I have never felt comfortable with a camera in my hands – especially those which cost more than my monthly salary. Never mind. But that was what the coordinators of the multimedia journalism course from Konrad Adenauer Foundation asked of me. More than that, I would have to come back with pictures worthy of that fancy piece of machinery. After some practical explanations, off we went on our mission through the narrow steps and alleyways of favela de Santa Marta and then the sands of Ipanema beach.
Our mission was to pick one person and tell their story through pictures and films. I started with hesitation, but it wasn’t too long before I caught sight of a high stick full of colorful cotton candy. I thought to myself: if the story isn’t good, at least the pictures will be colorful. For me, it was a good enough start.
Paulo Alexandre, a vendor from Japeri, in the suburbs of Rio, also hesitated, but accepted my request. He then went on to tell the whole beach I was doing a documentary about him, while his clients saw me throwing myself on the sand trying to capture his best moments – which often resulted in pictures slightly out of focus.
Running after Paulo wasn’t simple. For starters, running on sandy beaches is not exactly my thing. Second of all, since evening was approaching, the light was changing quickly, and it was hard to adjust the camera’s speed so often. With all this fiddling around, a lot of my pictures came out either completely under- or over-exposed.
Back when I started university, it was a surprise to me to find out that being a reporter was no longer only about carrying a notebook around. Being able to write a well researched piece hasn’t been a reporter’s main need for a long time now. One has to know how to photograph, film, interpret statistics, program… Or at least a few of those combined. I always knew that I needed to try, not to get left behind.
And, this time, I did try. And I liked it. Most people were very open to having my camera on their faces. Some posed for the pictures, others tried to ignore the camera. And, of course, there were the groups of people who begged to have their picture taken. Paulo was a great protagonist. He was smart enough to use my presence to sell his cotton candy. “Hey, who wants to participate on a documentary? You only have to buy my cotton candy!”.
While I took a bit of time off from throwing myself on the sand and running ahead of him to take a picture from the front, he also told me his story. He told me he started selling cotton candy on the beaches, parks and favelas of Rio when he was 12. He learned his profession from an old guy who, about 20 years ago, brought the first cotton candy machine to Japeri. With this, he charmed a whole generation of kids, including Paulo. The vendor pointed out to me that every cotton candy salesmen we saw at the beach was from his hometown.
Paulo also told me how, in one of his trips to favelas, he met the wrong people. He described how he became a drug dealer when he was 16, and that he only stopped four years later, after watching too many friends die. “Good, true friends”, he said. He only told me this when the sun had disappeared under the horizon, which left me with no choice but to accept the pictures I had already taken. Persistence is also a very important skill for a reporter.
When we got back to the office, the next day, I was surprised by the quality of some of my photos. The greatest part of my work went directly to the trash can, but some came out nicely. That made me extremely happy. My big problem with photography has always been the fact that I could never capture, through the lens, a scenery as beautiful as the one I saw with my eyes. This time I learned that sometimes a picture can reveal more than a glance.
Manuela Andreoni, 25, assistant reporter at the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, Rio de Janeiro
Because Manuela edited her first video so nicely, we would like to share it with you, even if it was only done for exercising: