sebastian liste – urban quilombo

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Sebastian Liste

Urban Quilombo

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This work is a witness about a place that no longer exists.

I lived there almost everything that one can live.

I learned there the dark secrets of the human condition through which our survival and I also learned there that love can exist in ashes and chaos.

I learned there what a family is.

Eight years ago sixty families occupied the “Galpao da Araujo Barreto”, an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Before that, these families lived in the dangerous streets of the city until they decided to come together and occupy this factory in ruins and turn it in a home.
Every human being needs a space to feel safe and build their identity. After all this years of convivence and resistence these families have created strong comunitarian feelings to make possible the survival in this environment. In this community, the people helps each other keeping safe the shacks, babysitting the kids or sharing the food.
In spite of the strong relationships between the families, the social discrimination continues marginalizing these people. After eight years of occupation, despite having left the street, the living conditions are similar; the problems that they suffered in the streets, drugs, prostitution, and violence, are now present in the factory.

I have been working in this project since 2009, living with the families and their daily dramas. Documenting the daily life inside of this community, where the life moves between the universal bipolarity of harmony and chaos, hope and despair.

In March 2011 the goverment moved all the families to a new buildings placed in a dangerous neighborhood 30 km from the city. Now I want to come back to the new place to document how the community will manage their relationships to build their dignity, to build a new world around their and just live.

The aim of this project is to create a document of a place where the tragic decomposition of human life combined perfectly with the magic realism of Latin America.



Sebastian Liste (1985, Spain) graduated in Sociology and MA in Photojournalism. Since 2005 Sebastian has concentrated to mixed his sociological knowledges with his visual skills to explore personal and intimate stories, as well as the roots of social structure issues now facing many countries around the world when they want enter a new economic system. He is also interested in the profound cultural and identity changes that occur in our contemporary world.
Recently, Sebastian was selected to participate at the 2011 Joop Swart Masterclass. His work have been also recognized worlwide at Sony WPO, Lucie Awards, Antropographia, CENTER Awards, Fotovisura Grant, Onward, Reinassance Prize, Terry O’Neill Award,  Ian Parry Scholarship, among others.
His photographs have appeared at TIME, The Sunday Times Magazine, PDN, British Journal of Photography, FotoVisura, and other publications.
His projects have been exhibited in London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Barcelona, San Francisco and Tokio.


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Sebastian Liste


105 Responses to “sebastian liste – urban quilombo”

  • WOW…the Real Thing! The Very Real Thing!

  • I hate to just say these images are incredible, but these are just incredible.

  • Amazing photography… bravo…
    Regarding the subject matter though, do you think your project can have a positive influence in some way to better the living conditions of these families?

  • Wow for the pictures, the essay and the real thing.
    Critics may say – it is yet another drugs and poor people story, but it is more than that I think.
    This is not a “I was there and saw that” kind of essay, it is a look this was my life and I was / am part of it essay. It feels and smells. There are a few essays like that, but only a few.

    Bravo! and good luck for the future.

  • This is very impressive work. Great technical mastery. Fantastic access. Meaningful.

    In general, I’m sick of this type of poverty porn, but I think this essay works far better than most because of its extreme localization inside the chocolate factory. My criticism, or lets say my questioning of how it might be better, centers around its symbolism, or more specifically, apparent lack thereof. The obvious comparison, at least for me, is with Salgado and I think in that respect it falls short. As good technically, probably, but lacking the evident symbolism which elevates Salgado’s work far above so much of the poverty porn genre. It seems to me that for most people (and I suspect for the photographer as well) these photos simply are what they are. The abandoned chocolate factory is just an abandoned building. This is a devastating portrait of extreme poverty in Bahia, most certainly. But more meaningful than that? I don’t get the impression the photographer is seeing it. Or perhaps there’s a photojournalism ethic involved? Document, don’t analyze? Or perhaps a devastating portrait of poverty in a specific place is enough? Not sure.

  • I have seen this essay before and I really love this edit… #12, and similar, really add a lot.

  • I’ve been waiting since before the EFP to see this essay on Burn, was hoping it would be a finalist. Great work, love your simple involvment with the people and the place, Sebas!

    And very happy to have seen a large edit of this project a while back, looking forward to see where the future will take you. Thank you!

  • Definitely rises above the usual “photographer does poverty” essay. This is really good work.

  • I half expected Jim to make his usual comment that this kind of work lacks value because it is the type of thing that only other photographers would see. I’ll only go there to the limited extent that I think this is the kind of work that other photographers definitely should see. As I sit here this morning finishing a rough first draft of my new project, which I worked on for three whole days, I can’t help considering this work and questioning whether what I do is trite in comparison. And I think that’s a valid question for all of us. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that, although it can often feel that way, this kind of thing is the only work that matters. But I think it’s nice that it raises the question.

  • Dont know about Davids inverse square comment theory, or whether this lacks or has value, or the ability to effect positive change.
    All I know is that these are strong strong images. That need nothing to prop them up.
    Everything else is secondary to this.
    That opening image.. I dont care who they are… I dont care where they are or what they are fighting about…because that image is in and of itself complete. There are many in this essay.

  • just a simple: wow!

  • Great images, could be an amazing book. It’s very rare that I get the feeling that I need so called “breathers” in the middle of the essay but this time I was relieved when few came. Miron Zownir came to my mind when I was looking, but these are much more eloquent and compassionate.

