruined Sugar Factory Outside Cachoeira, Brasil

A Trip to the Island of Itaparica

Gamboa, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Gamboa, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

It is only a 40-minute ferryboat ride to the island of Itaparica, from Salvador, Brasil. Larger towns, like Itaparica, Mar Grande, and particularly Vera Cruz are more bustle than anything else. So, based on my last experience here, it was the villages I was seeking. In general, the people there are fairly laid back. Most are friendly and open and pay little attention to this Gringa, walking around with her camera. Some ham it up for the camera. Others think I am loco. The majority, though, are truly curious about me and want to know where I am from and what I am doing there. And I try to figure them out. We are worlds apart and I am humbled by the openness, modesty, and dignity of those who let me into their lives.

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

My Portuguese is pretty basic. I cannot stress this enough. I know a few words here and there and try to form sentences (and typically forget to add verbs). Somehow I manage to communicate with people on a very rudimentary but somewhat successful level

The following are a handful of photographs taken over the five days there.

Mocambo, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Mocambo, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Amoreiras, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Amoreiras, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Porto Santo, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Porto Santo, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Misericordia, Ilha de Itaparica, Brasil

Still in Brasil: A Slice of Bahia

Salvador, Brasil

Salvador, Brasil

I just finished a wonderful photography workshop in Bahia (a coastal region of central Brasil), with Ernesto Bazan. Ernesto is a terrific mentor and a man with the ability to explore new worlds, make connections with locals, and share his love of both a country and people with his students and friends.

Stall at the Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

Stall at the Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

As happened with Cambodia, Vietnam, and parts of China, I have fallen in love with Bahia. For starters, people spend much of their day on the streets, eating, playing, catching up with friends, dancing, singing, and working. That is enough to win me over! At the risk of generalizing, people there are friendly, open to life, mostly live simply and honestly, and are a giving people who seem to expect nothing in return. Thanks to Ernesto, I was fortunate to encounter multiple small and intimate worlds. First in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the very lively city of Salvador de Bahia, then on the island of Itaparica (including the peaceful town of Itaparica itself, where Portuguese colonial buildings are abundant). And after, back on the mainland, in the lovely, historical town of Cachoeira (nestled in a river valley, Cachoeira once prospered with the sugar and tobacco industries,) and nearby fishing villages and quilombos – very small, extremely humble, hamlets founded by freed slaves. On both the island of Itaparica and the areas surrounding Cachoeira, I was struck by a world that moves to its own rhythm.

Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

Fishing Village, Itaparica, Brasil

Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

Most people I encountered were willing to share a moment of their day. Despite great poverty almost everywhere, I discovered that openness and an attempt at communication on my part would trigger a smile and a similar response. The people were warm, welcoming, and appeared undisturbed by us as we walked around with cameras. Throughout my short travels in Bahia it was clear that the people are not suspicious of strangers; rather, they are eager to talk to them. As Calvin Chen (who took the photography workshop with me and eight others) wrote on Facebook, “It’s been a lesson in humanity and humility. Imagine being in a completely foreign country, unable to speak their language… knocking on a stranger’s door… and not just be allowed to photograph, but to be welcomed into their lives. I’d call that nothing short of a miracle.”

Fishing Village, Brasil

Coquiero, Brasil

Quilombo near Cachoeira, Brasil

Quilombo near Cachoeira, Brasil

Salvador, the oldest city in Brasil, was the first capital of the country, and is greatly influenced by African culture. In fact, throughout Bahia, Africa is present – from dance and carnival to food, music, and religion (The majority of African-heritage Brazilians were brought to Brasil beginning in the early 1500s by the Portuguese.  Brasil abolished the slave trade in 1888.).  Food-wise, coconut milk and dende (orange palm oil), and sweet tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, pineapple, caja, and pitanga, are ubiquitous. Many foods are sold on the streets including the delicious acarje which is a fried patty made of beans and sometimes okra, and dried shrimp which is served with a tomato salsa. It seemed that people congregate everywhere for drink, or food. I searched for the best moqueca (a fish stew) and ate as much mugunza as I could (a corn and coconut milk breakfast pudding).

Cachoeira, Brasil

Cachoeira, Brasil

Salvador is very large  – most tall buildings are actually not commercial spaces but apartment buildings. The downtown and historic centres are made up predominantly of colonial-era architecture which is mostly in disrepair.  It is a city with a population of over 2.5 million… edging toward the 3 million mark. The streets are crowded with people and cars (gridlock, although not as bad as in Sao Paulo, is an everyday reality).  Also like in Sao Paulo, motorcycles are everywhere. On the other hand, Itaparica and Cachoeira, are beautiful towns which have retained their colonial charm. Fishing villages appear sleepy but the people work hard, as do those who work in agriculture.

