June 29, 2014

Between an Electrifying World Cup and Bodies on the Ground: Mario Tama in Brazil

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In the months before the World Cup, Mario Tama’s work in Brazil captured the class divide, the politics of the country’s favelas and the tension and conflict caused by the government’s lavish investment in a sporting extravaganza at the expense of a spectrum of deep social needs.

If this stunning photo Tama captured this Wednesday feels like the companion to another paradoxical and entrancing photo — of a woman, a drug addict, sleeping beneath an overpass before the start of the World Cup competition — the calendar makes a world of difference. Now two-and-a-half weeks into what’s undoubtedly been an extraordinarily exciting tournament, the intense, month-long focus on the stadiums and the games poses a powerful challenge to photographers such as Tama to continue to capture and express the ever-present protest and cultural disparity. If you haven’t seen them, take a look at this post also, showcasing Mario’s photos published on the eve of the tournament in which he places the stadiums and the favelas in direct dialogue, if not actual competition.

What’s immediately brilliant and disturbing about this latest photo is how put together this guy looks. His pristine, colorful, and attractive clothes are apparently new. Of course, the vivid green and yellow (complimented by the small Brazilian flag) radiates as the sensory signature of the tournament and, indeed, the sports world right now. If you notice also, even the plastic looks unused and clean, and the box beneath him is also tidy. When you combine the elements above with the setting — Copacabana Beach often referred to as Brazil’s postcard — along with the news from the caption, of course, that the man is sleeping, we’re relieved to assume the subject’s okay.

At the same time, however, the photo generates overwhelming ambiguity and tension. If all we’re observing is a guy protecting himself from some rain, or looking for a nap and to keep his outfit clean, I don’t have to tell you how overwhelmingly this reads like a corpse, suggestive of indigence or foul play. Whatever the exact details, however, what Mario has done this deep into the tournament, and with Team Brazil riding high, is to, again, graft together the social and political with the sport and the spectacle. If the din of the tournament renders the former near-invisible, Tama — in a breathtaking example of his craft — keeps them inseparable.

(photo: Mario Tama—Getty Images, caption: June. 25, 2014. A man sleeps on a sidewalk in Copacabana while dressed in Brazil colors in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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