  • beautiful, masterful work….

    and yet….

    and yet the sequence of 20/21….

    only 1 picture of sex amid a story of seemingly of life and yet the sex, and nudity, the joining, comes only with prostitution…..and without faces to boot….backs, spread legs….if photographer was protecting the privacy of both man and woman (understandable) what necessitates the shot…


    what makes me sad, in general, about what gets cultivated in the PJ/Doc work now….this is more a critique of the type of story telling that gets pushed around the doc world and the international world of picturetaking (at least in my experience of it)…this again is not so much about Sebastian, but about what we as picture makers hope…maybe it is simply that i’ve gone off the deep end and lost my enthusiasm for photographers moving from one group of people to another, ….again, my problem i know…

    anyway,m sebastian is a richly talented young photographer, clearly committed to a place and people and yet, and the pictures themselves are faultless and the commitment to the story certain….

    still, what saddens me is the disconnect (for me) between the lives documented juxtaposed next to all those photo awards and trappings….

    and 8 year old that prostitutes herself….and only the picture of her smoking crack….no other moments to allow us deeper insight/experience…

    is this my hang up?…yes….

    i’ve grown on and rattled…..

    what to say….

  • Excellent work, one more eyeball thrill to add to the ongoing magnificence at the Burn library. More “Rare Air”
    Now what I want to know is this…

    In the “world” of guitar playing there are guitar virtuosos who have never had commercial success and will never be mainstream and maybe they have no real interest in being so either. All these guitarists are just as good or better than the very well known top guitar gods. For example Frank Marino isn’t well known among the average guitar listener, he may get some airplay in the USA but he sure doesn’t in Europe. But he’s an absolute god for many of the top guitar virtuosos we all hear daily on any rock station. In other words he’s a guitarist’s guitar player someone who can only really be appreciated fully if you’re deeply knowledgeable with guitar playing. Now is Burn the same way? Are the photographer’s we see here so very good and so infused with “Rare Air” they are perhaps above the average, the mainstream or your average Sunday magazine? A bit like the Tour De France and watching it on television and enjoying it. You only really begin to appreciate it and fully understand the tactics and pain if you’ve either competed or climbed a 21km mountain pass.
    At least it all becomes clearer if you’re deeply invested in something…

  • Mr Photoshop is the real driver in the final analysis and takes from the images giving little back ……………pity

  • I don’t know, Imants. Occasionally some things actually rise above photoshop. This does for me. I’m no fan of heavily manipulated images, but in this case, for me, the images are strong enough to make the medium irrelevant.

  • Wow. First time ever, I agree with Jim Powers. Something is wrong. :-)))

  • Not with you there it has just lowered the bar, then again heavy manipulation has entered your blood stream via osmosis and it is only now surfacing through your pores Jim.

  • no16 high contrast leads to loss of content

    15,20 21 plastic nature of manipulation runs the show .. as I sated pity but then again it is another “bring on the poor people essay” that brings little new to the burn table ………………….sigh

  • While I don’t actually “mind” a bit of Photoshop over-use, I do notice it…..and I guess it’s always better not to notice it. Superb essay in any case (and I’m very critical with poverty porn).

  • Incredible photographs. I agree with most of the positive comments about the work itself. I do wonder what’s the point, if not to show that the people in the chocolate factory are slowly descending to an animal state, or worse. That’s what I see here, not dignity or a sense of home as the essay alludes to. Then, as I think Bob is saying (I don’t want to speak for Bob though), I want to connect with and really mourn for the spirit slipping away.

  • Ok, let me try again as Andy has pointed to one of my points of discomfort with this essay (and in fact the tradition, current, to which it is bound and celebrated by).

    Again, so it is clear, I respect the photographic talent, eye, use of light/shadow, compositional skills of Sebastien. He possess a clear and engaging eye, and a thoughtful one (generally) for visual acumen. To me, his work look like classic “Joop Swart Masterclass”, and this is a problem for me, not him, but the concept and the perpetuation of this kind of post-colonial thinking and ‘reporting.’ It seems clear to me that Sebastien cares immensely about the men and women and children in Bahia by not only spending time with them, living with them, but also showing in some of the pictures a remarkable sensitivity, particularly to the children and the families struggling to stay together. And yet, there are some (for me) terribly problematic visual and (more importantly) narrative choices made that not only break my heart but anger me. I wrote my friend in Brazil yesterday, the journalist Miriam Leitao, about the essay (hoping she’ll chime in) and what bothers me so profoundly about this kind of narrative.

    I want to repeat about the picture of Maria, the crack smoking 16 year old. Even that is lamentable: she is defined such as that: a crack addict who has prostituted herself since 8 and the ONLY thing we get of her/her life is that image, that caption. As if that is ALL she is. This is not only sloppy reporting but damning and really post-colonialist thinking: she could not be anything more than this, look at the conditions, life? Now, not for a moment do i think Sebastien believes this, but what he seems not to understand narratively is that IS the message. Had he done a full story on her, for example, or juxtaposed other images with her life/family, this would be one thing, but that is all we are given. Ditto about Noemi. What to we know, are shown about her?….Caricature of a mentally ill, drug using prostitute, without any other kind of reflection. The same with the shot of the sex: again ONLY within the context of prostitution, and nameless, bodies fucking no more. What does this SAY to the viewer, what does this say about the profound plight of these people?

