Growing on Darkness
In Mozambique boys and girls under the age of eighteen are likely to come from working class, single-parent homes, child-headed househoulds, or widows who struggle to sustain their families. Circumstances force these children to leave home and turn to the streets. They turn unoccupied dwellings and wastelands into homes and jobs that are inadequately protected and under-supervised. Street children are often subject to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or, in extreme cases, labouring in factories or formal and informal markets.
In these inhospitable environments, the children turn to highly addictive, life damaging drugs and are generally in poor health, undernourished, and hardly equipped to survive the hazards of everyday living and working on the streets. Some of the hazards they face include illness, physical injuries from motor accidents, street fights, harassment from extortionists and police, sexual exploitation by paedophiles and pimps, exposure to substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.
At night, these children emerge like ghosts in the night to haunt the perilous streets. Some of the drugs they uses as crutches to survive this life are inhalants, such as solvents, rugby (a toluene-based glue) and cough syrup and marijuana. Marijuana in particular is shared with friends whenever one of the group has enough money to buy it. Some of them take drugs as often as three times a day.
- 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. Against the common sense that separates this group of people from the "normal" ones, my aim was to go where every one advised me not to go. I was determined to reach the sight that seemed to frighten many. I entered into their private spaces: bridges and abandoned buildings where they live and sleep, that is, where they camp. These places very dark, damp and pernicious.
In these make-shift places, there are no facilities, light, water, or any other form of domestic support. Initially, I visited this youth without my camera. These simple encounters allowed this group of children to trust me, and it also allowed me to trust them. Photography is like a border; not a physical one. Holding a camera can install a border between human hearts because, as a photographer, one can think that we can enter someone's house and start to register someone's house, take photographs of their secrets and privacy, without actually having even talked to the person.
Instead, I photograph with my mind. I frequented their lodgings without my camera, spending as many moments as my time allowed with the children. Thusly, a mutual trust was built. To this day, after learning each other values, an ensuring sense of safety was established between us. At last, they had encountered someone who did not harass them, someone respects them, who trust 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 heart.
It is from this position 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 their resilience that, daily, defies the inhumanity of their hardships.
The photographs do not necessarily aim to represent these children. Instead, my work attempts to give them a voice, a stage: to shine a light on their fleeting and fragile lives. These photographs offer the children a space of relief, whereby the children can compose them, play with their image and reflect on their own appearance.
Considering that these children are engaged in child labor, we can say that they contribute to the functioning of our society. What is our role in this? How can we remedy their unfavorable situation? Through focusing on the individuality of these children, I believe I have created personal encounters that made us consider the condition of these affected children not as their own choice but as one of the consequences of ongoing social changes and the transformations of our human values through abstracted forms of labor.