Photography, a Contest and a New Way of Seeing in Brazil

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Posted on 8/15/2013

Marlon's Photograph

In an urban slum, or favela, sprawling up the hillsides outside the Brazilian metropolis Belo Horizonte, there lives a 10-year-old boy named Marlon. Quiet by nature, he never interacted much with other children in his community. With its razor wire, broken glass, gangs, garbage and poverty, Aglomerado da Serra wasn’t exactly a hospitable place to make such connections.

But “Serra,” as it’s known, is also home to this young boy who earned fifth place in the amateur category of a photography contest that included entries from across his state, Minas Gerais. And the favela is a character in this tale.

Last year, Marlon began attending ChildFund Brasil’s Photovoice class, a project offered through ChildFund’s local partner organization Conselho de Pais Criança Feliz. The class gave him a chance to make new friends his age. And it gave him something else: a new way to see the world around him.

“In Photovoice, I learned many things, and I had a lot of fun with the teacher, Jorginho,” says Marlon. “The photography classes helped me figure out who I want to be in the future, to make new friends and to have a better understanding of photography. I like to photograph areas where nature is present, such as the sights of Serra and also the typical places of the neighborhood where I live, such as the alleyways, because of all the different people, colors and interactions.”

Marlon, Age 10

Marlon, Age 10

Marlon’s photograph, of three boys playing soccer in an alley, encompasses all of those things. Filling half of the image, almost looming in the foreground, is a bleak wall of rough, sloppy gray mortar covering brick. The wall lines one of the favela’s narrow alleyways and ends at a small crossroads where three boys stand in a small circle. One of them, face upturned and catching the sun, has his eye trained on the red ball in the air above his head, one foot in the air and one barely on the ground. Is he just landing or about to lift off? His companions watch, their postures relaxed, as if mesmerized by his moves. It’s a sunlit moment of simple joy, shared in a small space amid haphazard electrical wires and sharp, corrugated metal roofs — and dark corners that the viewer knows exist outside the frame of the photo.

The shot fit perfectly with the contest’s theme, “The Sociocultural Impact of Soccer: The World Outside the Common Orbit.”

The facilitator of the Photovoice in Aglomerado da Serra, Jorge Quintão, talked about how the project makes students more communicative and changes the way they perceive their environment. “They learned a lot with me, and I learned a lot from them — it was mutual,” he says. “Photography gave meaning to the lives of these children, and the contest is a culmination of everything that they have learned and experienced.”

Marlon agrees. “To participate in the photography contest was a very important experience in my life because I had the opportunity to know more about the place where I live,” he says. “Everything about this experience was provided by the project Photovoice, which allows us to see our community in a different way. To get fifth place in the contest in which all of the state had participated was very emotional and unexpected, and it made me very happy.

“I really like photography,” he adds, “and my favorite photographer is Henri Cartier Bresson.”