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By Fiona Hurrell, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In 2011, U.S. street photographer Gary Mark, Smith accompanied by photo journalist Sarah Stern, entered pre-pacified Rocinha; Rio’s most notorious favela, in order to capture scenes of everyday life within the community. The images were later combined to create Smith’s fifth street photography book, titled “Favela da Rocinha, Brazil”.

Smith’s fifth street photography book, titled Favela da Rocinha, Brazil
Smith’s fifth street photography book, titled Favela da Rocinha, Brazil, photo by Gary Mark Smith.

Clearly proud and excited about his latest project, Smith reveals “We wanted to portray the streets of Rocinha 2011 in an accurate light, and by living with residents, sleeping on the rooftops and crammed into close quarters for three weeks, we did.”

Smith describes his process: “I hear a symphony inside my head as I work anywhere in the world, whether it be somewhere dangerous or somewhere secure. I get lost inside that trance, and figure that if someone doesn’t like what I’m doing, they’ll let me know.”

His co-producer, Sarah Stern adds that the community involvement played a big part in ensuring the success of their work, “There is so much pride that Rocinha’s residents have for their home, and we wanted to show that off. By the time we left, we had a lot of love for the community, too.

Having already produced four acclaimed photographic books, it is this latest endeavor, portraying life in Rocinha, that Smith is most proud of. He reveals “This is by far the highest quality book I either have produced or probably ever will produce in my publishing career.”

Photographer Gary Mark Smith against the backdrop of a section of Rocinha where he lived and worked during 2011, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Photographer Gary Mark Smith against the backdrop of a section of Rocinha where he lived and worked during 2011, photo by Sarah Stern.

Prior to pacification, Rocinha was controlled by Nem, a drug baron at the head of the Amigos dos Amigos gang. Without police control, the duo faced possible danger, yet they managed to carry out their work peacefully within the community.

Smith explains “Getting the extremely rare opportunity as gringos to study the place during gang control and then to be accepted by and sanctioned by that authority to complete our work was a singular experience that gives goose bumps to anyone who knows the alternative potential. Having met with Nem was an accidental yet significant way to begin.”

On the face of it, the production appears to have gone smoothly, yet there were the occasional challenges such as the inconsistency of the elements. Stern reveals, “There were days we couldn’t shoot with rain or having a hard time getting someone to show us around. We had to spend a few days hanging out in the hammock, twiddling thumbs.”

Nevertheless, the overall experience of the two photographers was that of sheer appreciation and gratitude to the residents of Rocinha who took them in and made them feel completely at home. So much so that Smith pledges a percentage of the book’s purchase price will be donated to provide free art classes for the community’s youngsters.

Stern states, “Rocinha gave so much to us, we wanted to give back to a people we all came to love and admire.” To learn more about the book, its creators and how to obtain a copy, visit the website www.rocinhathebook.com.

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