Saturday 9 March 2019

A foto da favela de Paraisópolis

This is a blog post about a famous photograph by Brazilian photographer Tuca Vieira, but also about how emotion and imagery can often be much more powerful than 'data'. I'm just posting it here as a round up of various tweets on the topic I have posted previously so that they have a more permanent place on the web. But first, here's the photo. It was taken from a helicopter above São Paulo in 2004 as part of a newspaper piece on the 450th anniversary of the city. The favela of Paraisópolis is on the left, with the much more affluent area of Morumbi to the right.

Tuca Vieira's famous image

The photo has been used to illustrate many different things, but usually it serves as an exemplar for urban inequality. I have used it to highlight how in spatial analysis near things are not always necessarily more alike (i.e. Tobler's First Law of Geography doesn't always hold) as well as to talk about inequalities. I wanted to use it in a new GIS book so I got in touch with Tuca and he agreed that we could use it (for a very reasonable fee). He also sent some of the other images he took from the helicopter that day, from slightly different angles. Very powerful stuff.

There is a separate story here about how the image took on a life of its own, detached from the photographer, and how hardly anyone credited Vieira or even acknowledged how much effort taking an image like this is. There isn't too much about the image or Vieira's thoughts on it online but see this short interview for more. By the way, Paraisópolis means 'Paradise City'.

Anyway, once I discovered that the city was on street view, I spent quite a bit of time trying to find the exact spot, and I eventually found it. It's taken from a spot roughly above Avenida Giovanni Gronchi, which you can see on the ground in this Google street view image.

My original tweet on this from 2016

The little street to the left separates the areas

You can also read a bit more about it on Tuca Vieira's website, though more recently I have only been able to find this via the wayback machine. The page tells a story about an exhibition in London in 2007 where he was invited, but apparently not so much included. This is how Google translates what for me is the key statement in his piece:

"this photo may make me achieve what should be the great goal of an artist: to provoke a reflection on the world and not on the work and its author".

You can of course now see the scene in 3D in Google Earth, as shown, below. Nowhere near as interesting or as powerful as the original picture but still pretty useful.

Direct link to this 3D view on Google 

Anyway, what really prompted me to look again at this recently was the arrival of Google Earth Studio, a fantastic new tool for creating pretty realistic, smooth animations of 3D scenes around the world. I decided to make a fly-to and orbit type animation of this in Google Earth Studio. The full resolution version is on my web server but I've also embedded a version below (which may not look so crisp).

Notes: as I said at the start, I'm posting this here so that all the information is in one place and not spread between various tweets. This also makes it easier for me to find the information as I'm always forgetting where I put stuff. The image itself also prompts wider questions - e.g. are we only outraged/impacted by this kind of image because the contrast is so stark and so geographically close together? Is it the proximity of wealth and inequality that is so shocking, and if so, would more distance make it more 'acceptable'? Is it only so alarming because we can see it? People will have different answers to these questions, and many more, but it is clear that the image continues to have power and relevance. Type in terms like 'urban inequality' and look at the images and this will probably still be at the top, or very near. Finally, it looks like there is another, newer version of this image on a different Brazilian website. The original seems to be this iStock one by C_Fernandes from 2016.