    In truth, i do not blame Sebastian. But as a photographer, as a teacher, and if we were friends, I would go to ask with him and ask him heartfeltly about this. The hope and the commitment to trying to document others lives as a way to not only bring awareness and offer expression to those who may not have a voice, or to try to document as a way to bring attention to people, is a worthy and important gesture and way to live, but with that also comes I think important and measured behavior and thoughtfulness, NOT only the capacity to make beautiful photographs.

    More importantly, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt in these pictures either, the questioning of the photographic medium to begin with. How can, in good faith, a documentary photographer not do this any longer. I don’t know, except that I think this is where the ‘art’ world is wiser and more honest that the documentary/journalism world, about the role of the picture maker when depicting lives, for a brief time, for the sake of a photographic story. Sebastian is a Spanish photographer spending time with people from a different country amid economic and sociological circumstances that are profoundly removed from his own. it is not that distance and division that is troubling, but the use of that distance: the cultivation of photographic awards and patterns.

    In the end, amid some beautifully powerful and thoughtful photographs, we are left with another story that seems not terribly nuanced about the lives of these people, nor questions at all the veracity of the photographic image.

    as for the discussion of the ‘worked’ nature of the pictures (PS?), for me, that’s not terribly important. Photographs are by definitions lies, artificial objects that can and often do point toward a state of either awareness or confusion or idea or fiction. all photographs are manipulated and manipulative, that is neither new nor inherently problematic (my own practice is about both of that), but the question arises to what end?

    Again, this is my hang up and it is the world in which i live (the active discussion of the use of pictures about others and the consequence of that) with other photographers, artists, activists, teachers/professors.

    It is clear that there is tenderness and compassion for the subjects in this story. I believe that. The problem is that, have not the documentary photographic world failed for too long to understand that people are more than subjects and that pictures are far less than contact. A book about this housing? For what end?….unless they themselves would benefit…..

    a more interesting and ambiguous example:

    then again, it must be me this time….it is increasingly harder for me to reconcile the disconnect between the lives of the subjects of this kind of photographic project and the lives/manner/world of the photographers themselves…..

  • Bob raises some very interesting issues that we all probably need to do a lot more thinking about in relation to photography in general and particularly documentary work. This is not to say I agree with most of his reactions, but I acknowledge the relevance and importance of the problems he is suggesting. There’s a lot of “post-colonial” rhetoric that I don’t necessarily buy into, but the basic kernel of that critique is one that thoughtful people must consider before running around “objectifying” others. But ultimately, I think making photographs of anything means, inescapably, “objectifying” things.

    I wonder if much of the problem that Bob indicates may arise more from the captions than from the photographs themselves? I watched this this essay twice without seeing any of the captions, and my reaction was thus purely to the visual material. The words “crack” and “prostitute” were not on my mind… but after reading some of the discussion here, I went back and looked at the captions, and yes, that certainly changes the impact and attitude of the essay considerably. As Bob admits, there is a good deal of close empathy and sensitivity in many of these images… and incidentally, there’s nothing about the manipulation of these images that bothers me in the slightest. They are rich, powerful, and evocative. Sebastian is still quite young… the hard questions about the social and personal ecology of his work are ones he will no doubt have to grapple with from now on, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is a brilliant visual artist.

  • Well I just wish I had Bob’s deep and questioning analytical eye. These questions and visual errors Bob has pointed out just fly right over my head. I probably look and feel photography too much from the seat of my pants.
    About the Photoshop complaints I sort of agree, but more than Photoshop it’s the way the images are exposed. Clipped highlights occur probably from shooting digital as if it was good old BW film and it ain’t. Expose with digital for the highlights like good old slide film and these problems will not be there.

  • That is it Sidney. The captioning is a big problem but also the choice of narrative (picture selection). because we do have a responsibility with what we show (picture choice, picture choice, picture choice) and how we show it. I wouldn’t have been upset with the picture of Maria if there were other images of her and the captioning were different. But we get her only as that: a 16 year old crack addict prostituting herself since 8. Imagine if she were our daughter and that was the totality of visual and journalistic information conveyed. ditto the use of the sex shot. This is really angering to me. I also have photographed people having sex (it is in my Chicory book) because it is part of life/intimacy, but i also include faces and I was fortunate enough to have a close relationship and trust with the couple. I understand that people do not want to be photographed in physically/sexually/emotionally intimate moments, so what to photographers (particularly young photographers) fall back on: the sex shot with the prostitute. why? it is FUCKING EASY!….she/he is only a prostitute….now, had there been sex shots with family members and prostitutes, i would not have been bothered at all….especially when we are told that this is about the LIFE….or maybe sebastian should have turned the camera on himself too?….i don’t know….this is a critical problem and it is part of a colonialist mentality. you are right that in the academy too much is made of post-colonialist orientation (about sensitivity), but as Agamben reminds it is impossible to convey certainty, let alone about another….but that is not the philosophic point i wanted to make, but this:

    as you pointed out, we MUST be aware….not only as photographers but as viewers….

    photographers and viewers alike have a responsibility…because THESE people….will not go to Amsterdam to spend a week with wealthy photoworld, these people will not get grants, these people will not self-congratulate….they will continue to toil and suffer….choosing to use people and their life’s plight for an end comes with responsibility….that can serve for a meaningful practice….but if, for documentary work, the point is pictures first, it becomes a hypocritical and yes colonialist mentality….

