“I discovered that sometimes, by means of intense concentration, the neutral smudge might be forced to come into beautiful focus so that the sudden view could be identified, and the anonymous servant named.”
- Vladimir Nabakov, Speak Memory
Throughout the past 17 years, British photographer Julian Germain and the Brazilian artists, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy have been working with the street children of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to produce No Olho da Rua [In the Eye of the Street], which will be exhibited at the Brighton Photo Biennial later this year.
The photographs are a truthful and intimate document of the participants’ personal relationships, their frequent geographical and emotional displacements, and the realities they have experienced from a social position of poverty and homelessness.
Their lives on the streets relentlessly constitute exploitation from other members of their community, and drug abuse and criminality occur frequently. Germain, Azevedo and Godoy are working with the people traditionally considered to exist on the peripherals of their society, who are unjustifiably invisible unless viewed in some way useful to others.
Significantly, the images have been produced by the participants throughout childhood to adulthood, with inexpensive analogue cameras distributed to them by the artists. This transferral and facilitation of authorship underlies the main intentions of the project, which Germain explains on his website as threefold.
They are to yield and nuture a channel for the participants’ ‘strong, intelligent feelings and deep human emotions'; to create a ‘permanent record’ of their experiences, courage and resistance for themselves and societies worldwide; and to stimulate enduring discource and action relating to their circumstances.
In the context of the Biennial’s theme, which will examine photography as an agent of change and reflect on the politics of spcae, the dissemination of the work to date is particularly relevant. In 1997, the project as it existed was hung as fly posters in various locations around Belo Horizonte, including the streets and on the self-made huts of the photographers, placing them – for once – visibly, at the centre of their community.
Suddenly the physical structures of their environment were transformed into a public exhibition space and an accessible expression of themselves. As intended, the photographs became an enduring, tangible document for the unpredictable lives of the photographers, a sense of permanence amoungst their own impermanence.
But because the photographs were hung within their natural surroundings and printed on material that adapted to the shape of the walls and buildings, they also embodied a true reflection of their authors in a volatile environment.
The installation shots show a fly poster hanging over the window of a hut, almost adopting the function of a curtain, but assuming the unstable nature of the home. The images pasted to brick walls became weathered and creased, revealing an affinity with the photographers and the way they inherently have to adapt to their environment. This reinforcement of their existence and value was finally given the opportunity to enter the consciousness of their community through the images they had produced.
This was enhanced in 2007 when the project was published as a newspaper and distributed free of charge throughout the city by the photographers in person. Their physical presence became a true testament to their authorship and pride in No Olho da Rua. The newspaper was also distributed for free with Issue 9 of Photoworks in 2007, reaching an audience external to Belo Horizonte.
This collaborative project is truly inspirational, with humanity and inclusivity at its heart. It exposes themes of hardship and frustration, but most importantly it reveals that the photographers’ relationships are what they value the most.
The previous dissemination of No Olho da Rua and it’s inclusion in BPB12 facilitates it’s educational value for both photographer and viewer, and compassionately allows the undervalued of Belo Horizonte to be seen.