A Conversão de São Paulo

Middle panel – "The Baptist"

Middle panel – “The Baptist”

Just over two weeks ago, the time came to head to Brazil to make work as part of the Stuart Abelson Graduate Research Fellowship that I was awarded at the end of the spring semester. My bags were packed and I was ready to go.From the time my plane landed in São Paulo, my countdown to leaving began. Not because I didn’t want to be there, but because I had an awful lot of work to do and only 13 days to do it in. Work had started a few weeks earlier when I had talked about what I was doing with the young woman who would be acting as my producer for the trip. I had met Renata two years ago when I had been invited to speak at Paraty Em Foco, an annual photography festival there. She had agreed to help with my project.

Renata and Fabio at work

Renata and Fabio at work

We had talked about general ideas before I left Chicago and she had begun looking for models from the evangelical community (an ever growing population in Brazil) that would be willing to pose for me. On the plane ride, my ideas shifted and solidified. We spoke more at length about the new direction in the first few days I was there. And while we were waiting on models, we spent our time looking for props that I would need for the images.

The new idea consisted of using crucial bible stories and deconstructing the narrative so that only the vital symbols remained. Then, using the young evangelicals in their contemporary clothing and environments, we would create contemporary versions of church altar pieces. There would be a total of 9 altars each consisting of three panels.

The second night I was there, Renata introduced me to Fabio Messias, a wonderful photographer with a silver tongue. He took us to a church on the opposite side of the city where we spent the next two nights speaking with people there and arranging models for shooting. If it hadn’t been for Fabio’s relationship with the church, I’m not sure how far I would have gotten with the project. We were told that a decent sized group would be going to a farm/retreat outside the city. We made plans to go along.


Renata’s view from the laptop

The Tuesday that we ended up at the farm was one of the longest shooting days I have ever had. We shot 10 of the 27 images I had planned. I was graced with three assistants, Renata, who manned the laptop (this was my first experience shooting tethered) and made sure that my images were focused and that I had everything that I wanted in the images. Fabio took care of the lighting, effortlessly moving from place to place as we migrated through the day’s shot list.

Working the camera

Working the camera

And Anna, who became my camera assistant for the day, opening and closing the lens as well as cocking the shutter for me between shots. This doesn’t sound like a lot of help, but with the new way I am shooting—with a digital stitching back on a 4×5 camera—it is of immense help. By the end of the day, she had picked up when I needed the lens open for focusing and closed for shooting without me having to tell her. She was also my communicator with the models, as some didn’t speak any English and I sure didn’t speak Portuguese.

I spent the next couple days doing some of the images around the city that didn’t involve people. I was on my own for these, which was okay as it was much slower of a pace. I also did a little of the digital work on the images. The owner of the house I was renting a room in also granted me access to his Mac Pro at the office for the photo festival. I worked on the files there, which was much faster than trying to get my 5-year old laptop to cooperate.

The whole team

The whole team

We were back to shooting on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was another big day with four of the most important images of the project planned for shooting. It wasn’t as long of a day as Tuesday, but I was quite nervous for it as the images were crucial to the project as a whole. The day went fabulous though. By the end of the day, I was feeling pretty relaxed about the project. We had made plans to shoot just a couple images back at the farm the following morning.

Back at the farm on Sunday was another long day. We were able to finish up all of the major images that involved models, which only left a few images to shoot over the final days in Brazil. I also shot one of the most beautiful images of my career.


I spent the last few days in Brazil getting the files ready for print (the great thing about digital is that I was able to have everything finished, including the digital work, before I even left for the airport to come back to Chicago) and shooting the last few images that I could manage by myself.  I was sad that there wasn’t more time for fun while I was there, but for me, the work that I made while there is a big reward.

I landed in Chicago and was immediately back to work, this time printing. I have spent the past three days printing, and by the time this posts, I should be just about finished. This has been a wonderful three weeks, and I have come away with some of the best work I have ever done.