The 22 hour journey home from Belo Horizonte always offers ample time for reflection. After 2 and a half weeks of 18 hour working days I am exhausted and in equal measure exhilerated and troubled by everything that has happened and may happen in the future. Saying goodbye to Landia, Licaõ, Haidé, Patricia et al gives me an extraordinary feeling. They know I will go back to another life and they so genuinely wish me, my family and kids well - it's extremely touching and humbling. I ask them to take good care of themselves and each other. Licaõ asks me to throw him a message from the aeroplane as I fly overhead....
They have asked to have cameras for christmas and Patricia A and Murilo will organise this, as well as making sure Licaõ has a camera for the birth of his and Patricia's baby in January. Otherwise, contact will be only occasional for the next few months. Patricia A and Murilo will do what they can re Elisangela's situation and will help Celia visit Piriquito and can be contacted by phone for help if necessary. Our experience though, is that when the project is not 'live' they very rarely contact us. Also, there seems to be an invisible line on both sides of this relationship which isn't crossed. From our side, we never press them about what 'crimes' they have committed, 'why' they have been in prison, about the bad things they must inevitably have done. From their side, they have a clear understanding of a boundary that is our home lives. Not one of the many people involved has ever even asked which area of the city Patricia and Murilo live in.
So as I leave Belo Horizonte the objective of the next 12 months is to finally publish this book. We all want this to happen, everyone who has been involved. We have agreed to try and self-publish it and to raise the money to do so by selling full sets of enprints from entire rolls of film. Any roll of film in the archive (from 1995 - 2010) containing a photograph classed as 'A' (which means it's in the 1st edit) may be printed only 3 times. One set is with the photographer, one set is with the archive, and only one set will be available for sale. When viewing all the images from a roll of film - not just the good one - you are seeing a broader vision, what came before and after, sometimes ideas or actions evolve, time moves on. Some pictures are destroyed by fingers, camera straps or faulty wind-on mechanisms. There will be approximately 200 sets of prints available, most with approximately 24 enprints, each 10 x 15cm. We just feel that this approach offers a real insight into the process of the project and avoids celebrating only great images.
In order to set this in motion we agreed a 'contract' with the participants:
It is agreed that the authors of the project "No Olho da Rua" will respect the integrity of the archive and credit individual participants wherever appropriate. Royalties and profits from possible sales, publications or exhibitions shall be distributed to projects, organisations or activities that bring pleasure or practical assistance to people who live on the streets of Belo Horizonte. If the book of the "No Olho da Rua" project is finally realised, all participants will receive a copy.
It is interesting that they aren't interested in money. They freely acknowledge they can't keep it or use it wisely. Neither are we, nor have we ever been, interested in receiving fees from this project. We all want the book so initially all revenue will go to producing the book and subsequently to other projects which fulfill the above criteria.
Friday, 10 December 2010
Elisangela's not at home / Licaõ's rat ramp
We went to Elisangela's apartment yesterday and she wasn't there. Her sister, two nieces and two daughters were. They simply said she 'went out yesterday and hasn't come back yet' and seemed completely at ease. We gave the children their pictures from the zoo trip, stayed a while and then left Elisangela's 2 processed films for her to open when she got back. On Sunday she hadn't made it to the zoo - they'd all stayed the night at Licaõ's place and Elisangela couldn't get up, had probably overdone it a bit.
We couldn't find Sandro either which was a shame as I leave on Thursday, and with him in particular, I wonder if he'll still be around when I next come back. We leave him a note with the guy who runs the bar he's generally sitting outside. Patricia and Murilo will probably see him on Saturday at the 'Soup', where they can all go and get a proper meal for free, at least once a week.
Licaõ's place was as usual, calm. As such places go, as I've mentioned before, it's really a pleasant setting. Lots of rubbish around of course, but it's relatively quiet, some 75 metres from a road (street people usually live with trucks and buses thundering past their ears) and there are those beautiful mango trees to sit under. They have news about Elisangela and also Bilu. Rumour has it they are both in prison. Licaõ says they could lock Bilu up for 10 years this time as he's only out on license and hasn't been 'signing on', plus he has a fake ID. He seems to be implying Bilu is a pretty useless petty criminal. Haidé arrives and says she also believes they are inside. No one knows what has actually happened or if they do they aren't saying, but it's a pity Elisangela has got tangled up with Bilu. We speculate that this is about her electric bill (see No Olho da Rua 02/12/2010), that Bilu was only allowed to stay at Elisangela's apartment if he took responsibility for sorting it out; or it could have just been to feed a hunger for crack. Whatever, if she's in prison it's a potential disaster re her new life / new apartment etc. And with Manchinia in prison too, what about their kids? We worry she could lose everything....
