May 18, 2014

Concern and Eroticism: Wire Services Warm Up for Brazil and World Cup

Here comes the World Cup — and the effort by Western visual media to create a simultaneously vital and salable picture of the Brazilian social and political landscape.

As a harbinger, this photo was included in a 80 photo TIME Lightbox “Pictures of the Week” gallery back in December. Taken by Getty’s Mario Tama, I can say with certainty it was not the product of a newswire package where a photographer shows up somewhere for a week and then leaves.  Focused on Rio and Brazil as the sight of the World Cup, then the Olympics in ’16, Tama has made repeated trips to Brazil for two years now, his total time in the country likely totaling in the months. I belabor the point for groundwork later, as I hope to track Mario’s work more closely as these events go live. I emphasize it, too, because the work comes from someone who is highly skilled at addressing the sensibilities and demands of social and documentary photography and newswire photography at the same time.

Here’s the caption, by the way:

Dec. 10, 2013. Drug users gather beneath an overpass in an area known as ‘Cracolandia’, or Crackland, in the Antares shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It doesn’t surprise me this photo stood out so early. As disheveled and weathered as we expect an addict to look like in such a situation, this woman looks like a model. From the standpoint of a wire photo, it’s sensational. That’s because of the way the newswire opens up its own documentary vein here, sharing with us the conflict and poverty that will remain not just under the overpass, but under the radar during the Cup games. With all that concern to work with, the eroticism — heightened as it is by the vulnerability of sleep, the woman’s beauty and skimpy coverage, and the intense contrast with the squalor — is effectively enveloped. To the extent it’s sexy, and even more so, voyeuristic, its more likely to sell because its topical news and social documentary value makes it (these are my made up terms) “responsibly sensational” or “responsibly erotic.”

It’s got a lot going for it, too, in the interplay between the sleeping woman and the half-hidden one in the background — as if she could be the sleeping woman’s darker-skinned doppelganger. Or, her dream. And then, there’s the built-in curiosity because she’s headed somewhere — a little more curious, perhaps, because the viewing path is growing narrower.

I’m looking forward to the games and the wire coverage. I am because its an opportunity to see imagery that’s beyond typical — in ways that are clever and novel, and ways that are informing.

(photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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