For 25 years No Olho da Rua has captured the lives of those living on the street in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte
In 1995, homeless teenagers in Belo Horizonte began their ongoing relationship with photography, a project now released in non-profit zines, published by Morel Books.
- Jyni Ong
- 7 August 2020
25 years ago, on the streets of Belo Horizonte in Brazil, three friends embarked on a lasting project that would leave a resounding impact on its participants. The project, No Olho da Rua meaning “In the Eye of the Street” gave cameras to the homeless residing in the Brazilian city, offering the creative freedom to make pictures of anything they wanted, wherever and however they chose.
The outcome, a quarter of a century later, can be seen in a curated series of 18 zines published by Morel Books. Started by Patricia Azevedo, Julian Germain and Murilo Godoy, the three respective photographers began the project when they’d all just turned 30; a pivotal moment. As they put cameras into the hands of street children back in 1995, they weren’t to know how the project would unfold with time. In the 25 years that have followed, much has changed for the three founders of project, not to mention in the country they call home and with the people who document their lives in No Olho da Rua.
“They were teenagers in 95,” Julian tells us, “and incredibly athletic – some of them were already parents. Life has, obviously, been unimaginably tough for them. Yes, over the years a few have moved off the street, but several have disappeared and many have died, from illness, violence or injury.” As Brazil experienced unprecedented economic expansion over the past 25 years, the collaboration birthed thousands of insightful images charting the lives of Belo Horizonte’s inhabitants.
In turn, No Olho da Rua offers a rare glimpse into how Brazil’s rapidly changing landscape has affected its most vulnerable in society, shedding light on the socially and economically excluded. As a medium, photography is simple, expressive and full of potential. The new photographers had rarely used a camera previously but were able to develop a practice for themselves, however they saw fit. By examining the extensive archive of No Olho da Rua, now, we can see how the street photographers’ relationship with the medium has changed over time. As Patricia puts it, “In all this time, we have accumulated – with their active participation – an incredible archive that shows their life on the street across the decades.”
As time went by, Patricia, Julian and Murilo have stayed in touch with the original group of photographers. Approximately 15 of the original group – now in their 40s and some of them grandparents – are still living on the same streets where they first met when the project began. Photography has been an important outlet for them in providing visibility for their lives, as well as being a process to build up confidence and a sense of identity too. In terms of the curated zines on the other hand, “over the years,” says Murilo, “the archive has become more and more exciting.” The zines have become an essential way of re-looking, remembering and appreciating the times that have passed and the people who captured these moments.
Just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Brazil, Patricia and Murilo (who still live in Belo Horizonte) planned to meet with the street photographers and relaunch the project. They hadn’t had the resources to facilitate the project for the last few years, so the scheduled new round held great promise for all participants involved. Like many projects, however, Covid-19 has so far made this latest round of No Olho da Rua impossible – “but we are going ahead as soon as we can,” says Julian. He finally goes on to say: “The pandemic has made everything very complicated, especially in Brazil, so as a response we need to try and get some assistance directly to Belo Horizonte’s people. The zines are already a non-profit venture so we are now selling some additional prints and all the cash we can generate from those will go to a local NGO that is helping them on a daily basis.”
GalleryNo Olho da Rua
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.