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Photo Fund Update Part 2: What Andre Cypriano has to say about working in “no-go-zones”

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“I look people in the eyes. I don’t go in there as a photographer. The experience is more important than the photographs.”

FiftyCrows: What project are you currently working on?

Andre Cypriano: I am deeply involved in the documentation of slums all over the world, or “favelas” as we call it in Brazil. This long-term project is called “Informal Culture.” By now I photographed over 100 favelas, mostly in Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Buenos Aires, La Paz and Lima. Soon I hope to be able to document the townships of Africa, India and Mexico. Slum remains vastly misunderstood and under-studied. Still too little is known about the origins, demographics, physical and social structures, traditions, cultural production, internal economies, politics, modes of everyday life, and multiple identities of the place that over 1 billion people call home.

FC: How did you become involved/interested in your current work?

27_1AC: My unusual passport into the “no-go zones” of Rio’s favelas originated in the series, The Devil’s Caldron, documenting the notorious island penitentiary Cândido Mendes. I gained the trust of an inmate, Paulinho, one of the leaders of the infamous criminal organization Comando Vermelho – the CV. Paulinho invited me to photograph the place where he grew up, Rocinha, Rio’s meta-favela, with 250,000 inhabitants. The idea was to show that vibrancy and happiness also exists in the favela. That initial adventure led me to other favelas, in Rio and beyond. They are all different. The more I see, the more I want to see.

FC: Can you talk about the project that you focused on for the IFDP grant?

AC: The ROCINHA portfolio was the one born because of IFDP. This community is a place with extreme emotions. It is a Brazil that you will never find in the Copacabana or Ipanema Beach. The slum spreads from the top to the bottom of a mountain. Ironically, it is surrounded by wealth. Living in tightly-packed claustrophobic, collapsing brick and wood shacks, these people have made a choice. They have decided to survive, using whatever resources are available to them.

Because the residents of this neighborhoods, or developing city really, have been neglected by the government, they have set up their own survival system, one ruled by the C.V. drug-traffickers. What makes it so captivating is how clearly this criminal system both terrorizes and supports the people of the “favela”. This is vividly illustrated by the nefarious role of the police who, on a daily basis, violently extort huge sums of money from these members.

Rocinha reputation is so bad that it is very difficult to convince teachers to work in the community. This is partly due to the pervasive culture of violence and apathy in which community behavior repels even such basic assistance. The resultant violence is so extreme that these days, when a shoot-out erupts between C.V., the police or different criminal factions, children continue to play, refusing shelter, inured by the frequency of such activities. Despite all this, nothing is being done to change life in the favelas. As a result, the violence has grown to a point where it is defining Rio de Janeiro globally.12_1

FC: What was the significance of winning the IFDP in your career?

AC: It was my first major award. And besides the great finance support at the time, it was very important for my self-esteem. Because of the IFDP’s world recognition many doors have been opened. Still today, 10 years later, I continue to gain benefits from the award.

FC: Can you give a piece of advice to others doing important work with social change photography?

AC: Don’t leave your portfolio(s) hidden inside the drawers. And never believe that just because you didn’t win one competition, it means that your work is not important or good. I did apply for the IFDP 4 times before I won. It is very important to understand that, maybe because of personal reasons, whoever is judging can be attracted to a different work than yours. Maybe it is just not the right time for that subjected at that institution. Or maybe your photo style was not interesting to just that group of judges. Keep trying. Keep on a strait body of work, with a solid style, clean and good quality presentation.

11_1FC: Please comment on your connection to your subject matter and the importance of working in your own country/region?

AC: I look people in the eyes. I don’t go in there as a photographer. When I’m inside, I eat with the locals, I play sports with them, and I participate. That is very important for me. The experience is more important than the photographs. I love Rocinha and lived there for 30 days. My work happens to help to make changes, but it is not really my intention. The social change comes as it is supposed to come.

After living in the USA for over 20 years, I feel like an outsider in Brazil. That helps to see things that Brazilians are not seen on their daily lives, things that is right there, in front of every one. Things that only happens in Brazil. As a Brazilian and American citizen, living in both countries, I am able to express my feelings to the subject in a global and natural way. Many Brazilians think that my Rio’s Favela portfolio, as another example, is an apology to the C.V. criminal organization, but instead, it is history that I am documenting, like the Italian mafia of NY.

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Written by Zara Katz

October 15, 2009 at 9:34 am

Photo Fund Winner Update: Andre Cypriano

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Brazilian photographer, Andre Cypriano prefers to photograph the unique and unusual aspects of distinct cultural enclaves. Within his own country he has made a point of looking at the livelihood of the largest favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro and the brutal prison, Candido Mendes. It was his work photographing the people of the drug-run favela called Rocinha- An Orphan Town that won him the IFDP in 1999.

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Cypriano won the National Geographic “All Roads” photography award in 2005, the New Works award from En Foco N.Y. in 2002, and the World Image Award from PDN in 1992. He has also participated in the Bolsa Vitae de Artes in Sao Paulo and the Caracas Think Tank. Cypriano has published several books of his work, conducted educational workshops and exhibited in Brazil, Europe and the US.

