We’ve never been to Brazil, but we’d love to go. CFYE always had a big interest in Brazil, from the crazy favela movies to great football (read: proper football) the crisp white beaches, the women and Baile Funk rhythms. And every time we ask about Brazil, we keep on hearing the same word: Intense.
And intense is what the pictures of Brazilian photographer Gui Christ show us. His work shows a true understanding of people and the world they live in. Real emotion can be found in every capture. Living in Rio, Gui visits the favelas around town to capture what is real, but he also takes long trips to poor villages in the midst of Brazil, to show you worlds that are far beyond yours or mine.
“Instead of making people buy things, I try to show them the truth and help the poor people who can afford the products I communicate.”
This week his second exposition in the US (together with other great Brazilian photographers) called ‘Brazil on screen’ will be held in Boston. You better believe you will see more of this talented photographer. So please, if you weren’t sitting already, take a seat, light a cigarette, a spliff, pour yourself a glass of wine our do whatever you do to get relaxed. Relaxed? Good. Now take your time for this feature with the wonderful artist Gui Christ.
We know you’re an art-director right now, how does this influence your work as a photographer?
I try to go on the opposite way of my work as art director: Instead of making people buy things, I try to show them the truth and help the poor people who can afford the products I communicate. After many years of working behind computers and being distant from the audience, I now want to get closer and closer. Discover different life experience, even just for a second.
So how’s life over in Rio de Janeiro, for someone who is so aware of his environment and what is out there?
Man, life here is crazy. Brazil, specially Rio, is an intense experience. Many social contrast, many cultural differences, many different situations happening in a very small area. I love to talk to people just to understand their impression of the world.
Today I was photographing in a slum, a big one called the Mare Shantytown complex. It are many slums together making a bigger one. It’s 5 times bigger than Rocinha and split by 4 Para-military groups.
“As the people who live there are really poor, the police and the government treat them like shit. “
We only know things like that from movies like ‘Tropa de Elite’. Do you think that represents what is going on in Rio?
Tropa de Elite is a nice film (as a novel), it shows many social problems but it shows the police as heroes but most of the times, they’re also the bad guys.
As the people who live there are really poor, the police and the government treat them like shit. And as they don´t have no one to protect them, the slums habitants are stuck between the dealers and the police on an endless fight sponsored by corruption and the people who buy and use drugs.
So isn’t there danger walking around with your camera?
You must carry your camera in a bag, but depending on the place, if you talk to the right people..you can make your shots. You just can´t photograph the dealers but if they allow you, you can go everywhere around.
You’ve told us that when out shooting photo’s in Rio you have to deal with lots of external factors, is there anything crazy that happened when you took pictures?
I can consider myself really lucky as nothing dangerous has happened to me but there are thousands of funny and beautiful stories about the city and the local people.
“The music played at the “bailes” are still a big taboo and most of the society associate it to the drug traffic and violence.”
We just need to ask this: are you into Baile Funk by any chance?
Yes!!!!!! I love it, the funk music is great. The Brazilian electronic music! I can send you some cd’s!
We once saw a live performance by the great Roberto Carlos and funk artist MC Leozinho on a Brazilain television show. Is Baile Funk an accepted genre in Brazil now a day’s, or is it still considered “Morro” music?
Well….MC Leozinho is not a funk singer, He is kind of a pop singer who came from a favela and uses just a few funk beats in his songs, but it definitely can’t be called funk music! This kind of “pop funk music” is becoming more popular each day since Mc Claudinho & Mc Buchecha launched ” SÃ³ Love, SÃ³ Love” song.
The music played at the “bailes” are still a big taboo and most of the society associate it to the drug traffic and violence.
So it seems the city is a big influence on your work, right?
Not only my city. My biggest influence is the Brazilian cultural diversity. As it´s a huge country, everywhere you go you´ll see different cultures and people. Each Province has an unique cultural identity. If in Europe each country has its own cultural identity, imagine a country which has many provinces 2 or 3 times bigger than most of the European countries. As Brazil results from big ethnic fusions and all of these cultures are spread out in different regions, everywhere you go you´ll see different things.
We saw your amazing set ‘Portraits of a pilgrimage’ in Juazeiro do Norte. How did you get there and why did you decide to go to this place?
