This project is a testimony of a place that no longer exists.
8 years ago, 60 families occupied ‘Galpao da Araujo Barreto’, an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Prior to establishing themselves in this place, these families lived throughout the dangerous streets of the city. In 2003, these families came together to seize this deserted factory, which lay in ruins, and they transformed it into a home for themselves. Over the years the community grew until there were approximately 130 families living together in this place. In March 2011, the government evicted all the families and demolished the structure of the chocolate factory.
The causes that led to these families living together in the first place, and the subsequent rapid growth in the number of families living there, were twofold: harsh conditions of the life on the streets, due the endemic violence present in the major cities of Brazil, and difficulty in accessing housing in a country where real estate speculation is at one of the highest levels in the world.
Most of those living there were young people, mostly coming from large broken families, normally with serious problems of alcoholism or drug addiction. Many of these families migrated from the countryside decades ago to find a more prosperous future in the city, but were relegated to being marginalized and living in extreme poverty. Some members of the community held down stable jobs in the center of the city but most of them undertook informal work on the streets, recycling garbage, selling food and drinks on the beaches, or committing petty theft.
Some of the men in the community worked as small scale drug dealers, mostly selling crack cocaine. The price of a rock would depend on many unpredictable factors, like the severity of the withdrawal symptoms the customer was suffering at the time, or whether the police had entered the slum and confiscated drugs from the dealer in previous days, which would considerably increase drug prices, which normally varies between USD $1-2 per crack rock.
Many of the girls in the community would work as prostitutes to make ends meet, or to feed a drug addiction. Most of them were abandoned where they were children, and found refuge in the abandoned factory after several years living on the streets. Some would find their clients from the streets outside the factory, but others would work exclusively inside the confines of the building.
Since 2009, I have been documenting this community. From my studies in sociology, I understood that this was a unique community. This vast subculture within the greater city became one big extended family. They created a microcosm in which the problems of drugs, prostitution and violence could be tackled with the support of their own community.
The interpersonal ties formed over the years within the community are now endangered. Since its inception, there was a strong sense of shared responsibility, with long-term commitments from individuals for the greater good of the community. This system of rights and obligations generated a widespread feeling of fraternity and security. It was a place where everyone enjoyed relative welfare, provided jointly from the community.
Normally this type of community is formed to compensate for the lack of available resources that individuals need to survive. But without a doubt, what also united all of these families was that all the individuals shared common life experiences and backgrounds. They had all felt a sense of loneliness in their lives, and most had personally suffered from violence on the streets. For years this abandoned factory served to protect them from the outside, and create a bubble of apparent security, in which they tried to create a home and regain their dignity.
The support and human interaction that was present in this place is often missing in modern lifestyles, and its absence can be seen as a decay, death, or eclipse of a sense of community. Today the bonds of community are becoming more expendable, due to the rise of the ideology of individualism. Personal loyalties diminish its reach through the successive weakening of national ties, regional ties, community ties, family ties and, finally, ties with a coherent picture of personal identity.
Today, life in a community is even becoming a form of revolution. Barreto was a place where the exchange of ideas, goods, and services created a bond of identity that allowed the survival of its members in a society that marginalizes them. Life in this community has been a form of struggle, and resistance to a society that considered them dysfunctional elements.
I first came to Barreto to explore how communities formed within fragmented societies as a mechanism of survival. During my time spent there over various visits, I have witnessed almost everything that one can experience in life: love, despair, betrayal, lust, passion, unity, friendships, empathy, conflicts, forgiveness and a sense of family.
After my first visit in 2009, I returned several more times alone, until in March 2011 the government evicted these families from the factory, as one of many attempts to clean up the visible poverty in the center of Brazilian cities. This is predominantly due to the upcoming international events to be held in Brazil in the next few years, including the 2014 FIFA Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Brazil is teetering on the brink of violating human rights as it continues with the displacement of favela communities in a reckless manner.
At the time when these families were forcibly relocated, there were around 130 families living in Barreto, an area approximately the size of a football field. Although Barreto, the physical place, no longer exists, the community remains. A large proportion of the families that once lived in Barreto now live together in the ‘Jardim das Margaridas’, a marginalized neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The government moved 100 of the families there, together with another 500 families from different favelas across the city, to clean up the visible poverty in the city center.
This process of gentrification is becoming increasingly common around the world. Gentrification is an urban transformation that involves displacing a population with low income from a potentially interesting neighborhood, to transform it into a new, expensive, and a popular place to live. Now the government wants to build a shopping center in this place where the Barreto community once lived, as a first step to attract new wealthier residents.
After two years documenting this community, I was able to understand the social consequences of the gentrification process. It also speaks to the way we currently build our cities, our way of life, and the global process of the social marginalization.
My main objective with this project is to document the emotional and physical ties between the different families who lived in this place, to show that this community is a metaphor for a place where the tragic decomposition of human life combines perfectly with the magic realism of Latin America.
I would like to return and continue this body of work in the future, focusing on the problems the ex-Barreto community members are having finding new jobs, or how they manage to keep their current jobs if they now have to spend many hours each day commuting to and from them. I am also interested in documenting questions of infrastructure, or lack of, as the government hasn’t provided them with access to schools, hospitals or supermarkets in the new area in which they live.
I would like to return to this new location that this community I have come to know so well has been forced to move to, and to document this new chapter in their lives. I wonder how the community is managing their relationships in this new neighborhood, and meanwhile, how they continue to build and maintain their dignity. My main objective is to document the emotional and physical ties between the different families now living in this new neighborhood.
This feature was shot between December 2009 - March 2011.
Full edit of 80 images available on request.