Friday, 21 March 2008

Camelôs, Rua 25 de março, São Paulo

Pictured here (left to right) are Dener, his father-in-law and wife Simone. They’ve been selling replica designer t-shirts, retail and wholesale, from this regular pitch for 5 years. They are amongst the thousands of ‘camelôs’ (informal traders) working around Rua 25 de março; an extraordinary daily commercial battleground where thousands of Paulistas and visitors to São Paulo come for a bargain.

The father-in-law is not looking at the camera because he’s heard the call ‘o rapa’ and seen the oncoming Metropolitan Police. Background left, fellow traders who’ve also heard the call, begin to scoop up their stock into large bags. Seconds later, Dener quickly gathers all their stuff into their big denim bag (on the right), slings it over his shoulder and walks off.

This situation plays itself out every 10-15 minutes. The “o rapa” is called by the Camelôs to warn their fellow traders of the threat posed by police patrolling the street. A pair or a group of police take a slow walk down the street, prompting every Camelôs and their stock to disappear from view. A few minutes later, when the Police themselves have disappeared, traders return to their pitch. As our friend Tulio describes it, its like Moses parting the sea. Except, the police are not quite so benevolent. If the Camelôs are not quick enough, they risk their stock and equipment being confiscated (and appropriated by various government departments we are told), and ultimately, arrest.

Trading on the street begins about 3-4am, 6 days a week. We learnt from a man selling belts that Camelôs can sell in relative peace from 6-8am, without police interruption. Otherwise, the city’s policy is to use a consistent show of force to control and, it seems, eventually eradicate informal trade on this street. Everyday ends with a big 'o rapa' at around 4pm, when a flood of police and city trading officials prompts a mass exodus. The 'big one' started at the moment we where taking this photograph, so we were not able to get a picture with everyone’s full attention.

Dener and his family love what they do. He says they love the excitement, the community, the people, and the trade. They respect that the police have a job to do; even though they’ve had their stuff confiscated more times than they can remember. But they make a good living, R$100 profit most days. Earning more than when he was a civil servant in a youth prison, or when he worked on the armoured van cash deliveries/collections.

With their help we arranged some short, in-situ performances and photo/video shoots with their customers, and those of fellow traders up and down the street.

Not everyone seemed as comfortable with the police pressure, especially those who had lived in São Paulo for only a few weeks. Their eyes nervously flicking up and down the street to best see when the Horrapa is coming; a little like Simone's father.

Benjamin Abrahão, Higienópolis, São Paulo

Raquel, (seen far left in this family portrait from some years ago) helps run the family business started by her grandfather Benjamin in the 1940s. He would bake bread, then sell it door-to-door. Then he got a stall, then a padaria (eat-in bakery) called Barcelona, the first of three they now own and run.

20 years ago, he and his wife designed and built Benjamin Abrahão’s o mundo de Pão (world of bread), in the heart of Higienópolis, which now employs 60 people on various shifts over 24hrs.

Benjamin died recently, leaving the family to preside over the production and sale of fine breads, pastries, cakes, chocolates, juices, etc. They’ve diversified, adding a new padaria in the Jardims, three outlets at three of the city's Universities, and a catering service for parties and events.

Our friend Marcia explained that life in the city would be impossible without neighbourhood padarias. She singled out Abrahão’s as the padaria, an example that others aspire too, with its iconic reputation built on quality and innovation. When padarias were starting off, all they offered was Pão Frances (French bread rolls), a breakfast staple sold by the kilo. Abrahão offered different types of bread and it was good, meaning lots of satisfied, returning customers.

Raquel says her grandfather travelled the world to learn the recipes and teach. Though she, her sister, mother and aunt, who all work in the business do not bake. He thought women would gossip in the kitchen and not work. His two grandsons, who were taught the trade, continue to introduce new ranges and one now works on a TV cookery programme. 

One morning at Higienópolis, we timed photo shoots for the different customer communities; the maids at 6.30, the businessmen at 7.30, then the students and those with time to use the valet parking and a leisurely morning coffee.

Padaria Comunitaria de Itapevi, São Paulo

This is Juraci, the manager of a Padaria Comunitaria (community bakery) in Itapevi, a town in São Paulo's periphery. She lives a short walk away and has worked here for 15 years, starting at 4am and baking all morning, six days a week. With a mix of trainees, voluntary and paid staff, they bake and sell 3,000 Pão Frances each day, selling at R$2.30 a kilo (about £0.70, a third of the cost in central São Paulo). They also make cakes, pastries, and carrot bread, all sold at less than market prices, as are the wedding or birthday cakes that can be made to order.

