Missed Opportunity ~ Julio Bittencourt
Today The Guardian ran this short piece on a new book by Brazilian photographer Julio Bittencourt entitled In A Window Of Prestes Maia 911 Building (Dewi Lewis). I've not seen the book. You can find some of Bittencourt's photographs here. I suppose the notice in The Guardian is what now passes for a review of this project. It certainly displays not a wit of critical judgment.
The building in question was an abandoned 22 story skyscraper in São Paulo. It was occupied by hundreds of families organized by the Homeless Movement of Central São Paulo. The residents coordinated their own community life in many ways and resisted the government's efforts to evict them. That sounds pretty political to me: a group of people get together and collectively pursue a solution that will meet their need for a basic necessity and then defend themselves against those who don't like what they've done. Why couldn't Bittencourt acknowledge any of that? Instead he diminishes the people and their achievement, seemingly transforming a vital political movement into a human interest story.
This becomes clear as Bittencourt recites the trite justifications of non-committal documentary work. Here is how The Guardian notice ends:
The squat was always intended as a protest as well as a place to live, and it succeeded. Most of the squatters have been rehoused or compensated by the government. For Bittencourt, however, it was never a political project: it was about the people he met. "I wanted to show them in a different way. Even though the walls are dingy, you see a lot of dignity from the people."Instead of agents seeking to fend for themselves and their compatriots by making claims on resources and on the state, we instead get bearers of abstract human dignity. You might think this is simply another of my tired left-wing efforts to find some political dimension everywhere. But go ahead and google "homeless movement Brazil." You'll get a sense of just how far out of his way Bittencourt has to go in order to divert attention from the politics involved. You don't need to read about the ongoing movements among landless and homeless in Brazil in any of the links to wacky leftist publications (although you can - should - do that too). You can simply have a look here at the BBC News. Among the photographs accompanying that story you'll find this unattributed image:
In order to make his photographs Bittencourt must've had to walk right under these banners or ones pretty much like them. As he tells The Guardian "I spent three months studying the interior and exterior, the light, the windows, and getting to know the residents." I wonder how he could've gotten to know the residents without really listening to what they were saying.