    so, you are absolutely right, the captioning is unfortunate….but so too is the choice of how the pictures were narrated….

    and yes, Sebastian is young and i don’t fault him, he is learning….i fault the greater PJ/Doc world to which he is a member….and to his mentors and editors….

    what to include and what to exclude is a critical dialectic, just as what to shoot and what not to shoot is an act of both ethics and awareness…

    (hope i don’t sound too hot under the collar, i don’t want the ‘sound’ of my online commenting voice sound too arrogant or blustery! Just trying to create dialogue).

    thanks Sidney for your thoughtful insight

  • and for clarification, a bit more about the picture of the sex picture:

    NO NAMES….i mean, we’re giving the name of Noemi. We;re told she is BOTH a cook and prostitue and yet what are we given: shot of her with legs spread in a daze smoking, shot of her breasts and NOT a shot of her as a cook, for christ sake. So then why are the couple having sex anonymous? Is this prostitue with client or a couple. and why do photographers always shoot prostitutes having sex, doing drugs, especially ones impoverished? why? Because it is easy. photographers do not WANT to show them as full human beings. Selling one’s body for sustenance is one part of their life (a part of all our lives) and yet rarely do i see pictures of prostitutes in other aspects of their lives. That is what is easy. It seems to me that photographers respect the boundary and discomfort of others protecting their privacy (if they wish that) but see prostitutes as easy access to the ‘gritty’ shots. Again, i wouldn’t have any qualms with the sex shot if they were complimented with other kinds of pictures about this woman or at least juxtaposed this with sex shots on non-prostitutes…again, a woman reduced to caricature…at least d’agata’s work is really about HIS LIFE and all that questioning…i once argued with another photographer (published at burn 1 year ago) who was in love with ackerman/d’agata and when living in california when to tijuana to photograph prostitutes…i asked him, ‘why?’….his live had no relationship to them….i see it all over again and again and again…..easy to make the mark in the pj world….

    what i would LOVE to see is a photographer with the talent of Sebastian do a story about these people that BREAKS every sterotype…..or that turns the camera to examine his own life in relationship to others…

    but this is a task that if i ask another, i believe as a photographer and teacher, i should also do…and so i do…


    how we think about the world is as important as how we see it….for one begets the other…

    with her client:

  • Well… I love to see the controversy awakened with this work.

    First of all I would like to talk a little bit about the process of this project.

    I came to the factory in late 2009 as a student, now two years ago. I had just finished my degree in sociology and this place caught my attention like few others in which I have been. Perhaps the first surprise of this work is the poverty of the place, the lives of these people… But something more aroused my curiosity and was the way how they build a community in the middle in the chaos to survive and to protect each others. No doubts I lived this feelings in first person and maybe you can´t see it on this set of images. No doubt all this makes me think about my work, on the reaction and use of photographs in our contemporary, visual and linked world. And the consequences and the reactions that these images may have on the people portrayed. Thanks to all who have dropped their views on the importance of these aspects… I have been feflecting on that for long time.

    Since 2009 I visited this place several times, each time spending longer periods on there. Then the relationship with the families has grown increasingly more and some of the members had become good friends. The last time I come to Salvador de Bahia for 4 months, I did it thanks to a scholarship and I spent this time exclusively working on this project.

    Finally I had to leave Salvador de Bahia in March 2011 when I ran out of scholarship money. At this moment the government evicted all the families from the factory to a new place in the outskirts of the city along with hundreds of families from other favelas. This process of cleaning up the visible poverty of cities is due to social and structural changes taking place in Brazil for the celebration of the Olympics and the World Cup in the coming months. Thanks to the relationship I have created with these families during the past two years now I’m immersed in a new social approach of how we create the social construction of our cities, such as stratification and discrimination create the space we inhabit. Now I’m immersed in a much more widespread than is known as the gentrification process, and this is a global process that has nothing to do with developing countries or post-colonial visions of the poverty. The gentrification is a global process, an urban transformation that involves displacing a population with low income from a potentially interesting neighborhood, to transform it into a new, expensive and a fashionable place to live. Now the government wants to build a shopping center in this place where the Barreto community once lived, as a first step to attract new residents. I think that all of us, regardless of where we came, sounds familiar this process.

    When in 2009 I finished my sociology studies I also finished to travel all around the world without sense. I realized that I had to do was concentrate on my corner of the world, in places where I know the codes and where I have a more intimate understanding of what is happening. Now the only two projects I’m working on are in Latin America and the Mediterranean area. Places where I’ve grown and I know well. I agree with Bob that the methods of documentary photographers and photojournalists, who always go back and forth, a group of people to another can be a little hypocritical and meaningless. Maybe they feel that they´re just paying the bills, a job like any other and that’s it. But I rather think they are like parachutists landing on a strange land with strange people who do not cause any interest except that of an exotic image… and after that they leave and never look back again.

    My parents, my sister and the rest of my family are from Uruguay, which borders Brazil. I was born in Spain by a fluke of fate and since I was a child I spent long periods in South America. For years I want to move to live here. Now, thanks to all those international recognition, which is certainly not dificult to see that are dissonant with the objectives of my work, I managed to move to Brazil to continue working here. Focus in this community and in the new social dynamics that are occurring in the city of Salvador de Bahia and in the lives of these families.

