In 1995, artists Julian Germain (UK), Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy (BR) began working on No Olho da Rua (In the Eye of the Street) in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. Their proposal was to put cameras into the hands of street children, young people living chaotic lives on the margins of society who had rarely, if ever, been photographed or made pictures themselves. The idea was not to offer them ‘supervised’ access to photography, but to give them freedom to independently make their own pictures, of anything they wanted, where and when they chose. Fifty young people were given the most basic plastic point and shoot cameras and shown how to use them. From the outset they not only got enormous pleasure from photography, they also produced astonishing images, and as a result, the project has continued ever since, albeit on a sporadic and occasional basis as and when resources have allowed.
After 25 years, a unique photographic archive has been accumulated, consisting of approximately 15,000 35mm colour negatives as well as some audio recordings, interviews, writing and video. In 1995, they were ‘meninos de rua’ (‘streetkids') and some of them were already teenage parents. Over the ensuing years a few of them have moved off the street to a more stable life, but several have disappeared, others are in prison and many have have died from illness, injury or violence. We remain in touch with 15 of the original group, now in their 40’s (some of them grandparents), who are still living rough on the same streets where we originally met.
No Olho da Rua does not offer its participants much by way of social assistance but it has provided them with a photographic record of their lives, with memories of their kids and friends, with an enhanced sense of their own identity and value, and with visibility. Such details might seem of limited use to those who have virtually nothing, but perhaps they matter a great deal to people whose general life experience is to be ignored, avoided and invisible.
It might be expected that the number of homeless people in Brazil would have declined since the project began, but in fact the numbers have almost doubled, with similar rises in the UK and many other countries. Globally, we are seeing substantial increases in cross border economic migration as well as mass movements of refugees fleeing persecution or conflict. The world is facing unprecedented numbers of marginalised people living precarious lives, meaning that sadly, No Olho da Rua is as relevant now as it has ever been.