bodies of stone
In many places in Brazil, it is still possible to see the past with our own eyes. For a Brazilian photographer like me, this not-so-usual characteristic of my country brings contrasting feelings. If on the one hand, I can experience history in front of me using my work tool in favor of a significant change, on the other hand, there is a terrible pain in my chest due to the challenges of feeling in my own skin what only history books reveal. The truth is that in a city like Rio, once the capital of the nation and home of the Portuguese Royal family for decades, there are traces of how the country was in fact historically formed.
Bodies of Stone is a series of portraits that seek to identify who is really behind one of the main distribution chains in the country, the food carriers. The title is a reference to the main pavilion, The Stone, and can symbolize not only the hardness of a stone with the bodies of the carriers but also how it still has remains left connected to a rudimentary past not yet gone. The images aim to break the social walls and give visibility to those who with hands full of calluses are responsible for feeding the entire region. It is an ode to the bodies that can be sometimes strong, muscular, thin, old, young, or any kind but all solid as a stone. A real portrait of what Rio de Janeiro really looks like far from the famous beaches. An immensity of faces of those who form the Brazilian working class. CEASA is suffering, but it is also joy. It is hard, but it is also friendship. It's heavy, but it's also a smile. Nothing more Brazilian than that. A whole country in portraits combined with hands and food carried by them. The routine that is right in front of us and that with all its complexity needs to be understood. The ingrained political, economic and social conjuncture of the past, is still dragging on in the present and most likely to follow this way, it will perpetuate in the future.
In the 1970s, in Rio de Janeiro outskirts, was inaugurated one of the largest food distributors in Latin America. CEASA. A popular acronym for supply centers in Brazil. The goal was to facilitate the commercialization of food and benefit the producers of vegetables. At CEASA, it is not only the archaic concrete structures that remain the same, the place still maintains working relations and conditions with strong roots in the not-so-distant colonial period. It is not a particularity of CEASA, because throughout Brazil we can still see how much the past is before us. When you arrive at the place, where around 50,000 people circulate every day, it is difficult not to be impressed. The main and pulsating pavilion is called “Pedra”, or The Stone, where it is possible to find a variety of fresh vegetables. The sounds and smells are very impregnated and you feel slightly intoxicated by the labyrinth of piles of boxes on a horizon that seems endless. CEASA is a living organism, one of the local workers tells me. At any moment, this brief sensation of lightness can be interrupted with a shout that comes from the thousands of food carriers who bring you back to a unique reality that is the distribution of food in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In this whole process, the so-called food carriers stand out. This particular profession is responsible for transporting products from place to place at CEASA. As the carts are old and rusty, they need to use the strength of their bodies. The weight can be only a couple of food carts to tons of potatoes sacks. Sometimes it is more than they can carry, but they carry on through the corridors and steep ramps where they sometimes seem to float around the distribution center themselves. Balancing a cart filled with boxes up to four times higher than the person is an art. At the distribution center, there are from young people in their first job to even workers who have been there since the place opened. They are faces with and without wrinkles. Among dreams that have already been lost in the huge piles of crates, there are multiple personalities. CEASA is a multicultural shelter, there is even a language of its own among the food carriers. The variety of own words could fill up a book and to translate it to English is an impossible task. People come from all over Brazil to work but mainly are made up of residents of the favelas that surround the distribution center. The profession can be one of the rare options for the vast majority of the peripheral population of Rio de Janeiro. The shift starts at 3 am and has no time to end from Monday to Saturday. The more you carry the more you earn. This means that through all corridors the eye can only see moving figures as a continuous blur.
Being the only work option in the region, CEASA can also serve as rehabilitation for people in alcohol or drug addiction, ex-prisoners seeking social reintegration and also serves as a home for those who live on the streets today. There are no questions at CEASA. A place where you rent a cart and offer your services. CEASA is a mother, many say. It is a portrait of the reality of Brazil. The same hand that comforts you, is the same hand that punishes you. The work is hard. There are days when they don’t even earn the cart’s rent, which is around U$1,5 a day, but there are also days when they can earn up to U$50. Unfortunately, with this instability and uncertainty of what will be tomorrow, those responsible for carrying food often do not have the means to feed their own families.
The Covid-19 global pandemic has aggravated the situation. The sales dropped considerably and the number of food carriers increased. Many of them lost their job and came to carry it as the only income option. In the classic theory of supply and demand, food carriers now find themselves disputing what is left. Even though CEASA was one of the few places that never stopped working throughout the pandemic, the current situation is delicate. Those responsible for consciously risking their health to avoid missing food on the table of the population of Rio de Janeiro are, yes, the food carriers. Heroes? In a statement, one of the workers said: “Here at CEASA there is work, but no job. “A powerful phrase that represents the current precariousness of work carried out by ultra-liberal governments that are in power throughout Latin America. The idea that a large part of the population has about CEASA is that there is the end of the world, but the truth is that they have no idea how the food on the table really got there. Given the precarious and archaic circumstances, the place also suffers from numerous illegalities, and according to one of the workers: “There is something here that we cannot talk about. There are things that we see, but cannot comment on. I just want to slightly change it for the better. “A simple wish that is common to all food carriers. CEASA indeed is not the end of the world but definitely a world of its own.