    My grandfather spent his life working on plans to improve urban infrastructure and social development in Latin America until he died. I don´t know, sometimes I like to think I’m recovering some of the legacy of his work. He was an architect and I´m sociologist and photographer. Perhaps his work had objectives and results was more visible and specific than mine. But I have no doubt that he took years of searching untill he found ways to achieve social change too. I´m 26 and I’m on that quest, and above all, I have no hurry. Patience is everything.

    I´m certainly aware of the importance of contextualization of an image through the captions, but personally, out of editorials bounds, I prefer to skip free and direct look to my photographs as Sidney appreciated.
    Honestly this work has nothing to do with photojournalism. As I´m not a photojournalist. While I have been working on that project I had not relationships with the editorial world. In fact, until last week I had never worked for anyone for an assigment and it´s never been published.

    It´s seems like the image of the couple having sex and the shoot of Maria taking crack is crucial and very polemic on this work. I have to say that since I´m inside of a little edition of 24 images of two years work with a project with more than hundred families involved I´m not in the position to discuss the obvious narrative limits that this have. So you´re right. By the way, from some time ago I have been working on a diferent essay about Noemia, wich shows her life, inside and outside the prostitution life, where I document the relation with her sons, how she lives with her mental disabilities and her crucial role as a cooker inside the community. I hope to have something ready to show it soon.

    Regarding the annotation of Sidney about “objectifying” things”. I have to say that my relation with photography is a kind of process of “objectify the objectifying subject”, since I investigate social issues, and therefore, I try to understand and explain it. This question also involves calling into question the researcher himself and his own research practice. At this point, the problematic about “objectifying” things” revolves around the intellectualist slant, wich leads to conceive the world as a spectacle (with objects ready to make the opera prima) to be interpreted and not as a set of specific problems that call for practical solutions.

    Finally, regarding the last Bob comment “what i would LOVE to see is a photographer with the talent of Sebastian do a story about these people that BREAKS every sterotype…..or that turns the camera to examine his own life in relationship to others…” add that my last project “On this side of the mountain”, which I did for the Joop Swart Masterclass is about the family of my girlfriend, who, at this point, after almost 9 years together, become my own family. It´s an introspective turn into my work documenting my immediate environment, exploring the strong relationships between love, family and land. With this project I want to make a poetic and visual map of my surroundings, recognizing fragments of memory not yet written, collecting the moments I hold close, those that make us reflect on our own lives. As I worked on this project, I discovered the meaning of personal photography, and from there I began to answer essential questions about what a family is. I hope to share with all of you this work soon and continue with the disertation…

  • Sebastian:

    First of all, thank you for your thoughtful and measured response. I must say, as both a photographer/writer here at burn and a reader, I am always slightly disappointed when the published authors do not engage with the readership (the importance of publishing on line, for me, as opposed to in a magazine/book). I am both appreciative and happy that you’ve stepped in to not only expand about the work but the questions raised. I never understand why people (photographers/viewers) shy away from dialogue. Though I remain very critical of the narrative choices made here (as a story), I value and respect deeply your talent (i say that photographer to photographer). I am also happy to hear about the fuller project about Noemia, something I would love to see published. Though i understood the polemic of showing Maria taking crack, that is just the exact wrong tact for the argument, it seems to me, though I understand completely wanting to get an audience to feel the horror and difficulty of this child’s life, but it ends up reducing her to not a child, but to a symbol of a bestial life….anyway….

    let me just say again, that I think your picture taking skills are both powerful and refined and your sensitivity to the world around is both lyrical and generous (i love many of the pics of the children and the distant/establishing pictures). I would love to see ‘on this side of the mountain’, you can send a link if you haven’t published it. 6 weeks ago, over drinks, Dominic Nahr and i spoke of this very thing, that the series of his I most love and the work, i think, that matured him as a photographer, had to do with the death of his father….a very personal series, one that resonated throughout his later more social/journalistic work… is THAT kind of introspection that is so important…..

    and Sebastian, if you do return to Brazil, I would be more than willing and happy to give you contact info for Miriam. I’m sure, if you’ve spent time there, you may know her, her work, her book. It would be a pleasure for me to have you guys meet and drink and talk together. A wiser, stronger, more aware person you’d be challenged to find.

    Lastly, please do not take my criticism of the narrative as a personal attack. I too, as both a photographer and a reader, react viscerally to images but i also think that after we’ve made the work, the harder work happens: that is our relationship to those we photograph and its relationship to the use of the work, as polemic or document. A difficult matter, and one to which I absolutely have no refined answers.

    I do hope this discussion continues more and with other photographers as well. BTW, congrats on your fellowship with Visura and spending time with Grant and Adriana…they are two wonderful, loving committed people.

    again, thanks for adding to the conversation and for clarifying and contextualizing your own experiences. That means alot to me as a reader.

    Cheers Sebastian, and all the best :)


  • To me, the picture of Maria smoking crack combined with the caption works very well and does not fall short or stereotype in any way. The caption states the reality that she has faced. The story of her larger humanity is contained in the picture itself, showing all the possibilities and obstacles that have been before her and still lie ahead. Certainly, an essay focused on her showing other aspects of her life might work very well, but in the context of this essay, I think the image and the caption says everything that needs to be said.

    Powerful essay – all the way through.

