January 5th, 2017
I’m on the bus ride back from Guanabara Bay—I’m not looking at the screen or else I will get car sick, so bear with me! Let me start with yesterday before mocing onto today.
WE WENT TO ROCHINA! First favela! It was incredible! But honestly, shockingly, and admittedlky, it was nothing like I had imagined it being. Don’t get me wrong here, I didn’t just make up ideas in my head about what life was like in the slums of Brazil. I have read two books and been taught by two separate teachers about the favelas. Not to discredit the poverty of the favelas, but they were not even a fraction as mad as I had pictured them to be. First of all, the smell of sewage that is suppose to be a trademark of favelas was not too noticeable, at least to me. This is extra surprising because it is also the heat of the summer. The hottest of the hot, the most humid of the humid, and should be the smellieset of the smelliest. But the smell was only extra purfunctory whenever we were stolling by some of the little streams, distorted to an odd, cloudy white. That’s suppse to be from the extrament of the favela residents. Gross, right? Some people are trying to fix that, but most people aren’t and just don’t care at this point.
Besides the smell, the rest of the environment wasn’t what I expected either. One thing that Erika said describes this the best for me: it is much more of a community than it seemed before we actually saw it. I was imagining people in just horrific, paralyzing poverty. Although it kind of sounds like I’m discrediting the extremes, please know that I did not see everything, do not know everything, and cannot begin to claim that what I remember seeing and how it made me feel is at all correct. Let me give an example of this. While we were in class later, Alex brought up how horrible he felt about people living the way we experienced it, even with our status as gringos walking around the slums when we saw only a sliver of time of the life of a favela resident. He briefly mentioned how it made him want to do so much more. Oddly enough, it didn’t to me. I didn’t feel guilt and responsible to for their problems and to fix them. Erika responded to Alex’s comments by saying, basically, that we as individual people cannot fix all of the problems in the world. We have to pick our battles to make an impact. Maybe combating poverty isn’t my battle? To clarify, I’m not saying that I don’t think poverty is terrible and gentrifying and everything, it just isn’t the one of many dilemmas of the world that grabs at my heartstrings to leap to my feet.
There is another bit that makes me wonder about my sensitivity to strife and suffering. While I was in the favela, I wanted to photograph everything, besides the things that would have gotten me and my group shot, of course. I don’t know if it the photographer in me who has a deep respect for documatitive photography and the cost of its production, or the little kid in me who grew up hardened by life-changing and mindset-altering obstacles that indelibly shaped me. As everyone says, probably a little bit of both. So I felt no shame in wanting to photograph the favela, its people, and its conditions. It is another element of life to me, why should it be “respected” so much to leave that stone unturned to the eyes of the outside? I do understand a point that was discussed later, how exploitative photography does little good while it stirs up muck. However, whenever I saw that picture of the shriveled girl and the vulture I did not think it fell under that category. I had never seen it before, but the moment I looked at it for the first time I could feel the power of the moment the photographer had captured. I think that’s why I see it differently than some of the others—I judge the image from the eye of an artist gleaning the weight of that image. Some of the questions that popped up about the negative connotations of the photo, to me, make the photo of the suffering, that took place at both the photographer and little girl’s expense, more powerful, visible, and moving. The photo is an utter success at an astronomical price, but it did its job and brought attention to the situation at hand—the consequences of immeasurable poverty previously unseen to the world.