This month’s Olaf Willoughby interview is with Peter Bauza and showcases his storytelling skills. This is the story of over 300 families living for 10 years ‘sem teto, sem terra’ (without roof, without land) in abandoned unfinished condo blocks named “Jambalaya” after a TV show or alternatively “Carandiru” after the famous state prison in Sao Paolo.
‘Sem teto, sem terra’
To start can you give me an overview of your project, its title & what is its main theme?
“Copacabana Palace” lies in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. People live there under the poorest and most extreme conditions. Basics like fresh water, a working sewage system and a stable supply of electricity are missing. I simply wanted to draw attention to their story.
And how does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?
In 2015 I started work on a project about the changes on the Avenida Brasil, Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by photographers that have done works in Africa I thought it would be a good idea to document the modernization of the old colonial infrastructure.
At first I thought I arrived too late. However 26 km from Rio de Janeiro I noticed a strange building, covered in graffiti, surrounded by love motels and with no windows. Driven by curiosity I came face to face with the squatters.
I started to research squatting, adequate housing, etc. and I realised that I had uncovered an important topic, a hidden part of our society. Very quickly I noted that this first dwelled place is important but would represent the tremendous topic. Here I learnt about a place called “Jambalaya” or “Carandiru”.
I had to search a long time to find. Hidden from our eyes this place is located in the outskirts, 60 km from all beautiful beaches and the real 5 star Hotel Copacabana Palace.
This was the beginning of my long-term project. I knew I had to stay and to tell their story, a story of they challenges, needs but also their joy, happiness and love. The ironical “Copacabana Palace” name was given very sound after I found the name scrawled on a dormitory wall in graffiti. A name, that have been used later so often by the people.
Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause related end in mind?
I never thought about the extension of the project. I just knew that this story needed to be told. I also knew this work could be an opportunity for change.
What photographic choices have you made; colour palette, composition, use of flash….etc.
It was clear that a flash and/or a big camera would not be helpful and would prevent me from gaining trust. The Leica M system, which I have used for a long time, seemed to be the tool discrete enough for this project.
I also didn’t feel B&W was suitable. Brazil has a colorful culture and this huge place, is not only a place of misery and pain but also a place of hope, love and inspiration.
I love to work with wide-angle lenses. They give me the chance to be part of the project, to be very intimate. I always think that the longer you stay and understand the people, the shorter your lens will be. Overall this is a project, which would have been very difficult without a Leica M.
Has the project been successful?
I started in mid 2015 and photographed through to mid 2016 and yes, I’m happy to say that it has been successful. It received the Visa D’or Feature as well as World Press Photo 2017, Contemporary Issue award among others, has been featured in a host of magazines like Stern, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair and the British Journal of Photography, has been exhibited in many countries and finally I created a book telling the story of these terrific and wonderful squatters.
Another measure of success would be that the people from “Copacabana Palace“ would be awarded a social housing program in Brazil. We’ll have to wait and see if that happens.
Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?
I think all photographers are inspired by the works of others. For example; Ponte City by Mikhael Subotzky and Guy Tillim and Bruce Davidson, East 100 Street. Before starting such an important project I like to research and gain inspiration from meaningful works such as these.
Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what were your learnings?
Indeed, 14 months is a long time with many up and downs. On the one hand you need to be close enough to be a friend but on the other far enough away to be objective. Being friendly, also means that you get close and this intimacy leads to understanding their feelings and sharing their life, their needs and their illusions.
The environment, safety and health is a challenging topic and many times I felt tired and drained. These are the moments you need good friends to talk with and to find new ways to think about and approach the body of work.
Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?
For each project, long or short, I recommend having a theme, a story line, knowing what you want to say. This story line makes it possible to work more effectively, to open your eyes and make you more aware.
What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?
I decided immediately from the beginning that the LEICA M was the right camera. Approx. 80 % of the images were made with my very old and trusted Elmarit 28 mm, 2.8. All the rest were with the 35mm 1,4 and just a few with the 90 mm F4 and Tele- Elmar 1:4.
Tell us some more about yourself and how you came to hear of the Leica Meet.
Through my relation with LFI, Leica AG and friends I came to hear about the Leica Meet. A terrific platform for enthusiastic Leica Photographers.
Further images of the series can also be found in the current M-Magazine.
About Peter Bauza:
Peter Bauza is a German Photographer within the documentary and storytelling genre. He is very committed to social and geopolitical issues related to conservation, global health, diminishing cultures, sustainability and the environment. For over 20 years he has lived in both South America and Europe, frequently also traveling to Africa.
His life-long respect for multicultural viewpoints fueled by the fluency in five languages also afforded him opportunities. Peter’s work has been published and exhibited internationally.
Olaf Willoughby is a photographer and writer. He co-founder of The Leica Meet a Facebook and website group (11,000+ members) who hold meetings in major cities (NYC, Boston, Wetzlar, London, Paris, Lisbon…) In 2017, Olaf is teaching various creative photography workshops including ‘WesternMasters Eastern Insights’, with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College, Rockport plus Leica Akademie in London and Street Photography in Brooklyn.
If you have an intriguing project or body of work that we might feature, completed or in progress, contact Olaf at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.olafwilloughby.com