Now located in New York City, Cypriano works as a freelance photographer doing both social documentaries and editorial/fashion photography.

www.andrecypriano.com

Written by Zara Katz

October 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

affect/effect: Photographs That Create Change -Ed Kashi’s Story

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Consider the metaphor of a grain of sand: one grain in a thousand is insignificant, while it can also be unique in shaping everything that it touches. Now apply this idea to photography. Countless photographic images give us a consciousness about what is going on in the world, but our lives are awash with powerful images, most of which fall away by day’s end. A sub-clause to the metaphor: even if that one image (grain of sand) does produce an emotional response, it is rare the feeling that the image elicited will inspire action.

But what happens when one grain of sand (image) gets stuck in your eye so persistently that you must make a move to change the way you feel? The affect/effect: Photographs That Create Change series will feature stories from photographers and friends of photography that share how one image affected an individual to make a profound effect in the world.
Our first story comes from internationally renown photojournalist and close friend of FiftyCrows, Ed Kashi. It is close to impossible to make a short list of Kashi’s credentials as he has worked extensively in Israel, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Europe, and the United States, to name a few and often shoots stories for National Geographic and the New York Times. During a three year period, Kashi documented the effect of the oil industry on the people and environment of Nigeria which he titled Curse of the Black Gold. Although Nigeria has one of the highest oil revenues in the world, most of the people live on less than one dollar a day. Kashi gives a brief recount about one of his photographs that created change for a boy in Nigeria:

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“A month or so after it came out we got a call from a woman named Betty in upstate New York. She asked for a copy of the picture and we thought, Oh gosh, this is some crackpot. (Because the image is so intense) Anyway, we gave her a copy of the picture and then six months later she contacted us and she said, “I just want you to know that through my church I found that boy and he is now enrolled in school and I’ve extracted him out of this absolute dead end – because this job, which was also a very dangerous and unhealthy job … and now he’s going to school.” When those things happen…. I’ve been fortunate that that’s happened a few times in my career so far where there’s actually an image or a body of work that catalyzed action.”

Written by Zara Katz

September 18, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Photo Fund Winner Update: Victor Sira

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As an immigrant himself from Venezuela, IFDP winner Victor Sira focuses his work on other immigrants in the United States, Latin American and Europe. His winning photo essay for FiftyCrows, Uprooted, showed the fragmented existence of Latin American immigrants who travel and establish a livelihood in the US. Sira states that: receiving the IFDP grant in 2002 from the FiftyCrows Foundation was a tremendous help during financially difficult time. In a more fundamental way, though, the IFDP grant gave me the confidence to experiment, to take risks, to take my ideas and run with them. For that I’m most grateful.

Sira_03.webSira-10.web

Sira goes on to discuss his most recent work and how it has evolved from the time that he was in school until the present. He continues to look at the state of immigration in a series about border crossing in Europe and the United States. Using both film and video, his interest in film-making has grown out of fifteen years of work.

01_© Victor Sira_Calais 200302_© Victor Sira_ Spain2005

At the age of twenty-two, while studying at the International Center of Photography in New York City in 1992, I began my first documentary project. I photographed different immigrant experiences in New York City. I continued to photograph extensively for several years, in the United States, Latin America and Europe.

A close examination of my works produced during the pass years led me to re-evaluate my entire photographic approach. In considering my work—all still images—I came to realize that I wanted to capture movement and sound building upon and improving on my previous photography efforts. I began to envision a new project that would record fragments of reality containing a range of human emotions such as pain and isolation to examine the social, political, and historical burdens of the people and landscapes that I had photographed years before.

I realized that video as the ideal medium for this new project. During the summer of 2006, with the support of a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, I began the initial research for the project and wrote the first draft of the treatment for the film that would be based on my own experiences photographing immigrants along the border in the United States and Europe.

03_© Victor Sira_ MOLDOVA 2000504_© Victor Sira_ Arizona 2007

Three short films from a serie about the border will be showing at “THE ELECTRONIC ART AND VIDEO FESTIVAL, TRANSITIO_MX 03” in Mexico City at the beginning of October.

www.victorsira.com

Written by Zara Katz

September 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Pedro Lobo- Architecture of Survival: Images of a favela

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Lobo

Over the years, along with the many winners of the International Fund for Documentary Photography, FiftyCrows has also honored other exceptional photo-essays. One such person that we recognized in 2003 was Brazilian photographer Pedro Lobo whose look at the favelas (shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro offered a regal sense of home in contrast to the impoverished environment. Lobo achieved this through his use of photography in reference to architectural art history documents. He singled out individual homes from the thousands and documented them as if they were important monuments.

Lobo states: “I photograph these buildings in the same way that I would photograph monuments or privileged mansions. I construct these images with geometry, composition and a carefully planned structure, searching for a contemporary result that includes historical references to art and, in particular, to photography.”

Be aware that the intention of Lobo’s images is not to depict poverty, violence or misery, but to honor the human beings that struggle for survival with respect to their environment and livelihood. These are the homes of families, single mothers and widows- as well as drug lords, religious bosses and public authorities. His images glorify the rich colors which are traditional to Brazil and remind us of vibrancy of life that exists within the favelas.

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http://www.lobofoto.com

Written by Zara Katz

August 20, 2009 at 11:12 am

Posted in Environment, favelas, Poverty, Survival

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