Luceni, a neighbour who was also living on the street, took the picture of Elisangela at her window last week. It's hard for them both the transition, clearly even harder than we initially thought. Nearly all their friends are still out there, or it seems sleeping on Elisangela's floor and she seems to be a regular weekend sleeper at Licaõ's. Bilu had said, only half joking, that Elisangela hadn't left the street, just moved it in to her flat. Luceni told us she'd been incredibly lonely there in the apartment block at first, just 4 walls and an old television instead of all the activity outside. Now though she has a boyfriend who has a job and her sister and niece have moved in too so she's coping much better.
Licaõ has a laugh showing us the ramp he has installed for the rats to more easily get up into the mango trees. I take a picture of it which i'll post later if it's half interesting. He says there are more than enough mangoes for everyone and he'd prefer to share them than the meat / rice / beans etc that are kept on the 'ground floor'. There is a stew cooking as darkness falls. An ancient pot balanced on a bit of scrap metal mesh laid across a scrap wood fire.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Celia and Piriquito met on the street and have been together on the street for more than 20 years and they have 2 or 3 children. At the moment though, Celia is with his younger brother Alexandre - at least while Piriquito serves a 2 year prison sentence for robbery with a knife. Celia is desperate to visit him with their daughter Bruna and we agreed to try and help. She needs official ID, 2 recent photographs, a document proving she has no criminal record, a fixed residential address. If she wants an 'intimate visit' a negative HIV and full gynecological check are also required. She then needs to travel to the prison, about 60 km north of Belo Horizonte to present these documents in person. The travel expenses alone would make it impossible for her to visit without our help and the beurocracy also requires lengthy, confusing telephone conversations with numerous government departments (if someone actually ever picks up the phone). If she ever gets as far as making a visit there is another long list of rules, such as:
- she must wear light coloured clothes (not see through), with short sleeves
- dresses must be below the knee
- no shoes, only sandals or flip flops
- no jewellery
- she must sign a document agreeing to be searched, x-rayed and gynecologically examined if the authorities deem it necessary.
What's also interesting is the long list of items she is allowed to bring for Piriquito, for example:
- food that doesn't require cooking such as chocolate or biscuits (with no cream)
- soft drinks (max 2 litres)
- soap, shampoo etc
- up to 5 packets of cigarettes
- toilet cleaning materials
- notebook and pen
- 1 ball
- all items should weigh a maximum of 5 kilo's
- all items must fit in no more than 2 plastic bags
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
Marcelo at the Zoo / Eduardo's Shoes
On Sunday we organised a trip to the zoo; a bit of a nightmare really as there are more people who say they want to come than we can possibly get into our combi. We had a lot of arguments about how the hell we would cope, who we should bring and who we shouldn't, but in the end, inevitably, several people couldn't get up or forgot and we managed to cram everyone into the combi + a very accomodating taxi.
For the most part it was a relaxing afternoon. Our ban on drugs, alcohol or thinner may have had something to do with it, but it was also hot and the atmosphere in the beautiful Belo Horizonte zoo and park was just calm; Conxinhia, Bruna and Vinicius even went off for a sleep. The exception was Marcelo, who is always incredibly exciteable and was determined from the outset to be in pictures with the animals. Amazingly, he had reasonable success with the Hippopotamus. He must have been precariously balanced, kind of lying on top of and leaning over the wall. He later announced he was going in with the monkeys and there was no stopping him; he climbed over a wall, traversed a moat and wandered around their enclosure for a couple of minutes. Licaõ and Luis photographed it but of course the monkeys had scattered to the treetops, so on Marcelo's terms it was a failure. We had a visit from security shortly afterwards but were on our way home anyway.
Amongst the pictures that came back yesterday was one of Marcelo asleep. We have in the archive a huge collection of sleeping pictures (and we've taken many ourselves) but we realised Marcelo was the one person we'd never seen.
Murilo gave an old pair of his shoes to Eduardo. There was a discussion about taking them to a shoeshine place to ask for a tiny bit of wax to polish them and it was generally agreed by everyone that they would be a really good pair of shoes when cleaned up. The next day the shoes looked spectacular. Eduardo couldn't get wax but managed to get hold of some light green gloss paint.
Saturday, 4 December 2010
Rosemary has been one of our quietest participants, small and so timid we wondered how she could survive out there. She always carried a rucksack full of all her belongings, her mobile 'home'.
Editing the archive this week has given us the opportunity to revisit one of our favourite 'series' of photographs - the car portraits Rosemary made back in 2005. She would wait at one of the several sets of traffic lights around Gameleira junction and photograph the drivers stuck on red. Initially we just enjoyed her choice of subject and admired the pictures, documents of people's 'awkwardness' really. Later, we discovered her motivation went beyond producing pictures for the project or maybe just for pleasure (although Rosemary clearly loved taking pictures). It transpired she was working the same spots each day and selling the prints back to people as they passed by on their regular commute. The other kids assured us she was doing quite well from this venture.
