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Louise Chin & Ignacio Aronovich

After The Fire


We read about the fire on twitter before it was on the news.  We drove to the “favela” (slum), about fifteen minutes from our house, and found the firefighters working intensely to prevent the flames from reaching a neighboring chemical plant, a risk for explosion. There was a media frenzy, with trucks most major TV networks, and helicopters hovering above. Meanwhile, the inhabitants desperately tried to salvage what they could from the flames. Luckily, there were no fatal victims.

We did not take any pictures, and went back home.

The next morning, October 12, children’s day in Brazil, at dawn, we drove back to photograph the aftermath of the fire. We found a situation of hopelessness, sadness, and despair. Whole families walked around stunned, looking at the ashes of what was once their home. We were impressed by the tenacity, hope, and strength of the people,  who were very sad but ready to start rebuilding. There was also anger and revolt at the authorities, as well as a general feeling of helplessness.

We uploaded the slide show hours after our visit. We felt it was important to let as many people as possible know about what had happened.

Since then we have been overwhelmed by the number of people offering donations (food, clothing, and medicine), from places as far as Shanghai and the USA. Some of our commercial clients have also generously pitched in with donations.

For us this is a small demonstration that images are still capable of bringing change.

About the fire:


A fire on the evening of October 11 destroyed the Diogo Pires slum in the Jaguaré neighborhood (São Paulo, Brazil). More than one hundred shacks burned to the ground, leaving 350 families homeless.


Louise Chin and Ignacio Aronovich are a couple (together since 1993), based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Together they created “Lost Art”, which produces photographic content for editorial and advertising purposes. The income from this work finances their incessant personal work.

“Lost Art”, the website, online since 2000, was created out of frustration with the limitations of the editorial market. The site allows freedom of expression without the usual obstacles and costs involved in publishing.

Related links

Lost Art


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

26 thoughts on “louise chin & ignacio aronovich – after the fire”

  1. Nice work Louise and Ignacio, great effect and well produced with the sound added to the stills, you really feel as though you are there. I especially liked the overhead view of the entire burned area next to the chemical plant which really gave you a feeling of the situation and the portrait of the woman with the cat afterwards. the one thing I might have wanted to see more of was the children, all the talk of children’s day and concerns for the children it would have been more effective to see some of these children, I think there was one shot at the end of a child. But other than that great project and cause.

  2. Burned on Burn. Yes, a very appropriate place to show it. I am not certain what I think of the fact that you turned away from the fire itself and did not photograph it, but certainly the two of you did an excellent job with the aftermath and your work has made an impact that appears to have reached beyond that of the many pictures taken of the fire itself. Your work reached me and I would never have known about this fire, otherwise.



    Great to read that your images have been able to have a positive impact for some of these families. I need to watch your MM piece again but there are couple of images in particular that stayed with me: the woman holding the baby in the middle of the burned “houses”, and the other woman as well holding the cat…. There is a particular intensity in these two images that I found moving and clearly communicate the despair of these homeless families. I also like image 13 I think of the man standing in the middle of the ashes… Overall, I do wonder if you would not have benefited from a somewhat tighter edit and personally, I thought your stronger shots were your B&W. I am curious what others thought but I would maybe have stayed with it as opposed to mix colors and B&W….but in any case, some strong images in there to cover without a doubt a pretty dramatic situation for these families.


  4. Perhaps this couple could produce a MM piece that would solve the problem of the 20 million aids orphans in Africa. Maybe it is easier for people to imagine they can help the residents of a slum than the residents of a continent.

    The photography is o.k. F/8 and be there.

  5. JIM…

    i have a trivia question for you….who coined the phrase “f/8 and be there”?? i think i know the answer..you may think you know the answer….maybe we both have the same answer…what’s yours??

  6. I see no imagining here, Jim. Wonderful example that photography can help. and if only a little, that is enough. I mean, a lot of things can help, one’s neighbour or 20 million AIDS orphans, why not photography, still?

    Louise and Ignacio, no judging your essay and photos. It’s been done already, by the people who were gripped by the tragedy and came out to help. There is no better critical assesment than what they did in response. Kudos to another great photographic team after the Webbs.

    “couples” Week on BURN! ;-)

  7. Excellent. I like this a lot. It’s great you were able to generate a real life response. I think the combination of b/w and colour works well here in that’s it’s smooth. However, unlike Eric I prefer the colour and I think i would have liked the b/w more in colour too, although I can see why you might have chosen b/w. It seems to me that strong images in black and white are strong not because they are black and white, but because of their content. I love your “still life” shots especially the gross one of the food and sandshoe. I love the sound here. It’s so musical. And the use of the captions as translation. I think I need to learn how to make a little slide show with sound like this.

    Thanks also for sharing with us how you used this piece and your way of making your business practice.

    Jim, why are you so bitter? Not everyone has to be a technician. I think you may be depressed?

  8. Louise & Ignacio,

    Thank you for sharing this piece with us. Like Andrea, I think that the color pieces are stronger than the black & white shots. Why? Because they are more “real”.