Fishing Village, Itaparica, Brasil

Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

Brasil is not a European, North American, African, or East Asian country (although Bahia reminds me very much of Southeast Asia). Instead, it has a finger in each pot. It is a poor country that, over time, once amassed more than 40 million slaves (nearly 40% of its population). According to the article, Brazil and the Invention of Simulated Poverty,

Although the country is an important agricultural and industrial power, with the strongest economy in Latin America, poverty is widespread in Brazil. Despite recent improvements in income distribution, the issues of income inequality and social exclusion remain at the root of rural poverty. Brazil is a middle-income country and is rich in natural resources, but poverty levels and human development indicators in poor rural areas are comparable to those in the poorest countries of Latin America. In the country as a whole, about 35 per cent of the population lives in poverty, on less than two dollars a day. But in Brazil’s rural areas poverty affects about 51 per cent of the population.

Despite poverty and hardship, people in the countryside generally appeared to embrace life and live with satisfaction. As an outsider, it seemed to me that the Brazilians in Bahia choose to pull themselves out of their circumstances by trying to make the best of things and find as much joy as they can in the small pleasures of life. These pleasures are all too often ignored in the world I live in. I was struck by people who, at least on the surface, were thankful for the good in their lives, and celebrated accordingly.

Fishing Village, Itaparica, Brasil

Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

The bottom line is, Brasil has more than its share of issues: poverty, crime, poor education for most (just to name a few). It is a complex place with complex people – many of whom have burdensome lives. Yet, it is a beautiful country that is rich in its natural landscape, cultures, colours, food, and customs. I fell in love with Bahia, where the people, like those I’ve met in Southeast Asia and China, have great dignity, and reminded me that life is precious.

XXX, in an abandoned church in Itaparica, Brasil

In an abandoned church near the fishing village of Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

Abandoned Jesuit Church outside of Rio de Igreja, Brasil

In an abandoned Jesuit Church near Rio de Igreja, Brasil

Igrecia de Bonhim, Salvador, Brasil

Above is a photograph taken in the Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Brasil. This church is shaped by both Christian and native African religions. The patron saint, Oxalá, is known as the father of all the gods and goddesses in the Candomblé religion. Most wondrous to me was the room filled with photographs of loved ones, and personal belongings and votive offerings of  wax, wooden, and plaster replicas of body parts (hung from the ceiling) that were left behind by those who had prayed for cures. Salvador, Brasil. (photo courtesy of Mark Caceres)

First Stop, Sao Paulo, Brasil

???, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vinte e Tres de Maio Avenue,, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Lonely Planet sums it up perfectly: “São Paulo is a monster. Enormous, intimidating and, at first glance at least, no great beauty.” People I know in Boston, who are originally from Brazil, warned me that I need to watch myself there at all times because I will clearly look like a foreigner and be an easy target for mugging. It is embarrassing to admit but… I initially wondered why I decided to stop here, on my way to Bahia province. I am staying with friends and am, as it turns out, glad I made this stop-over before heading east. They have graciously given me a small taste of this immense, sprawling, but likeable place.

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brasil

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

There are over twenty million people who live in the greater metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. The divide between the haves and the have-nots of this city is great; the inequality is blatant. Many people live on the street and the barbed wire industry clearly thrives. The government and private citizens do not invest in long-term programmes that will get people off the street and re-integrated into society; the payback probably seems to distant.

Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Graffiti is everywhere (as it turns out, Sao Paulo is known for its graffiti artists). I have learned that, as the city developed there was little planning, zoning, and vision. It appears to be a hodgepodge of a metropolis. Vehicular traffic is nothing but one giant snarl. Despite all the concrete, however, lush green is everywhere and the songs of birds surround you all day long, giving a clear sense that rain forest cannot be far away. Trees line the streets and there are a number of large parks here. I have also discovered that Sao Paulo is a superb place for a “foodie” like me. There are hundreds of cafes, bistros, and good, cheap food joints. Since my time here is short I have barely scratched the surface and, uncharacteristically, I have hardly explored this city on foot. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that this is a sophisticated city full of culture, life, and history.

In just a few days, I warmed up to this city that, at first sight, appeared to be a grey, concrete jungle that I thought would hold no interest. Already I can say that Sao Paulo is a region that, had I more time, I might learn to appreciate.

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brasil

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brasil

Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

???, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Santo Amaro Avenue Sao Paulo, Brazil

???, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Santa Amaro Avenue, Sao Paulo, Brazil

???, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Santa Amaro Avenue, Sao Paulo, Brazil