In this series, I have been living in an illegally occupied building in downtown São Paulo, Brazil with some of the 70,000 people that migrate to the city every year in search of a better life.

Often arriving from the countryside with little or no money, no skills and high rates of illiteracy, their journey is a tough one. They cannot afford to pay for rent and the majority cannot find employment. Those that do manage to find a job are underpaid and often work 7 days a week to make ends meet.

Yet despite these conditions and the hardships that they face, everyone that I encountered found the strength to carry on—always thanks to an unflagging capacity for hope. It is this theme that I wanted to explore.

I have used diptychs as a means to expand the narrative. Always using items found close to or belonging to the subject. These detail shots are clues, so often overlooked and dismissed, but that I see as fragments of information which help to complete the puzzle.

All images are shot in camera. I have made use of long shutter speeds, deliberate camera movement and the placing of items in front of the lens in order to allow me to create an aesthetic quality and my interpretation of the subjects’ utopia.

—Sebastian Palmer

Editors’ note: These striking color diptychs were given the 2nd place, Series award in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2015. Discover more inspiring work from all 31 of the winners and finalists.