Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Daniel Hoffman and the Photography project



I have known Daniel Hoffman for about three years. He contacted me about meeting and wanting to visit Rocinha, not for a tour, but just to meet me as we had been writing to each other online. We often write about issues in the news to each other regarding favelas and the future for us here in Rocinha. I knew he enjoyed photography and I thought of this idea of disposable cameras and kids. The idea is to have the kids take fotos of their lives. Rocinha and other favelas are very misunderstood places. Through Photography, these kids get to show through fotos, what their lives are like here. So, the idea was set.


We had explained the idea but how to do it? I told Daniel that he could use a fundraiser site like KICKSTARTER to raise money to buy the equipment needed so he would not have to spend all of his own money. So, he made a site and many donated. My challenge was finding the location. First, I contacted the library but they old us no. I contacted FABRICA VERDE and they welcomed the idea. We set two days to do this project. One day to distribute the cameras and the second day to have the cameras returned. After the cameras were returned, Daniel's plan is to develop the film, put it online and create a site where the world can see Rocinha through the eyes of residents! The majority were kids but 5 adults, including me took part.


I wanted you to hear from Daniel about this project, so I interviewed him. But first I want to thank Ana Paula, Cintia Porto and FABRICA VERDE for helping to facilitate this project!


Explain a little about who you are where you live? I am a husband, father and professor who lives in New Jersey. I am married to a wonderful woman who is as funny as she is smart and we have two boys who are already well traveled, very social and full of energy. My profession is to conduct research and teach at Rutgers University. I am a faculty member in the Department of Nutritional Sciences where my focus is on the long-term effects of poor growth on health in children living in developing countries.


How did you find Rocinha? Why do you keep returning to Rocinha? I first heard about Rocinha while conducting research in the shantytowns of Sao Paulo. About ten years later I was going from Rio to Barra. Upon exiting the Zuzu Angel Tunnel, I looked to my right and was awestruck as Rocinha seemed to explode before me. I felt an enormous wave of emotion as I wanted to stop and explore the maze of streets and houses and sensed the energy of the people who were walking around, but my taxi driver said I wouldn’t survive five minutes and wouldn’t stop. A few years later I made contact with Zezinho and I took the opportunity to visit Rocinha with my wife. We had a wonderful evening walking around and talking with Zezinho and I started to build a relationship with the community. It’s an addictive energy that I have been able to experience without any of the sensationalistic aspects that we read about in the news.


Why Rocinha (also explain a little about the motoboy project)? Before graduate school I worked as a professional phototographer with a stock agency in Washington, DC, but left that life for academics. However, I have never given up photography and have completed projects documenting the life of marginalized populations. Thus, I have a deep interest in documenting life as it is in Rocinha. Rocinha is a balanced community in that it is not poor, it is not full of crime, it’s a community that comes together in a very difficult setting. Yet, the people who are Rocinha are fantastic, you see it in the streets, homes, attitudes, and so on. During my first visit we took a motoboy uphill to Zezinho’s home and I gasped a bit as I saw my wife zoom off into the dark on the back of motorcycle driven by a guy I didn’t even know and I asked myself, “Am I, or both of us, insane and not thinking about our children?”. Still, I had complete trust and faith that the driver was not a scoundrel who would do something bad to her or us. As we drove off I became interested in the dynamics of the motoboys, both as a visual issue as well as the informal economy. It was a few years before I made it back to Rocinha as most of my work is in Sao Paulo. Alas, with some planning I returned to photograph the life of a motoboy and spent a few hours riding with a motoboy as he made he way around Rocinha. It quickly turned from a project on the dynamics of motion as you ride through the streets to one of an opportunity to see snippets of life in the street of Rocinha.


Can you explain the idea behind your project? The motoboy project developed into a self-published book and motivated me to bring photography to the children of Rocinha. Zezinho and I worked together to form a program where children would get a disposal camera for one day to take pictures of whatever they felt represented life in Rocinha. We are in the early stages of this program and hope to build the program into a community event. The basic idea of the project is to simply introduce children to the joys of photography as a means of bringing them to a new arena of communication as well as showing them how they can communicate with a larger audience through their photoblog. From this we hope to build community pride and maybe even have random photo shows of the children’s work. The possibilities are vast and we are just beginning this program, so there is a lot of work and planning ahead. We hope to continue the project for a long period and develop a book and showing of the photos taken by the children to build self-confidence and pride in Rocinha.


What does the world need to know about places like Rocinha? Having worked in number of these communities, I have heard from many people in Brazil and other countries about how people perceive “slums” or “favelas”. Many people believe that poverty isn’t the issue and point to the number of homes with cable television or cellphones and say that people in favelas are simply taking utilities for free and taking advantage of their situation to have material goods without doing anything for them. However, the reality is much more complicated, it isn’t an issue of poverty or education or corruption, it’s a matter of social justice. I think it is important for people who have never visited a place like Rocinha, to think first about who lives there, try to understand who they are and what their life is like. From what I have seen, between Sao Paulo and Rio, people are people and they are living their lives as many others do, worrying first about their families, second about their income, and third about their community. After this I think it is necessary for people to consider the origins of favelas and the reasons they still exist. Understanding favelas is complicated and it takes time and energy, but considering that a good proportion of people in Sao Paulo and Rio live in favelas, it’s absolutely essential if you wish to fully understand Brazil, especially if you are a citizen of Brazil.


What do you want to do in the future in regards to Rocinha? My main hope for the future of Rocinha is that it becomes safer for people who live there and that this can be done without the heavy armed influence of the police. Also, I hope that Rocinha continues to be a place where foreigner as well as Brazilians can learn about favelas, but not turn it into a gentrified tourist destination where people come to simply say that visited a favela. It’s about the people and the energy and there should not be a sacrifice of the humanity of Rocinha for improved conditions or global awareness.


To learn more about Daniel Hoffman's work check out his sites below: