Photographer Stefanie Moshammer had longed to experience Rio, and she arrived just before the 2016 Olympic Games began to get a sense of it’s fractured history and unstable present. In her series Land of Black Milk, Stefanie aims to show “the relationship between individual perceptions and the vast complexities of Rio de Janeiro.” By exploring the favelas and the people who live there, Stefanie presents the contradictions, the strains between class and race and the character within the city, through a series of observations, portraits and aesthetic studies.
“Life in Rio is strongly segregated. 20% of the people live in favelas and most of them belong to the Afro-Brazilian population,” Stefanie explains. “Brazil has such a heavy past – it was the last nation in the western hemisphere that abolished slavery in 1888 and sometimes it’s like the ghosts of slavery still linger in the city.”
This dark side of the city battles against more touristic perceptions, and Stefanie has worked hard at establishing her own perspective. “Rio is a target for western fantasy often informed by clichés of the beach, sexy women, music and samba. Also there are many photojournalistic interpretations of Rio which show a negative aspect of the culture there,” she says. “My intention was to disassociate my work from the images previously portrayed and develop a new dialogue.”
This dialogue eschews the “graphic suffering and exotic imagery” and replaces it with “beauty and symbolic reference” while still portraying the very real conflict present in Rio. Capturing the favelas where common law seemingly “doesn’t count” and only “their rules exist”, Stefanie was keen to capture the places she visited in a more “ambivalent way because they are hard to understand – moods and structures are always changing depending on what happened the day before,” she says.
Similar to her previous projects, colour plays an important role in transporting the viewer to the environment document. “Colour helps me to navigate and narrate the story, and to feel the dynamic and atmosphere of the place,” she explains. Crumbling pastel-coloured walls, vivid portraits of drink sellers, striking still lifes of house paint, and dense shots of the whole city create an intriguing photographic essay of Rio, which captures the disparities while highlighting the life and vibrancy of the people who live there.
Land of Black Milk is due to be released in book form in October 2016.