Barely a day goes by when we aren’t inundated with images that expose human suffering. The media has been criticised for inducing "compassion fatigue", desensitising our reaction to these kinds of pictures and making it a challenge for photographers to find the voice that will be able to capture our attention.
The No Olho Da Rua project may just have found that voice. Rather than using a third person narrative to try and pick apart the experience of living on the streets of Brazil, artists Julian Germain, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy asked homeless children from Belo Horizonte to document their lives themselves using borrowed camera equipment.
Seventeen years later, the project is now a vast archive containing thousands of pictures and posters that capture the experience of living rough in a deprived area of Brazil better than any photojournalist or documentary maker could ever hope to represent.
This is the first time the project has been shown in a formal gallery space. The challenge facing any photographic exhibition such as this is finding a way to connect with the audience, otherwise the images can seem stagnant and lifeless.
Not so at Fabrica. From the moment you step into the space you are assaulted by a proliferation of deeply personal images; a baby sleeps with a gun, a man’s eyes are filled with unexplained tears, young lovers gaze at one another with affection and a mould-riddled foot bulges with disease.
As well as the photographs forming the main exhibition there are hundreds more boxed and stacked to root through. Turning out collections of pictures that show the subjects as they grow, fall in love, mess around with friends, become parents, suffer illness and make their way through life, it’s hard not to see the similarities with any normal family album, as well as the gaping differences.
Approximately 75 children took part in the project, most of whom had left home by the time they were nine to lead nomadic lives out in the open, finding shelter where they can, often becoming young parents at 13 or 14, sometimes ending up in prison, sometimes ending up dead.
As well as basic "point and shoot" cameras, the artists also provided tape recorders, notebooks and pencils. Each participant has produced text and audio to accompany the imagery.
The artists have kept a discernible distance from the production of the material, working simply to edit, publish and distribute the results.
As a result, the project isn’t a one-dimensional, sympathy-grabbing view of homelessness in Belo Horizonte, but instead shows the multi-faceted experiences that make up the subject’s lives.
Like any collection of photographs spanning 17 years of a person’s existence, these images show the best and worst moments of human life. But this is undoubtedly more exaggerated because the subjects are homeless – the highs more poignant, the lows more devastating.
Seeing a group of friends laugh as they mess around with bric-a-brac in a junkyard, a child care for one of the local stray dogs or a mother swell with pride as she shows off her new baby, we are reminded that these are real people. Iit is because of this that the exhibition will make its voice heard.
- Open 12pm-5pm (7pm Thursday, 2pm-5pm Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday). Admission free.