I worked for a very famous Brazilian photographer called Walter Firmo. His work is based on the Brazilian folklore and he invited me to go to a small city in the semi-arid region to register a pilgrimage that happens every year. The people there are so religious and faith is their only belonging as they´re extremely poor, sometimes like in Africa.
During this trip I discovered how important it is to me to understand other peoples reality and show how other people live and see the small world around them.
My work is not based on poor people or how difficult life is. It is based on life experiences and cultural differences. So I can go to a slum , to Amazon or the semi-arid region, my approach will be the same.
I´m interested to show how powerful and intense that people and cultures are through my understanding of their reality. My last shots are from a NGO in MarÃ© Shantytown complex who teach boxing to local children.
We’re wondering..do you see many of these small villages being hit by capitalism?
Nope. They´re so poor and so far away that life doesn’t change in places like that They just live their lives.
So how do they (the locals) respond to you?
Like a foreigner, They use a local expression similar to “gringo” and they have a big admiration for photographers. They feel more important when you photograph them and they´re really proud of their life. They invite me to visit their homes and are really adorable.
And how about the young ones, aren’t they eager to move out, go somewhere else instead of living the same lives as their parents?
At the poorest places sometimes they move to the big city to find a job and send money to their families but when they have a worthy life, they don´t want to leave their family. Family and friends are really important to the Brazilian.
Can you say ‘the Brazilian’ when there are so many different cultures around? Do you think everyone still feels like they belong under the same flag?
Most of time they just know themselves in groups but it´s a common sense here. We have big cultural differences but that happens country wide; From the Amazon Indians to the European descendants like me.
Edward Olive once said to us: “Most people between 14 and 60 find having their photo taken very hard.”. Is that why we also see a lot of youngsters and older people in your photostream?
Well, it´s more usual in big cities where the people are really worried about their appearance and how theirs image will be used ( especially in slums). But in the countryside cities or small villages the things are really easier: Or the people are shy, and you can easily convince them, or they just don´t care about it!
In Rio, for example, the local citizens are extremely concerned about their image (especially in the summer) or are always too busy crossing the streets to stop even just for a second. At the other hand the children and old geezers are always open-minded to a nice conversation and talk about what you are doing photographing them.
My biggest suggestion is try to understand what the person you are trying to photograph wants to say in order to give you his image. Sometimes the right approach is more important than a technical knowledge and expensive equipment. In my opinion a good photographer not only knows how to develop a scene and tells a story, but he also understands the reality around him and the models state of mind. First look around the place, feel mood, talk to people and create your own perspective from that reality…than take your camera out of bag and start your amazing work!
Are you going to photograph outside of Brazil as well?
First of all I want to explore my country a little bit more and after that work on international projects, like Salgado did. Here, things are a little bit different. To live like a photographer, a designer or a freelancer you must work really hard. If you have a personal project, like a magazine for example it’s not as easy to make a living here as in the Netherlands. That’s why I’m more interested to show my work abroad. Most of the people here just don’t care about photography or the Brazilian culture. I’ve been invited several times from other countries magazines and blogs to post my works, but just a very few times in Brazil itself. I think people outside of Brazil are more interested in my work then the Brazilian.
Is there anything you really want to have done before you’re old? (climb the Himalaya, photograph Eskimo’s, etc)
See as many different people and place as I can. Live their life just for a second, try to understand their truth and show it through my eyes. Someday I hope to go to Africa, Asia and Central America like Steve McCurry or Sebastian Salgado did..
Do you think Brazil is evolving in a good way?
Brazil is fantastic! Despite all the problems it´s a fantastic place to know. You should make a trip through here and be my guest!
We’re certainly going to that, it’s on the top of the places to go to!
You must come here during the local winter, which is hotter than the European summer and it´s not so expensive. During summertime everything becomes very expensive. Especially in Rio, Recife and Fortaleza and Manaus (in the Amazon forest). That’s because of tourism and carnival.
As final question, what can we expect from you in the future?
I hope to show you many new projects from this intense and special multi-cultural experience called Brazil as I can. I´m programing new trips around the country looking to interesting situation and people and maybe start planning exhibitions and projects abroad ( especially in Europe).