Greater São Paulo, 2019-2022
It all began in 2014, in Rio de Janeiro. At the time I know little of the city. It evoked images of beaches, bodies under a blazing sun, favelas. For various reasons, I decided to dedicate a long term work to it. And it is on a misunderstanding that I settle in the middle of the West Zone. It is a territory as large as 8 times Paris, located 50 kilometers from Copacabana, a periphery far from the clichés associated with Rio. I discover there dwellings of variable size similar to barracks, immense wastelands, no public space and lonely people who seem crossed by a resigned melancholy. It is a gray, empty and silent environment, with a low demographic density. A place without identity where I lose myself completely. In these first months of installation, everything happens as if I were confronted with a double displacement: in a new culture and in a world that turns out to be the opposite of the representations that I lent it.
As I immersed myself, I gradually realized that this type of territory is found everywhere in the country, and that a large part of Brazilians live there. The initial misunderstanding becomes an opportunity, the occasion to open our eyes on a reality that is never visually translated. I also realize that these spaces are a kind of metaphor, a resonance chamber of the tensions that have begun to agitate the country since 2014.
Light can be deceptive in Brazil. Its tropical clarity, hard and white, illuminates as much as it obscures. Simultaneously. And yet the country I photograph, in the blind spot of its own image – never shown – receives little light. In these spaces something seems to be out of place, but what? If one sees everywhere imprints of meaning and presence, the sensation of emptiness of this world nevertheless installs a silent tension whose origin I question in my images.
After the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, I completed this work in Brasilia and the Federal District, in the last months of Jair Bolsonaro’s mandate. There is in this seemingly opposite movement – from the margins to the political heart of Brazil – the same will to understand this so complex country. For is Brasilia really a center, or on the contrary a mirage, an empty and hollow promise erected in the middle of nowhere? And therefore a logical reflection of the distant peripheries of Rio and São Paulo?
Conceived at the end of the 1950s, Brasilia is a strange and fantasized city. It is a miniature and rural capital, still very young and yet frozen in time, built in the opposition between a showcase pilot plan and a string of satellite cities. We find here the classic and political fracture – very sharp in Brazil – between an elitist and hygienist center and more or less poor margins. In the pilot plan, which gathers the places of power and the residential districts of the city, Brasilia seems to be emptied of its inhabitants. Huge arteries or esplanades without the shadow of a passerby, except during political events, seem more made for the car – which is king – rather than for the individual. Silence reigns. At night it is total, heavy. The binarity of the seasons – a dry furnace, followed by torrential rains – adds to the feeling of a strangely temporary and frozen city setting.
The words of anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro come back to mind, upon learning of the fire at the National Museum in September 2018 – the worst museological disaster in Brazilian history -: ” here is a country where governing amounts to creating deserts”.