Life, Interrupted: Photos Of Brazil Under Lockdown

May 6, 2020
Originally published on May 26, 2020 9:00 pm

Brazil leads South America in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. More than 7,000 people have died, and there's evidence more deaths have gone uncounted.

President Jair Bolsonaro has remained one of the few world leaders defiant of the virus, denying its severity and calling on Brazilians to go back to work. This has led to massive protests around the country.

As the numbers and deaths mount, photographers from all over the country have started to cover the struggles of the Brazilian people, both inside and outside their homes.

Here is some of their work and testimony. Their words have been edited for clarity:

Antonello Veneri — Salvador, Bahia

A woman walks in the street of Salvador, Brazil.
Antonello Veneri

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have spent hours trying to understand this situation, intrigued by how I could report it. One day at the supermarket I talked to an employee about her fears of daily exposure. Her protection was a cheap face mask and no gloves at all. Instead of talking, she answered by closing her eyes. My heart sank and I understood what I had to tell.

I started a portrait series called Not My Choice, documenting people who need to work and cannot stay at home during the quarantine. People who received no employment bond or economic subsidies and need a daily income to get home and supply their basic needs. Every day we see pictures of doctors and nurses and their incredible work. They are people, prepared for all the risks during a relentless pandemic and they get well-deserved recognition. Yet, I also think it is important to tell stories of people who have no alternative but to expose themselves to contamination by the virus.

Isabella Lanave — Curitiba, Paraná

Photographing in these times is to be aware of my privileges, to have a freelance job that allows me to work from home with what I need to survive. It is also a reflection on the need to produce in the midst of a pandemic. What images do I need to create? Do I really need it?

In this, I look at the mainstream media and notice a work order mostly made by and for the same white male gaze. Reflecting on this, I think that photography emerged as a way of dealing with my biggest existential questions. So, at a time like this, when I can't find any escape points, photographing is for me a matter of survival in this chaos.

My partner Rodrigo and I in my room. Years ago, he underwent forced, unjust isolation inside a prison. In the time of quarantine, he is the one who teaches me a lot about resilience, patience and adaptation.
Isabella Lanave

Pétala Lopes and Camila Svenson, Amapoa Collective — São Paulo

We are both spending this time with our partners at home, and also trying to capture São Paulo, looking at how the city landscape is changing during this period. Official information is rather contradictory. Bolsonaro, the country's president, is not following WHO recommendations. I feel that between governors and the federal government there isn't a singular message related to the quarantine, leaving the population in a confused state — not knowing what to do or who to listen to. Here in São Paulo there is a mix of people using masks and other ones not using them, the same with social distancing.

It's tricky, since our president, Jair Bolsonaro, is the biggest denier when it comes to the pandemic and its true and mortal danger worldwide. He is a danger to this country, and I feel that everyone is lost around here, living in a waiting state.

Our photographs are about things we are feeling, the quietness, solitude, the connections we establish with the ones who are closer now, how our relationships are being transformed, how our friends are dealing with it.

Left: Sofia at a small square near home, during the third week of quarantine. Right: A detail of a dead bird at Rachel's backyard on the first week of quarantine.
Camila Svenson / Pétala Lopes / Coletivo Amapoa

Brenda Alcântara — Recife

On March 12, I was returning to Brazil on the last scheduled flight between Barcelona and Recife. It took 12 hours. As soon as I landed in Recife, I received confirmation that there were seven people suspected of having the coronavirus in Recife and the stay-at-home order in the state was still a measure that was being considered, but had not been implemented.

I spent 15 days at home. Enough time to realize how the situation changed so fast. The streets becoming more and more empty and the struggle to learn how to deal with the emptiness and the time.

When I was back at work some questions arose, especially about how I could protect myself from exposure to the virus in these vulnerable times. At the same time, it was necessary to reflect on my role as a photojournalist, which led me to restructure and strengthen myself in a process of personal growth. Going to the streets in the middle of a pandemic is to feel the invisible enemy. To feel the fear, the anguish, the boredom and the unhappiness of people. To understand your own limits every day.

