Cracolândia: the “human” portrait of the largest open-air drug market | photography

The large Cracolândia district in the center of São Paulo is located in one of the richest areas of the great metropolis almost a century ago. The “Campos Elísios” in São Paulo were overthrown by the stock market crisis of 1929, which dictated that the families of influential coffee barons who lived there should leave their palaces and be occupied by people seeking protection in the 20th century.

“It has been transformed into a degraded area of ​​crime and prostitution, in which living conditions have become very precarious,” explains Gui Christ P3 in a video conference from São Paulo. “It became known as ‘Boca do Lixo’ in the city.” In the early 1990s, when cocaine was peaking in popularity, “traffickers saw the place as a business opportunity and turned the area into what we know today,” he says. The by-product of cocaine, crack, one of the cheapest and most addicting drugs in the world, became very popular in the region and gave rise to the name Cracolândia.

“As a boy, I heard about a place in the center of São Paulo, where people lost their souls between abandoned buildings and dirty streets,” Gui writes in the photo book Fissura. “The news reported of family men quitting their jobs, women who abandoned their children, and children who became criminals after using a new drug that arrived in town.” The photographer stayed away all his life until he had to photograph the workplace in 2017. And on site he saw a different scenario than expected. “I thought it was just a drug market. But it is actually a neighborhood of residents. “

This is how Fissura was born. The photo book is intended to “humanize” the residents of Cracolândia. With the help of a non-governmental organization of a religious nature, whose job it is to provide the people living on the street with meals and baths, Gui began to come into more direct contact with the population and to build trusting relationships. “I had the opportunity to photograph them in line while they waited to be served, but no one wanted to be portrayed,” explains the photographer. Until a man who was about to give up asked him if he would take a passport photo “so that he could find a job”.

The inquiries multiplied and Gui finally set up a small studio in which he began to portray the residents. He photographed more than two thousand people over the course of two and a half years after showering, changing, and cutting their hair. And between the recordings he heard the stories of people who are “practically invisible to society”. “Stories of men who started using drugs to forget the fear of unemployment; of women who used drugs to endure the shame of prostituting themselves to support their children; and children who smoked crack to forget the violence, the cold and the hunger of living on the streets. “

Gui met all kinds of people and “with very different life stories”. The first common denominator is poverty. The second, not entirely transversal, is drug addiction. “The age group of residents is broad. Children, adults, the elderly and people from different parts of Brazil live in Cracolândia. “And many foreigners who come to Brazil as” mules “and in the end stay in the country without support and with addiction problems. Or people “alone who have no family or history of abuse and become homeless and use drugs”.

“The historical context is very important,” says Gui. “Before Crack arrived, that was a problem area.” And these problems are the result of “poverty, lack of police control, lack of public welfare devices and the stigma of residents”. One of the main enemies, in Gui’s opinion, is the prejudice that exists in relation to those who inhabit and frequent the area. “The problem is not drug use: near Cracolândia, in the rich part of the city, cocaine use is very high and nobody thinks it is a problem.” According to the photographer, stigma is linked to poverty. “Unemployment, walking and consumption-related crime are at the root of the problem. The drug is just a symptom. In this context of poverty, many consume in order to continue to exist. The drug is the best they have in life. ”

It is necessary for Gui to think about public policies that will support and control drug use by this population. “The city of São Paulo has created more support in recent years, but it is insufficient.” There is a constant effort to “clean up” this region, he warns. The real estate pressure “pushes” the residents of Cracolândia to other areas in the hope that the area can be redeveloped. “You will be able to beautify yourself, but the problem will not be solved. Consumers will only find a new home if nothing is done to lift them out of the cycle of poverty. “