We, of course, looked for Rosemary before we published the newspaper in 2007. We couldn't find her, although people said she was around, living with a guy none of them liked. The highlight of the newspaper distribution was a trip to Pampulha park with a combi full of kids. It was great. We all handed out about a thousand newspapers, they went swimming in the dirty lake, danced like crazy to a busker, refused to queue for any of the popular rides at the funfair but had a brilliant time in the hall of mirrors and on the ghost train. In short they had more fun than anyone else. We bought dinner in a restaurant afterwards.
It was dark when we arrived back in the main street opposite Gameleira junction to drop the kids off and Rosemary was there, sitting cross legged on the pavement. She was pretty stoned, looked rough and had a broken arm but she smiled so sweetly when she saw us. It wasn't easy with the boyfriend there, drunk and edgy, but she continued smiling as she carefully studied each page of the newspaper. She looked so vulnerable. We headed home to our comfortable beds, wondering if she was going to be ok.
Rosemary left Belo Horizonte a while ago. Apparantly she's gone to Vitoria, about 500km east of here, where she has some family. We would love to see her again but hope she's better off where she is.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Elisangela's Electricity Bill / Vinicius and Sandra / Licaõ's Christmas Decorations
Elisangela moved in to her new apartment about 4 months ago and for the first time in her life she has received a bill - R$75 (about £28) for the electricity used September to November. Of course, she hasn't saved or got the money. She's in her mid 30's, has been on the street since she was 12, living dangerously and in chaos but without any of the boring responsibilities of a 'normal' life.
It seems a bit crazy to think that she will be able to deal with this kind of stuff without regular support, but on the other hand she's deeply suspicious of any help the local Prefeitura are offering. Bilu, who is staying there too, says if he's really lucky he might make R$30 a day collecting rubbish for recycling, but he needs a trolley which would cost a few hundred or he needs to rent one, which is risky because they are routinely stolen. He has stolen trolleys in the past, but then someone else always steals them from him....
Vinicius was one of the crowd who initially lead us to Elisangela's house. In a quiet moment in the combi on the way back to Gameleira he told us that Sandra had been on the list for one of those apartments. So when she was killed in the car crash he lost his love of 6 years and the opportunity to have a family life in a real 'house'. He has no rights to an apartment - of course they weren't married and we assume he's not registered as the father of their 2 kids who now live with Sandra's sister.
Licaõ's place was all cleaned up today. All the mess swept up and they'd had a bonfire. It's not a bad advert for street life, under the shade of mango trees heavy with fruit, away from traffic noise and dust, and electricity bills....
Several (probably all) of the people there are using crack but the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Licaõ says he likes Vinicius and would invite him to live there except he doesn't want people sniffing thinner around. Haidé hands another film over saying it will be the best yet. Eduardo wants help to get into a rehab centre. Telec has lost his sandals.
We like a picture of Licaõ's. He and a mate are up in the mango tree - a christmas mango tree. The decorations are up in all the shops so why not at their place?
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Haidé Portraits / Elisangela's New House / Hanica BF-20
We have in the archive a remarkable collection of portraits of Haidé, who from the beginning of the project in 1995, has always been serious about photography and her own image. There are hardly any pictures of her messing around and there are very few candid moments where she is unaware of the camera. She generally shoots a roll of film each day and there are always one or 2 portraits. She doesn't, of course, press the shutter so all the pictures are collaborations with friends / lovers / whoever is around, but the consistency of the results suggests that it is mostly her response to the camera, what the photograph means to her, what she is feeling, that makes the portraits so strong. Yesterday this portait of Haidé arrived, perhaps the best of several good ones in a series made on the tree trunk.
We finally found Elisangela yesterday. We knew she had a house but still expected to see her with her friends and family on the street. After a few days we asked Landia to take us there and Preto, Vinicius and Ronaldo came along too. Really, it was a special moment - she was so excited to see us, and we her. What is amazing is that her house is not a makeshift favela dwelling, constructed from all kinds of scavenged materials, it is a brand new apartment, with bathroom, toilet, kitchen, lounge (decorated with giant landscape posters) and 2 bedrooms - real evidence of Lula's social agenda. She is there with her 2 daughters (it seems Bilu is there too with his girl friend), although her partner of 15 years, Manchinia, is in prison. We left Elisangela a camera and we will go back today.
We are losing quite a few cameras. Our Hanica BF-20's are taking a battering. We never know exactly what's happened, who is responsible. It's obvious they are drunk or sniffing thinner, maybe smoking crack. One boy Coxinha admits he can't keep a camera (we think its unlikely they get sold as they are worth nothing and processing film costs a lot) so shoots pictures while we are there. When we started in 1995 we worked with more kids (more than 50) in 3 groups and we didn't lose one camera, not one. They were children and teenagers then and with cameras they were more reliable.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Sandro showed us this letter from his sister. V basic/quick translation
Hi brother You abandoned us. we are now living in an area called 'New Progress' near Dinha's house..... ....if you don't want to visit us please send a message.....Mum sends you lots of hugs.... Love you and God Bless you. The number of the bus to get here is 2110 Novo Progresso....my phone number is....