The Procession of Steps is a journey that marks the last Friday of Christian Lent. This year, the procession continued without the presence of any followers and with the entire church group wearing masks and gloves. Olinda, Recife.
Brenda Alcântara

Yan Boechat — São Paulo

I have been following the advancement of the new coronavirus since mid-March when the first death was registered in Brazil. Throughout this month of work, I have noticed that part of the Brazilian population has had difficulty in understanding the seriousness of the pandemic and has disregarded the requests for social distancing.

In recent weeks, many people from the most favored classes, the first to be affected by the virus, have been pressing local governments to reopen commerce and resume normal life so that the economy won't be so affected. This is also the position of the president of the republic, Jair Bolsonaro, who recently dismissed his health minister, an advocate of science-based distance measures.

Now, the virus is spreading among the poorest population and it seems that in the coming weeks we will live a tragedy on a large scale.

In the cemetery of Vila Formosa, the largest cemetery in Latin America, dozens of graves have been opened every day to receive the growing number of Brazilians killed by COVID-19.
Yan Boechat

Luca Meola — São Paolo

I am an Italian photographer and I've been living in the city of São Paulo for about six years. My whole family is in Italy, in the area most affected by the pandemic, Lombardy. When the coronavirus spread through Italy, my biggest concern was for my parents and grandparents. Unfortunately what I feared the most happened. My grandfather Antonio passed away a few weeks ago.

As a photographer, my instincts inevitably take me to document what is happening in Brazil. But out of respect for my family, I decided not to leave home for a period, especially in those last days, when my grandfather was saying goodbye to life. Meanwhile, I made sure of the precautions and acquired all the necessary equipment for the job: masks, goggles, gloves and alcohol. I decided that I would only go out to tell the stories of those who generously take care of other people. I feel privileged to have a comfortable place to live — because to be in quarantine, you need a home, first of all.

I decided to join the boys of the Bike System, a group of cyclists riding their bicycles with music and joy through the almost empty streets of the city. They distribute personal hygiene kits to those who are living on the street with no access to the means of virus prevention.

I don't want to worry my family but, at the same time, I feel a strong urge to support and contribute to the work of those in the front line assisting others.

Four Brazilian men cycle around the center of São Paulo in protective gowns delivering protective masks and a mini cleaning kit to homeless people.
Luca Meola

Bruno Kaiuca – Rio de Janeiro

A group of indigenous people have been occupying an abandoned building in Rio de Janeiro for several years. They call it Aldeia Maracanã, or Maracanã Village. The group often sells handmade artifacts during the weekends to raise funds and sustain themselves.

With the lockdown measures, their source of income has disappeared. They've been selling their work through the Internet in the hopes of minimizing the impact of the economic depression.

Aldeia Maracanã, located in the Maracanã neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, faces financial difficulties from the pandemic. Residents are trying to buy food through a collective. Chief José Urutau Guajajara organizes efforts in the village to help his people survive.
Bruno Kaiuca

Danilo Verpa — São Paulo

Every day, I swing between genuine confidence that everything will work out and complete panic. My wife is 37 weeks pregnant and I don't know how the hospitals will be in a few days and if I will be there during the birth. Some places have already forbidden anyone from accompanying the patient, a right which is supposed to be guaranteed by law.

Every little change at home for the arrival of my daughter is being shared with friends in photos or videos. Uncles and grandparents will take months to meet her.

Photojournalists are moved by events. It would be not only natural but also exciting to go out on the streets and document this critical and already historic moment. But since it won't be safe for the three of us now, I've been avoiding it.

My pregnant wife poses for the camera. I've been avoiding the streets to make sure the three of us are safe.
Danilo Verpa

Rafael Vilela — São Paulo

My wife got many COVID-19 symptoms right in the beginning of the outbreak in Brazil. I took care of her for two weeks until she felt better again. We don't know if she had coronavirus because she couldn't get tested. Like millions of Brazilians, we rely on the public health system.

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Thousands of people line up to receive a plate of food in downtown São Paulo on Easter Sunday. The Franciscan Order has seen the demand for lunchboxes increase by more than 500% in recent weeks.
Rafael Vilela