  • frostfrog:

    1 picture of a girl, defined by a single notion: crack addict/prostitute since 8…..

    horrific reality….

    and yet: that horror immediately raises questions that i think deserve some insight into:

    8 year old prostitute: family, parents, community?….the johns?….what she does else?…..

    holly wood movie can do this, but should a documentary photographer rely on such a polemic?…

    let us make it personal….

    your grandchild becomes a crack addict, becomes a prostitute at 8!!!! (really???), and so that is THE ONLY thing i document: no other context, no investigation of the boys/men who used her body, who sold her the crack, not examination of what else she does (is she in school, does she play with friends, etc): pure horror show… this truthful?…i don’t know….if yes, of course, let me really broken by showing me the FULLNESS of her life and what that means….has she dropped out of school and only smokes crack and earns money through the exchange of her body…remember, i am not the one who wrote, prostitute since 8….once you do this, it is your responsibility to document and to show…

    are pictures enough?….is it a cheapening of their plight to do this?…

    ….and the age, 8?….does it make any sense that when a photographer makes an assertion that a girl at 8 becomes a prostitute that this should be back up by additional information/research/investigation/document… about then shooting the men too, or giving us her words….

    what i am suggesting is that that becomes (as reader and photographer) lazy: horror or shock for its own sake without responsibility….the picture is a profoundly heart breaking one and a measure one….no doubt….but accompanying that picture is a statement and have we become so numb NOT to ask these questions….

    the caption says not ENOUGH about what needs to be said….

    8 year old prostitute…..

    what does that mean?….

    we’re seduced by the power of the image…..pure and simple…and seduced, in an odd way, by the horror of the circumstances….but we owe them to be more responsible in our reporting, for this is about reporting…it is not a internal examination….

    because, guess what, her life will be forgotten…and we’ll all basque in the glow of the project….

    maybe that is my point: what is our responsibility….

    to me, a story such as this: it is to NOT FALL victim to objectifying people or polemicizing them…

    maybe Bill, i am too old…have seen too much of photographers who engage in the lives of folk who suffer and then move on….

    ok, i’ve said enough…

    i do hope people think more about that child and not only about her life but the specific use of her as 1 picture in an essay….


  • This is excellent work.

    And Sebastian, you may not think you are a photojournalist, but you can’t prove it to me after seeing this work.

    And on some of the commentary… it really gets on my nerves when armchair know-it-alls sit back and pontificate on what should or should not have been in an essay. Unless you where there, I would suggest that you probably have no idea what you are blabbering about.

  • pete: armchair know-it-alls….i used to be a photojournalist and i’ve shot stories and written stories about both poverty and child drug/child prostitution in sw florida (google if you want)…and yes, maybe this is why i’ve written as much as i have….

    no idea what i’m blabbering about?….please…but, again, i’m not at all surprised by your reaction to my comments….

    you have no ability to engage but to discount and then toss aside a variant view…

    you are a journalist?….i’m always shocked, frankly….

    but maybe this IS the kind of commentary we want here?….

    go back to your golf game….

  • and I am willing to put my ass on the line Pete, are you?

    I am willing to never criticize a single think published here, nor ask questions of photographic work, if you too will remain silent. Fair? I’ll go it better:

    I’m willing to withdraw publication of my own work here from her eon out, for the future, if you are willing to stop being criticizing commentators here (as you always do, rather than address the substance of what they’re writing).

    i’m willing to never publish here if you are willing to stop attacking people personally.


    i’m willing to put that on the line, as a act of discussion

  • “maybe Bill, i am too old…have seen too much of photographers who engage in the lives of folk who suffer and then move on….”

    Bob – when I picture you, I picture a fairly young man. I understand what you are saying. I too, grow weary of seeing essay upon essay of suffering put out there in the context that this is what photojournalism is all about and is the only photography that really matters.

    Still, in the context of this multi-facited essay about a single place, that photo and caption together do communicate to me the essence of all that you lament not seeing here. I look at the girl and I see my own daughters and I see all the possibilites in her life and I know she is a human being beyond that moment, but that moment and that caption puts many things in context.

    But in another sense, having written what I just wrote, I suddenly agree with you completely – because here we are in our comparatively comfortable worlds having a high-minded philosophical debate about this girl’s life while she, having been born with potential equal to that of our daughters and any human being, lives the reality of it. Admittedly, in this there is something a little off-skew.

  • I don’t care if you are Cartier-Bresson himself. If you were not there, you really have no reference point to criticize what should or should not be in an essay.

    “go back to your golf game” that is intelligent, considering its football season.

    As as for your idle threats about quitting posting, please. we have heard that cry before. First of all I can care less if you post here or not, but if you are going to pontificate, you should be prepared for opposing views.

    You act like a pouting child at times.

    Maybe you should consider that when you post your critiques that you are attacking. Guess that is hard to imagine when you are so sure you are right.

  • I don´t known, maybe because I´m brazilian this essay doesn´t touch me very much. Strange feeling.

    Anyway, Sebastian, congrats.

  • I have been trying to form a comment since this essay appeared. I even had one typed out at one point but did not submit it.

    I have gone through this essay many times now. The images, along with feelings of sadness, and un-answered questions have been rolling around in my mind late last night. My reaction has pretty much gone through the gamut of many of the comments so far, ” wow, sigh, grrrr”, and “oh dear, another gritty b/w poverty essay”. As of now, considering the effect it has had on me, and others reactions, there is no denying that this is very powerful and beautifully crafted work.

