• Andrew Johnson

    Documentary photographer/filmmaker
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  • Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Nationality: Canadian
    Biography: Andrew is a Canadian photojournalist currently based in Brazil. His interests are in conflict, polarization in politics, and social inequality. 
Public Project
Beautiful and Broken
Credits: andrew johnson
Date of Work: 07/01/16 - Ongoing
Updated: 12/24/18
Location: Rio de Janeiro
My first visit to Rio de Janeiro was in 2016, just ahead of the Olympics. I started taking pictures of the usual things a tourist does: mountains falling into the ocean, beaches, parties, street scenes. As I began to learn more about the city and its two sides – the light and the dark, rich and poor – I became increasingly fascinated with the stark contrasts and contradictions it's famous for. I started following politics and cultural events and soon began documenting people and their personal lives.

I originally wanted to explore Rio amidst the hype and activity of the games, but more importantly, I wanted to hear from people who had no voice and who lived far from the limelight. The city's notorious favelas have been examined extensively for some time, but so much of the media focus is on the photogenic hillside communities that form a backdrop to the wealthy south zone, with its world-famous beaches and throngs of tourists.

The peripheries and suburban areas like the Zona Norte and Baixada Fluminense are home to millions of working-class residents. Often violent and impoverished, these communities are largely invisible to the outside world, and sometimes even to the rest of the city. I continued visiting throughout 2016 as media attention evaporated and the games left the city with a hangover of debt, broken promises and the worst recession in the country's history.  

In the beginning of 2018 I moved to Rio de Janeiro to document how this period of crisis. The city has been wracked by violence as the favela pacification program failed. Infrastructure crumbles and much needed development projects lie abandoned as waves of corruption allegations gave way to political turmoil. In March, a rising progressive star in city hall, councilwoman Marielle Franco, was brutally assassinated on her way home from a discussion on empowering black women in local politics. Many suspect the militia – a sort of military mafia connected to right-wing politicians, on and off-duty police, soldiers and firefighters – of carrying out the murder.

In 2019 the country will inaugurate an ultra-rightwing president from Rio, where a wave of conservative sentiment has taken hold. Many fear a return of heavy-handed law-and-order policies and few expect any sympathy for the poor and marginalized, who already suffer immensely. The new governor wants snipers to shoot "thugs" in the middle of the favelas. The mayor is an evangelical bishop who seems to only care about those in his flock. Rio will be under the most conservative government since the days of the military dictatorship.

The project title comes from a chapter in Juliana Barbassa's 2016 account of a seductive and chaotic city on the brink of the Olympic games. In that same spirit, this project aims to shine a personal light on what has happened since then. A lot has changed since Barbassa wrote her book, but things will likely get a lot worse before they get better. One of the world's most impressive cities is embarking on a new era. What will become of the 'cidade maravilhosa', beautiful and broken?

Also by Andrew Johnson —

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