    In this age of ubiquitous color, black and white serves 2 purposes for me: as artistic vehicle for composition, or to distance the subject matter a bit, so that is is bearable for the average viewer (i.e. Nachtwey). I think that a house fire is something that we can all relate to, and (for me) color brings the reality in a stronger fashion. Also, I was moved the audio and English translation – although, I do not speak Portuguese, the desperation (and hope!) and can be inferred from the recorded audio.

    Jim, I do not think that most of the Burn viewers have the means to change the world – we do the best we can within the realms to which we are exposed and within our means. I recently came across an article in Wired magazine against foreign aid to Africa (written by an African, no less). I could not find a link to the specific article I read, but here are links to 2 similar articles by the author, Dambisa Moyo:


  9. The most powerful element about this story is that we are led to our imaginations how the fire would look like. But still, I’m curious about hearing more thoughts behind that choice when you decided not to photograph when the fire was going on. Would a photograph of the fire in the beginning do the story any harm? I respect the choice, just wish there was more reflection about it in the statement…

    Thank you very much for sharing.

  10. Hello Louise and Ignacio,

    I like a lot your essay, I like the depth(profoundness) in your images, I have the impression that for certain image you use 2 images, but maybe it’s a mistake… I am not very bright with the computer, is it just with Photoshop? I like this depth which you create, it gives another dimension…. I am with you in the place…

  11. Frank Michael Hack

    Fantastic! Would like to see more like this published on Burn, both in terms of photojournalistic content and multimedia presentation. We have such a great outlet on Burn to take photography to the next level. In the digital age the limits are only those of the imagination. Great photography, a compelling and relevant subject, and a multimedia presentation are a winning formula in my book that as photographers we need to exploit in order to make photography accessible and meaningful to a wider wired audience.

    Well done Louise and Ignacio!!

  12. i really like some of the photographs and think it’s fantastic that there is a positive effect – the goal of this kind of work needs to be that results help the subjects, rather than win awards.
    just fantastic to read that this is the case here.

    on the piece itself – the audio was too distracting for me.. helecopter particularly but also the dialogue.
    i turned off the audio on first viewing so i could concentrate on the caption and photography, then on second viewing forgot the captions and listened and looked.. both ways worked for me and i would guess that if i spoke the language there would be no issue there. in it’s form with translation, audio and photography i found it difficult to concentrate on any single element.

    that’s only me though, and audio rarely works over photography for me.. i would rather read and then view photography than be immersed in a more tele-visual experience.
    where audio does work for me it truly adds to the viewing of the photography – which, again, would probably be the case here if i spoke the language.

    i read a quote somewhere about war / disaster photography that it is not the ‘event’ that the public needs to see, it is the aftermath and i think this set of photos serves that goal.
    watching the event itself can all too often become some kind of high adrenalin exercise where there is only reaction to the event and little thought for those effected. seeing the context and aftermath is, for me, a great deal more powerful.. quieter.. and more ponderous..

    well done on getting the work to serve the people effected, as it need to.

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  14. First we’d like to thank David for the opportunity to have our work in Burn. We feel privileged and honored to participate in a website we admire so much. Also, big thanks to Anton for helping us out.

    Now a few replies to the comments… (our thanks for those who took the time to write, we love that there are sites that discuss the “why” of photography more than the “how”).

    Haik, about the children, perhaps the reason we did not see more is that the time we arrived on the site was 6 am, and most of the kids who lived in the favela spent the night elsewhere (friends, family, etc). The fire began at around 5:30 PM on sunday, the firefighters supposedly arrived around 7:00 PM, and left around 3:45 AM. We went there a little after sunrise. There were very few kids around, the ones we saw are in the presentation. One of the first photos, an image of bare feet, is of a child’s feet. There is one girl towards the end, two kids sitting on top of a burnt house, and another may be seen towards the end bent over picking something from the ashes. Perhaps the biggest reminder of their presence is the toy at first, and the spiderman outfit on the ground.

    >I am not certain what I think of the fact that you turned away from the fire itself and did not photograph.

    The fire was live on television, filmed from helicopters. Sunday TV shows in Brazil have the biggest ratings and the fire was on several channels simultaneously. We’re still not certain photographing the fire would have been worthwhile. When we drove around different access points in the favela there was chaos, people running around carrying their belongings, firefighters at work, and a huge media presence. The images of the fire available online are mostly images of massive flames, and some distraught people carrying the belongings they managed to escape with. Maybe we should have photographed the fire, perhaps a wide view of the favela burning might have been useful to contextualize the story in our presentation.

    > Overall, I do wonder if you would not have benefited from a somewhat tighter edit and personally, I thought your stronger shots were your B&W.

    Eric, I agree on the edit. When we drove home after spending a little over an hour at the favela, we thought we would have maybe four or five decent images for a blog post on our site, and we were going to write about what we saw. In this case we feel the audio is much stronger than the images. There are several people expressing different opinions and reactions and I think the sum of these voices is what makes this work. We finished editing the audio before the photos, and had an audio sequence together before we had a final image sequence. We could cut the sound shorter, at the risk of losing some important parts of the story. Perhaps one solution might have been to have less images shown for a longer duration, that way we could preserve the sound we wanted without having to use weaker photos.