    Congratulations Sebastian. Thankyou for being here, and for fanning the flames a bit.

  • Stuck at the office working on a document–decided to see what was new at Burn. Amazing. . .I love the visceral and intimate quality of these images. The ranting about the finer points of what photography should be? The best answer is to go out and make some of your own images. Thanks for these photos Mr. Liste.

  • Bob – I appreciated your follow-up and exchange with Sebastian. That’s what it’s all about. Well, sometimes I wish you could get there in less words (unless the sky is parting and wisdom is descending from above, I start skimming after 2 paragraphs). Everybody here knows you encourage photographers much more than you pick them apart. Personally, I’d like to see you pick people apart more. This is a serious business, and we are all uncomfortably close to being liars by trade.

    Sebastian – You obviously have thousands of images that aren’t here. I’m very interested in the story about the girl. This narrative is limited, but you constructed it this way. I still wonder about the point. If it’s to create a fully rounded story drawing from your discipline as a sociologist that educates viewers, breaks our hearts, acquaints us with truth, and honors the subjects, then I can see that as work worth doing and printing.

    I love that Burn allows real critiques. I’m grateful for that, and the community is welcome to push back when they disagree. That’s the beauty of it. Tempers flare, but when things get personal and rude…in an ideal world, we wouldn’t engage those comments at all.

  • This is very beautiful work Sebastian.

    Whether or not you have used PS, you’ve captured very intimate moments that one would not have access to if it wasn’t for your work.
    These images leave the viewer wanting more and so I ask…As a photographer with a background in sociology, how did you interact with children who are sex workers or have drug addictions?
    How did you react to their practices? More importantly, how do they see themselves?

    I do not ask to criticize your methods in the field. I only ask to understand how your behavior could have affected theirs in the presence of a camera.

    Something I should have said from the very beginning,
    Gracias por hacer …


    this has been a very interesting discussion all around…good honest critique coming at this essay from every angle and a fine response from the author…a big fat thanks to all of you who wrote so intelligently….

    i have had almost all the same reactions as everyone else…the main one being: this work is poignant powerful imagery on a subject that has been done and done and done…

    so one comes away with “hey here is a talent” and yet there are always lingering doubts about exploitation that always arise when a privileged photographer engages with the not so privileged..but this is a discussion with no end…it is similar to the war photography conundrum….and of course credibility simply depends on very specifically who is telling the story…there cannot be blanket statements about the righteousness or the lack thereof…Sebastian has explained himself perfectly.

    all of us, and particularly editors/curators, have to be very careful not to accidentally throw out the baby with the bathwater immediately on a story like this as cliché without really taking note…we did not miss it, but it would have been easy to do so….while i am personally very hungry to see a photographer take on the upper class with the intensity that seems to flow naturally in the favelas , i bow totally to the talents of Sebastian here with this essay…

    i do feel the essay is totally anchored with a few really strong pictures which bleed over to some of the others and hold them up a bit higher than we might normally accept..yet this is what essay building is all about..nobody yet has ever had an essay with equality of imagery….a few sweetly combined notes make the melody….

    so i am looking at two things here, and i think any editor would agree…

    one thing is the essay…this one terrific..the other thing is the photographer…obviously talented…

    end of discussion? no

    i honestly am waiting to see what Sebastian does next to get a real feel for him as photographer overall….my fingers are crossed to find out if Sebastian is in for the long haul…i have only met Sebastian briefly and have no clue about him personally except for what he wrote here which leaves me only feeling good about his overall intent…

    we all tend to think that because everyone now is a photographer and we are inundated with imagery that there are somehow too many talented photographers and not enough room for them all….i have always looked at lots of work and look at even more now with Burn, but i can tell you, and my colleagues at Burn will tell you, that with everyone out there with a camera, there still are no more of the best of the best than ever…there will always only be a few who can rise above the mean level whatever that mean level is…human nature …can Sebastian be one of these? he has struck a chord this time..and that alone is no small feat…talent and humanity is a powerful combo…i am betting Sebastian has it…

    cheers, david

  • Well, we’ll see. It’s certainly interesting on very many levels. I took the unusual step of asking my wife to watch it. Photography, to her, is mostly a bottomless hole under my desk where I throw our money, so I don’t usually go out of my way to remind her of its existence, but she is interested in the issues raised by this essay; poverty porn, those black people sure are fucked up, depiction of third world, particularly African societies in general, so I was curious what she’d think, so we watched it many times and I threw all the different arguments at her. She, like me, and most of us, thought the quality of the work elevated it above the poverty porn and black people sure are fucked up genres, but she didn’t feel the chocolate factory angle had any visual resonance, saying that without the text it would appear to be just another third world poverty story. Her overall take was very similar to Bob’s. She was disturbed that it focused on the most fucked up residents and pointed out that the two pics that showed an alternate reality –– the birthday party and the family breakfast pic –– seemed incidental, as though the photographer didn’t make the same amount of effort for those, but merely included them for balance, and failed to achieve it. She believes that there are many more of those photos available, probably more than the bad things that dominate. But still she had a great deal of respect for the work’s strengths, and the photographer’s talent, and for the most part she trusted his motivations. Even with all the reservations, she thought it a good thing. But like Bob, she craved a truly balanced depiction of that life. Are you still reading Sebastian? Is that other reality to be found beyond those two scenes? Does that balance exist? If so, why aren’t we seeing it? If not, man, that really sucks.

