By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – He bought his first compact camera when he was thirteen. “I didn’t even have to take a picture. Just looking through the lens viewer was magical,” says photographer Mauricio Hora, speaking from the favela Providência, a community that lies on top of a hill behind Central do Brasil, Rio’s Grand Central Station. Now, at age 42, Hora sees his life story unfold in a unique book with drawings made by André Diniz, called Morro da Favela (The Hill of the Favela).
Like many other kids from the favela, Mauricio had a father involved in drug trafficking. “There were a lot of other kids who where told by their mothers not to play with me, because I was supposedly a bad influence. This childhood solitude made me more of an observer, I guess,” Hora says.
His main influence was his uncle who was the local wedding and portrait photographer. Hora explains, “I was totally fascinated when I saw him at work. I spent much of my time in his dark room, which could be risky because it happened a few times that the police destroyed everything. They thought the dark room was some sort of drugs laboratory because we had a scale and chemicals.”
Taking pictures inside the community was precarious as well: the police assumed that his camera was stolen and would take his equipment, and drug traffickers didn’t want to appear in the photos because it could compromise them.
Hora first started taking pictures on Rio’s beaches and parks, as well as learning architectural photography. Over the years he established himself as a professional photographer, but it wasn’t until 1996 that he started taking pictures inside the favela where he grew up and still lives.
“Morro da Providência was celebrating it’s 100th anniversary and I thought that – as a photographer – I had to document the history of our community.” He photographed the homes, people and magnificent views from Providência overlooking Central do Brasil and the Zona Portuaria of Rio.
“I had to negotiate with the drug traffickers about every photo, but they never made it impossible for me to work. They understood that my pictures showed not only an environment filled with difficulties, but also hope and joy.” Hora describes.
Hora now teaches photography to young favela residents, exhibits his work in Brazil and Europe, and is highly involved in the developments surrounding the city’s urbanization program.
Providência is Rio’s oldest favela, and the first in Centro to receive a UPP presence. The authorities plan to build the Olympic Press corps building at the foot of Providência and want to build a cable car, an amphitheater and open the area up for tourists.
Many residents have been told that their homes will be destroyed and that they will have to move out of Providência. “We are dealing with unnecessary home evictions,” says Hora.
“We have nothing against improvements and development of our city, but we are worried that Rio’s government is not hearing our concerns. I consider photography a tool that I can use to give the people from Providência visibility, give them a face, in these important changing times for Rio.”
For more information about Providência’s photography project click here.