Some years ago, I started working with street children in Mozambique, spending time with them in order to gain a deeper understanding of their reality. My aim was to go where everyone advised me not to go. I was determined to reach the sites that seemed to frighten so many. I entered their private spaces, the bridges and abandoned buildings where they live, sleep, and camp. These places were very dark, damp and dangerous.

In these makeshift living spaces, there are no bathrooms, light, water, or any other form of domestic support. Initially, I visited these youths without my camera. These simple encounters allowed this group of children to trust me, and it also allowed me to trust them.

Photography can put up a mental and emotional fence between you and your subject. Holding a camera can install a divide between human hearts, because people often think that photographers are entering their houses and taking photographs of their secrets and privacy without actually getting to know them.

Instead, I photographed with my mind. I frequented their lodgings without my camera, spending as many moments as my time allowed with the children. Gradually, a mutual trust was built. After learning each other’s values, a sense of safety was established between us. At last, they had encountered someone who did not harass them, someone who respected them, who trusted them. This relationship was not built using any transaction of currency. From the outside, it might seem as if money is what motivates their everyday actions. However, spending time with them reveals their charming sensibilities, human gestures and the immensity of their hearts.

It is from this position—that of a friend—that I managed to capture their existence: the adversity of their environments, the endurance of their young but possibly condemned bodies, and the resilience that, daily, defies the inhumanity of their hardships.

—Mário Macilau

Editor’s Note: Macilau’s project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents!

Macilau’s work (including new pictures from his “Faith” and “Profit Corner” series, as well as his renowned “Growing in Darkness” series) will be exhibited by Ed Cross Fine Art (stand S03) during Photo London, 18-21 May 2017, Somerset House.