In Brazil, feeling love: A photographer’s journey from NY to Rio

I don’t pretend to know a lot about Brazil, I’ve only been here 18 months. Like the story of the blind men and the elephant, the more time I spend here the more I realize how much I don’t understand.

But that lack of understanding is what often drives photographers, to learn, to discover, to be enlightened.

See more from other photographers in iStock’s Best of Brazil lightbox.

As photographers, our reservoir of experiences, the moments we witness and capture, become a powerfully ingrained part of our identity. For me, the five years I spent shuttling back and forth between New Orleans and New York were probably the most formative years of my photographic life.

To witness a unique culture and people recover and rebuild not only their city but, more importantly, their identity, with mixtures of African, European and indigenous influences, was an experience that intensely affected my soul.

That experience culminated in 2010 with the publication of my first book “Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent,” with all Getty Images royalties donated to New Schools for New Orleans. Concluded projects often bear the seeds of new ones, and I was searching for something different, yet still connected to what I had seen. The memories of New Orleans endured. I had many discussions with my boss (and guru) Getty Images VP Editorial Content Pancho Bernasconi, and eventually, we started talking about Brazil.

I went to Rio on holiday and felt the connections immediately. The favelas of Rio brought to mind the housing projects of New Orleans, both incredible incubators of culture and spirit. Samba called to mind jazz, baile funk reminded of bounce music. And then, of course, there was Carnival. Blocos were like Second Line parades: the costumes, the spirit, the revelry.  It didn’t take long to realize Brazil was where I should be.

Brazil is a place, like most places I suppose, where the more love you give, the more you get in return. The negatives — the delays, the bureaucracy, the insecurity and the corruption — can slowly eat at you if you allow it. But if you’re able to cast aside those issues and embrace the larger truths of love, tenderness, joy, rhythm, those things that are just part of the DNA of the Brazilian spirit, one can truly feel at home here, even as a foreigner.

Brazilians will show you infinite love if you allow it to happen. In some ways, Brazil is a hallucinogen. It’s a reality that is so distinct and varied from what I knew and lived on the East Coast that at times I do feel like I’m inhabiting another planet. It is this psychology, this set of emotions found in feeling alien, that we often yearn for as photographers. 

“What I love the most about Brazil is simple: the spectacular tenderness, joy and indefatigable spirit of the Brazilian people, no matter how precarious their situation may be.”

Deep inside Rio’s favelas, where poverty, violence and gang warfare are often endemic, one still finds the streets bursting at the seams with music, laughter, love. It is contagious and it’s everywhere and it’s something that overtakes and overwhelms.

This country swells with humans who take acts of kindness and joy to a superhuman level. Brazilians have a certain way of connecting to the world around them, to the spirits and rhythms of life, which is extremely beautiful to bear witness to. In this way, Brazil reminds me so much of New Orleans. It is this spirit and unbound grace that I love, more than anything else.

I miss NY, I can’t deny that. But I love Rio. I love documenting this marvelous culture which I am still, slowly but surely, beginning to understand. I know how very blessed I am to be a Getty Images photographer based on one the most beautiful cities on the planet.

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