    As far as greatness, my concern is that it’s the year 2000 and something that appears to us to be such great work is so firmly ensconced in the historically great photography tradition. It looks like stuff other people have done. And to me, it looks a lot like classic Salgado. For the most part that’s a complement, though as I mentioned above, I think the chocolate factory may lack the symbolism that elevates Salgado beyond his technique. And it’s in the tradition of the WPA photographers and Smith, among many others. I question if at this late day and age truly great photographers shouldn’t be doing something different. Why isn’t this in color? You know, I’ve been critical of recent essays for overuse of photoshop dodging, but it didn’t really bother me in this. Were these color photographs that obviously manipulated, I’d be hostile. But with black and white, it doesn’t seem to bother me.

    Anyway, here’s hoping you continue to go for it. And never stop questioning what “it” is.

  • Mike MW – I think your wife should become a regular part of this discussion.

  • MW

    i am really curious…what part of this looks like Salgado besides b&w and South America? i have never seen Salgado even attempt what i call in the moment photography..Salgado is formal, structured,mostly people looking at the camera, classic…this is much looser and living in it photography..Salgado photographing fornication in the living room? no way….Salgado poverty is can hang those pictures on the wall….Liste poverty is as you say “fucked up”…close to the bone…i do agree that perhaps some Liste “living in it” could have swung in the direction of kids skipping to school, but Richards doesn’t ever let us off the hook either…the “greats” do not let us breathe…they keep your heart pounding..try to intellectualize it or go down the list of “must haves” and well by this time most have turned the page or clicked to another site…

    again , this whole idea of “balance” which is totally necessary in the mass media just is not what makes a photographer great…it makes for a better newspaper of course, but if we are just talking the driven perspective , the driven eye, the driven statements that constitute “greatness” i do not think you will ever see journalistic “balance” at the top of the list…can you think of one? i can’t…

    “balance” for mass media readers is best achieved by editors who use one photographer in one way and another photographer in another ..i do not know any great photographer who is also a versatile photographer….please let me repeat….for the mass media, presentations of important subjects to a wide variety of readers, yes you need a balance..somehow…but not necessarily from one photographer…well, yes, the budget..but i am talking about “greatness” of effort..the actual body of work, not what is required to sell newspapers and magazines and yes to satisfy many many readers and many many advertisers…

    anyone trying to squeeze a well rounded coverage out of a photographer gets well rounded coverage…

    we would all love to have your wife’s opinions…we often are all here too photographercentric….as i have just proven!! :)

    cheers, david

  • I’ll defer to you regarding Salgado. It’s no doubt shallow to automatically equate anyone who does beautiful black and whites of extreme poverty with Salgado. But my initial critique was more about the differences than any likeness. Salgado seems to have grand things to say about is subjects. They both document extreme poverty, but Salgado seems more transcendent documentary while Liste is more lurid. Salgado imbues his work with meaning on a grand literary scale. I’m just saying Liste has room to grow in that direction.

    Regarding balance, perhaps that is a poor choice of words or I don’t use it in quite the same way you do. Perhaps honesty or accuracy would be as good. My concern in these types of conversations revolves around the question of what the situation being photographed is really like. Since we are typically talking documentary not fiction, it’s important that what’s being documented is at least ball park accurate. In this example, Sebastian writes that his aim is to document the daily life inside the factory. So the question is whether or not he has succeeded at that. Were his stated aim to document drug use and prostitution in the factory, I wouldn’t be saying anything about balance. And if the factory has devolved to such an extent that it’s 90 percent drugs and prostitution, again, well done. But if the daily life in the factory is largely normal, as suggested by the birthday and family breakfast photos, it’s fair to ask if the focus on the drugs and prostitution is misleading. That’s the gist of my questioning.

  • I agree with what MW is saying about balance or accuracy or whatever you want to call it. It is hard to know if something is telling all sides or even trying to do so. And as I said above, since he was there and we were not, we cannot really fairly judge what is missing in this essay or any other for that matter. Although as MW said, he does give us a glimpse of something else other than drugs and prostitution.

    From my point of view as a photojournalist, I do not try to be balanced in an effort to appease one type of reader or another. Newspapers and magazines may do it that way, but that is not in my control. I make an attempt at balance because as MW said it is about accuracy and honesty. If someone insists on only telling one side of the story, it tends to turn into propaganda more than documentary storytelling.

  • Pete…

    I think you’re being very fair in trying not to judge the essay, I’ve always been inclined to feel this way about most things in life if I haven’t been present. However Burn would be a very, very boring site without the generally constructive critisism and praise. I personally would never have learnt as much from all of you and I still remember your very interesting comments on the essay “Destino”.

  • MW …PETE

    i essentially agree with your restated comment/question Michael…and you are wise to always question…i do as well when looking at a story like this…i do hope Sebastian jumps in one more time…just remember that honesty and integrity are also subjective..but yes this is how i justify leaving my front porch with a camera in the first place…i feel like i am doing justice to any given subject and i think i have done my homework..but still even THAT is a subjective thought…anyway, we are basically on the same page…disagree with you though Pete on your last point …i think you are confusing strong point of view with propaganda…could be of course, but not a given

    cheers, david

  • Balance, truth, honesty…

    Why? It’s all just a personal point of view an idea which drives the photograher who is inspired to create however right or wrong and biased his view is.

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