We arranged to document during their busiest time of the day, between 8-9am, with people on their way home from the night shift, on their way to their day job, or just buying bread for the day.

The Padaria is run as an non-profit organisation with the support of Secrtariat of Social Promotion and the municipal city hall. All the ingredients - sugar, flour etc. are paid for and delivered by the local government. It’s also run as a training centre where volunteers and local teenagers learn how to bake. One of the bakers/teachers says the pay isn't too good but she enjoys teaching and likes the people, so she stays working there.

We learnt that for the Padaria (and others) there’s an inextricable connection between employment and who you vote for. This year there is a local election for a new mayor and councillors. If the current opposition win, some current staff will be made redundant to be replaced by the supporters of the winner. Juracy along with Julio, the padaria’s long-standing security guard, are civil servants so their jobs are safe.

On one of our journeys to Itapevi, our friend Felipe said someone had said to him “why are you taking them there? It’s not São Paulo”. We spoke of the likelihood of these friends proudly stating São Paulo is the 3rd biggest city in the world with 22 million people. These 22 million include those in satellites like Itapevi, which make up the periphery.

Angelo Flores, Box 12, Mercado das Flores, São Paulo

With over 22 Box stalls, the Mercado Das Flores stretches for some 300 metres outside the Cemeterio do Araca, in the Clinicas district of the city. Being on a busy roadside, it also provides an aromatic treat for a passenger or driver with their window open.

This is Sueli and Marco Aurelio. She's been working there for 20 years and he for 40. Like a number of stall holders, they are open 24 hours a day, sell both cut and potted flowers and buy stock from the large Ceasa flower market on the outskirts of the city. However, they are the only sellers who do business over the internet. Early mornings they snatch some sleep on a small mattress under the display.

We spent Friday evenings with them and the other sellers, asking customers for the story behind their purchase. For Sueli and Marco, business is not as busy as it used to be, as flowers are now more expensive. They have different customers at different times of the week. Most people pull up their car and buy flowers for special occasions, house decoration, or if it is late in the evening/early morning, for a party or apology flowers for their loved ones. Now, we were told, hardly anyone visits their family graves in the cemetery behind the stalls. Young people don’t do it. We did watch an older woman buy some yellow chrysanthemums; apparently, along with white chrysanths, the flowers of choice for graves.

Rose at Box 22 revealed that a few families do buy flowers for graves every Sunday morning, and have done for years. Also, if it is Mothers' Day, a birthday, Dia dos Finados (the Day of the Dead) then they will come on that day too. So that week, they'd come twice. But mostly, it’s passing traffic, buying for gifts and celebrations.

Floricultura Cardeal, São Paulo

We spent two Sunday mornings with Antonio, who along with his sister Lucia, runs a pair of neighbouring flower shops close to the entrance of Cemeterio São Paulo, in the Pinheiros district of the city.

Antonio is Portuguese, came to Brazil as a young man and married here. He looks unbelievably good for 76, a fact he ascribes to hard work, faith and not abusing himself with alcohol and women. He starts work early enough in the morning to see night clubbers returning home; he bemoans the sight of young women/men drunk and out of control.

He handed Rebecca a simple printed prayer dedicated to a girl called Izildinha, ‘my kind little sister’. In a basic translation the prayer asks; for full devotion to the Father and the son; that the father and the son cover Izildinha with blessings and diminish the sufferings of all those that invoke Gods name; for repayment with good faith, and belief in the Father, the son and Izildinha; for a stripping of vanity, pride, envy and a forgiveness of evil and a dedication to love those closest; for happiness in the home; that honest work lead to life’s necessities; and that the bread earned be enough to feed those more needy.

The atmosphere on these Sunday mornings was far more contemplative than Clinicas. Away from the main road, not many customers. Some of those that we met were weekly visitors to family graves. We asked them the same question about the story behind their purchase.

Primo Mercado & Construction Materials, São Remo, São Paulo

Here stands Diva (short for Divanete). She and her husband Primo run a popular Mercado and construction materials shop in the centre of São Remo. An estimated 3,000 people live in this hillside favela established over 30 years ago, and many people buy from their shop. They sell everything you need to run a household, plus confectionary and stationery. Next door they sell the essentials for building or extending a house, concrete, cement, bricks etc.

They were introduced to us as linchpins in the community by a community worker called Thelma. She shops there and works on a local education programme. Primo was recently President of the town council, following his activism after a tragic mudslide in the favela. During our time at Primo's, Diva took as many photographs of us as we did of her.

