The Rio Residents Displaced by Olympic Spirit

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April 16 2014 11:08 AM

The Rio Residents Displaced by Olympic Spirit

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Vò Zeze, Colonia Moreira, 2013. After a long career as a seamstress at the municipal theatre of Rio, Vò Zeze built a spacious home in the community of Colonia J. Moreira in the city’s West Zone. The beautiful home and garden she spent years building is now directly in the path of the planned Trans Olympic Highway.

Marc Ohrem-Leclef

As Brazil prepares to host both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games, many of the poor communities in Rio de Janeiro's favelas are being forcibly evicted from their homes as construction in preparation for both events ramps up. The favelas, or slums, have been a part of Rio de Janeiro since the late 1800s and are home to roughly 1.4 million people. Many of the residents don't understand the legal steps involved in an eviction and have been unable to challenge the government as it removes—and often destroys—their communities.

Photographer Marc Ohrem-Leclef traveled to Rio beginning in early 2012 with a medium-format film camera to document some of the residents of the favelas for a book he titled Olympic Favela. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help finance its publication by Damiani in conjunction with art-book distributor DAP Artbook.

Ohrem-Leclef said he decided to work on the project because he grew more politicized as he got older and he was familiar with Rio and felt a connection to the area.  “I thought this idea was the worst thing in the world—people being displaced for an event that is meant to be universally celebrated,” Ohrem-Leclef said.

Ricardo, Laboriaux, Rocinha, 2013 Ricardo from Laboriaux, the city-facing side of Favela Rocinha, told us how the government is paying off individual families to leave their homes with stunning views across Rio's Lagoa neighborhood and city beaches, breaking up the longstanding neighborhood bit by bit with the demolition of each home.
Ricardo, Laboriaux, Rocinha, 2013. Ricardo said the government is paying off individual families to leave their homes with stunning views across Rio's Lagoa neighborhood and city beaches, breaking up the long-standing neighborhood bit by bit with the demolition of each home.

Marc Ohrem-Leclef

Seu Barrão, Favela Vila Autodromo, 2013, in his boat on Lagoa de Jacarepagua, where he fishes for a living. A fisherman, Seu Barrão fears the loss of his livelihood if he is forced to relocate to a remote area, as has been projected by the city planners. Right: Seu Barrão's son Tiago
Left: Seu Barrão, Favela Vila Autodromo, 2013, in his boat on Lagoa de Jacarepagua, where he fishes for a living. Barrão fears the loss of his livelihood if he is forced to relocate to a remote area, as has been projected by the city planners. Right: Tiago, Barrão's son.

Marc Ohrem-Leclef

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Before his first of two visits to Rio to work on the project in 2012, Ohrem-Leclef spent a significant amount of time researching the area and connecting with NGOs to help him gain access to some of the favela residents. Rather than focus on the actual evictions, Ohrem-Leclef instead decided to use portraiture as a way of highlighting what was happening to the residents. “I was going after a human face rather than a moment of eviction or demolition,” he said. “I wanted to humanize them. Of course they are human, but I wanted to place the residents on the same level as everyone else.”

Through the NGO Catalytic Communities, he was able to meet some of the residents in roughly 13 different communities. He spent a significant amount of time speaking with them about their situations. Ohrem-Leclef also wanted to represent the fighting spirit of the residents and began researching historical images and iconography that had portrayed the idea of a rebellious spirit. Through Image Atlas, he began searching for images that represented liberation, resistance, and liberty. He found inspiration from Eugene Delacorix’s Liberty Leading the People to the Statue of Liberty. There was a common thread found in most of the images: an arm raised, often holding a flag or torch. Ohrem-Leclef appropriated that symbol through the use of a flare, which he had many of his subjects hold aloft. It was a perfect symbolic mix between their individual spirits and that of the Olympics.

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Jacqueline with her son Jackson (left image), Morro da Providencia, 2013

Marc Ohrem-Leclef

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Left: Fernanda, Santa Mart, 2012. Right: Fernanda, Santa Mart, 2013.

Marc Ohrem-Leclef

During an interview with Mazie M. Harris (who helped Ohrem-Leclef with the editing process) that was done in conjunction with the book, Ohrem-Leclef discussed that idea. “It all came back to very basic gestures, and the torch as a prop plays beautifully on both sides of the spectrum: emergency and celebration, resistance and liberation,” he said.

Although he could have spent more time working on the project, Ohrem-Leclef said he felt an urgency to publish the book since it was clearly a time-sensitive project and one that he hopes raises awareness about what is happening to these people. It has clearly touched him. “My heart is with the people in this city who are being displaced,” he said.

Suzana, Favela Cantagalo, 2012. Suzana lives with her two sons and partner in a house perched on the smooth boulders high above Ipanema, in Favela Cantagalo. In their quest to get Suzana to abandon the home she built, city officials had threatened her with the removal of her children, arguing that they are not growing up in a safe environment.
Suzana and one of her sons (left image), Favela Cantagalo, 2012. Suzana lives with her two sons and partner in a house perched on the smooth boulders high above Ipanema, in Favela Cantagalo. In their quest to get Suzana to abandon the home she built, city officials had threatened her with the removal of her children, arguing that they are not growing up in a safe environment.

Marc Ohrem-Leclef

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