It was May 13, 2020, two months after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when photographer Marcelino Melo (Nenê) recorded eight tractors with his drone digging hundreds of holes in Cemitério São Luiz, in the south of São Paulo. The painful image conveyed the dimension of the tragedy—which still lingers.
A historical memory tool, photography has this ability to denounce and inform. “The machinery was too big. I thought: “bro, the ‘baguio’ is crazy and we don’t know enough”, felt Melo when captured the images.
The aerial view of the caves resembled a “bar code”, he said. “That day I came home more upset,” he said, who lives in Jardim Piracuama, Campo Limpo, and is the creator of the projects “Drone Boy” and “Quebradinha”.
It is also on the south side, in Jardim São Luís, that the photographer lives Léu Britto, correspondent for the Mural Agency. He has been recording daily life on the outskirts for over 10 years and talked about how it is to work in the midst of a feeling of fear and hopelessness.
“If I get stuck and I’m more afraid of the virus, I’m chipped, I’ll go hungry. My race is to live off photography. And to record stories I have to go to where they live”, he said.
“Masks, alcohol, faith and courage” is what Britto carries along with his camera and photographic equipment when he goes to cover. In September 2020 he published the special “Portrait in Quarantine”, after photographing the weight of the pandemic and the impacts of the advance of deaths by the virus in the suburbs.
The photographer reported the routine of cemetery workers in São Paulo, in addition to recording in reports the crowding in public transport, the lack of work and the precarious living conditions of populations in the favelas.
Among the occupations that emerged in the pandemic, he highlights the occupation in Jardim Julieta, and the favela da Tribo, in Jardim Damasceno, both in the northern zone. “These places encouraged me to continue documenting and focusing my work on recording the daily lives of these families, who struggle to survive,” he explained.
Britto and Melo define the photographic work as an important documentation of the facts, even though the perception of the image as a part of reality does not have the expected effect of change.
“I had feedback from people who saw a photo and it changed their thinking about the scale of the situation [da pandemia], began to reflect more.” But, on the other hand, Nenê says that “there are people who ignore it”.
“And with the polarization of opinions, they even said that my photos [da vista aérea do Cemitério São Luiz] they were fake. I’ve heard that.” So it is.
It’s the same feeling as Léu Britto. “Sometimes I feel pretty powerless because images of the raw reality have no effect on society at large.”
Despite that, “the image historically marks that there was a materiality of the events, positive or negative, of a story”, he concludes.
The role of photography in the peripheries during the pandemic will be the subject of the second episode of Live in Laje, live program from the Mural Agency.
The conversation will be broadcast this Friday (11), at 5 pm, by Instagram, and will feature the participation of photographers Léu and Nenê, already presented in this text.
The chat permeates the backstage of the photographic coverage made by those who walk daily through the alleys and alleys of the Brazilian suburbs. In addition, it brings a reflection on the reporting of inequalities in such dark times.
Tamiris Gomes is assistant editor and co-founder of the Mural Agency