    >Perhaps this couple could produce a MM piece that would solve the problem of the 20 million aids orphans in Africa.

    We don’t think we could produce anything that would solve the orphan problem in Africa, or fool ourselves into believing we changed anyone’s lives in the favela by documenting their situation. These people need a place to live, and our work has not provided them with housing. However, some people have acted after seeing this presentation, and have donated clothing, food, and other much needed material. We e-mailed the link to some commercial clients and a few have contributed. For us, this is a first, and we would love to do more work that causes similar reactions.

    >The photography is o.k. F/8 and be there.

    I agree. To be perfectly clear, we had not been inside this particular favela before and we were unsure about safety. This work was produced independently and I had a travel editorial assignment on monday afternoon, and instead of risking equipment I would need later that day and the next, we decided to take minimal equipment. I used a Ricoh GR compact digital camera (fixed 28mm equiv. lens) and Louise used a Canon SD900 compact digital. These are amateur cameras, but their small size made our photography more discreet, and less agressive than having a large camera pointed at the face of people who were quite distraught. I missed a lot of photos due to the GR’s abominable shutter lag, but in the end the tiny cameras did the job (to a certain extent). We shouldn’t have worried and felt perfectly safe once there. We feel the most important equipment we took that day was a digital audio recorder.

    >I think the combination of b/w and colour works well here in that’s it’s smooth. However, unlike Eric I prefer the colour and I think i would have liked the b/w more in colour too, although I can see why you might have chosen b/w.

    We feel that since the work is the result of two photographers, we can mix two different points of view and also mix color and black and white. Some images, like the spiderman outfit on the ground, would simply not work in black and white. Others work only in black and white for us. The issue of mixing both here was first raised by our friend Hector Mediavilla, (from Pandora foto, a great collective), but it doesn’t bother us in this case.

    Bjarte, “Would a photograph of the fire in the beginning do the story any harm?” Probably not. That is why we drove there during the fire. We trusted our instincts in not going in the favela at night. But in general when Louise and I see dozens of photographers covering an event we tend to go in the opposite direction and try to photograph a different side of the story.

    Audrey, about the depth in our images, it is a result of using compact point and shoot cameras with tiny sensors, so everything in the photo is sharp. There are no composite images in this presentation, but I find it interesting that the choice of an amateur camera created this impression. This is not how we usually photograph and we love to use selective depth of field to isolate subjects.

    David (Bowen), true, the audio can be distracting, but if one speaks portuguese so may be the images. It is possible to view the images without sound, but in this specific case I also think its possible to get a good idea of how the event affected the people by just listening to the audio track. We really believe the audio is better than the photos. Our interest was in showing how the fire affected the people and surely other media covered the fire in ways we would not have been able to (aerial photography/video really worked well for this).

    The questions raised have made us think about our choices, thanks to everyone who participated.

  15. Congratulations on your work; this is an excellent use of MM. The juxtaposition of B/W and colour worked well for me – as did the sound track and captions – I was engaged throughout the show. I a delighted that your work had an effect – it deserves to…


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  18. kathleen fonseca

    First, Ignacio and Louise, it’s wonderful that your work on this project has brought in some aid for these people. Second, congratulations for being published on Burn, third, i thought your response to the various points raised by Burn viewers was wonderfully gracious and thoughtful. You both seem to be very good, reasonable, kind and talented photographers who bring integrity and also a sense of humility to your work.

    I can soooo understand the reasons you gave for going back the day after to shoot and also the reason you brought your smaller cameras. Going into a slum area at any time, particularly at such a heated (sorry for the pun) time is something you have to consider very carefully. You have to balance personal security with the need to do your work. And maybe i’m a stupida but i don’t see what’s so wrong with f/8 and great dof. I found your work to be refreshingly open and straight-forward. The art was in the moment of the click, the compositions, the expressions on the faces..not in gimmicky overstatements of an already very dramatic event.

    Seeing these pictures is like seeing someone naked. A slum usually presents a fairly ferocious looking front to the rest of the world. Go in at your own peril. Areas of conflict, always in the news, initially squatter colonies eventually made legit but always problematical. Yet, here in the photos, the slum dismantled, stripped bare..all the little luxuries, the hard-earned appliances and furniture, toys, shoes, clothes, yes and school books (the medical book photo cut me right to the core), all gone or lying in scorched disarray. No place for bad attitudes, aggressive posturing, resentment of outsiders, drugs, hanging out, getting high or domestic violence. A time of despair, hope, anger, frustration, loss, grief, fear, apprehension, frustration, hope and hopelessness. A time for the community to join together in a wider sense, people from other areas to reach out and maybe make a difference to this generation of children that just lost the precious little bit of security they had. Such a sad event. I hope some good comes out of it..perhaps a great deal of good if this little part of the world is very lucky.

    Thank you,


  19. Great work my friends. Nice to see you here, getting the exposition you both deserve it.
    Congratulations for the stunning quality work and for being the wonderful people you are.

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