Alice, Avon Consultant, São Remo, São Paulo

Alice sells Avon from the front room of her home where she lives with three generations of her family. She’s built her customer base from the community - everybody knows she’s the woman to go to for make-up. She no longer has to visit her client’s homes, they come to her and order from the catalogue. She doesn’t have the products in stock and puts in monthly orders to her regional supplier. She also has a sideline in small fashion items such as flip flops.

What interested us about Alice was her very local expression of a global brand. We photographed her clients outside her home, one of whom, her neighbour, Nilda, held a beautiful little dog called Totti,  like the Italian footballer but pronounced Tor_che. It is one of the many pedigree ‘toy’ dogs owned in São Remo and interesting to see that show dogs are not the exclusive preserve of more affluent communities.

MTN Paint Shop, Rua 24 de Maio, São Paulo

Diego runs a specialist paint shop for graffiti writers. Graffiti is an established form in the city, with a number of specialised galleries, and sanctioned or illegal projects on view. Diego even has a competitor! He gets around 50 customers a week, and sells a full spectrum of colours and different gauged nozzles for different spray patterns, narrow for tight line work, wider for fill. One customer involved in our photo shoot wore a nozzle on a lace around his neck.

The paint is imported from Spain. They pay an import tax and that makes the cost of a can quite expensive (R$13/£3.50). Sometimes Diego is asked to pay a bribe. He refuses and occasionally his products are impounded. When this happens, Diego absorbs the cost and doesn't pass it onto his customers. His competitor sells cheaper German paint but charges much more for the nozzles.

At present, the shop is situated on the 4th floor of rundown Galeria Presidenta; one of many splendid Galerias in downtown Sao Paulo. Soon the shop will move to a more upmarket area, the Jardims. On the one hand, Diego thinks it will be good for his customers from the streets, favellas and periphery to have the experience of going to and feeling at home in the Jardims. On the other, he reckons what he calls ‘Playboy Writers’, who currently feel too intimidated to go to 24 de Maio, will buy more if he's in the Jardims. There'll also be social space for activities and some kind of display/exchange of ideas.

Train Vendors, CPTM train network, São Paulo

Informal train vendors find themselves in a complicated situation at the moment. These are poor people who need to sell, but to do so they have to meet the challenge of the black-clothed security guards, which people call the “urubus” (an urubu is a kind of vulture).

The vendors appear on the trains, between stations, selling water, snacks, sweets, pens and other items small enough to carry en masse, and that passengers will want buy. The guards watch over every platform of every station and ride the trains, trying to inhibit the vendor's work. This everyday cat and mouse behaviour has gone on for some years, but now the train company (CPTM) are in the middle of a crackdown, allied to the cleansing and modernisation of their service, which seems to include getting rid of the vendors. Occasionally, armed police search suspected vendors (anyone who looks relatively poor and is carrying a bag) at the city's main station interchanges, and there is talk of undercover officers on the trains.

One passenger said the crackdown had lasted about a year. Before then, the vendors were quite well organised with each operating on certain tracks and so on. But now it's chaos and they are selling wherever and whenever they can. Another passenger said the vendors were so poor they would aspire to being a Camelhoe on Rua 25 de marco.

Their situation makes them hard to track down and work with in any depth. When we did, with help from our friend Felipe (pictured in the red T-shirt), it was difficult to gain their trust in the time they had between stops (suspecting we were undercover police). One seller we managed to speak to was Robinson, who had been working the train for three years to support his family. He works 6-7 hours a day, 6 days a week and buys stock from Bras market. That day, he was selling 10 pieces of bubblegum for R$1, despite having most of his stock taken by the police earlier on. Robinson calls himself and other train vendors 'Marreteiros'.  

We also shot some video of others at work (with their permission) and caught a few snapshots.

Daslu, São Paulo

Daslu is a super posh designer boutique come department store, now situated in Vila Olimpia. It's reputedly the most exclusive shopping experience in South America, but it has also attracted much unwanted controversy recently.  Firstly, due to to the construction of its opulent new home right next to Coliseu, one of the city's many favelas, and secondly an investigation of its importation procedures and tax payments.

We asked to work with Daslu for another reason. They are renowned for the service they offer their customers including complimentary champagne, personal maids (the Dasluettes), and a helipad, 'So you don't have to been seen by anyone on the street'. They said no, but we went there anyway and took many of photos of the helipad (including those of this video), where we would have wanted to photograph their customers. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Seringueira tree, Vila Madelena, São Paulo

In a collaboration with a local artist Tulio, we arranged to convene a small group of friends who buy marijuana from the same contact.