Leandro Viana – Bolivia in São Paulo

Everyday, thousands of Bolivians arrive in the city of São Paulo. They come from many Bolivian cities and other countries like Peru and Argentina and bring with themselves lot of hope with the opportunity and promise for a new life.

Along with this hope, those immigrants also bring willingness to do any king of work in any kind of place. Obviously with this attitude they become completely vulnerable to the city and consequently, to the employers. As an illegal person (because the majority do not have permission to work) they find themselves in sub-human conditions, which they cannot avoid or fight against because of their illegal status. But these immigrants submit themselves and “accept” this condition, just to get inside of the system and probably because their lives were much worse in their native country .

Portraying these persons, the attitude and the vague look they bring become evident and sprout on the pictures as if it was an attempt to become neutral against that of the society in which they live. On the other hand, when they dress up in their traditional clothes and trappings, it changes their posture in front of the camera.

After a long time documenting the Bolivian immigrants in the city of São Paulo, I made this series of portraits to summarize and to provide an outcome to all the research so far produced. After many visits to places where these community usually meets in varied areas of the city, I realized how these people actually go unnoticed by the majority of the population. Even though a significant and consistent visual change has been happening in São Paulo and only a few notice or even give themselves the chance to, a rich culture, that many are unaware of, is slowly blending with the Brazilian culture.




Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Leandro Viana is a freelance documentary photographer based in New York City. After breaking into the field through fashion, editorial, and advertising photogra­phy, most notably at DPZ, one of Brazil’s leading advertising agen­cies, Leandro began documenting social issues such as immigra­tion, refugees, and human rights. His series documenting Bolivian migration in São Paulo was awarded the 2011 Conrado Wessel Award in Brazil and was featured at the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography in January 2013.


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8 Responses to “Leandro Viana – Bolivia in São Paulo”

  • Great work. I really love these.

  • As usual I read the introduction first, and then looked at the photographs, and I was expecting to see a depressing essay about man’s exploitation of his fellow man. Although this is clearly mentioned in the intro I was delighted to see such excellent portraiture. The first nine photographs clearly show how the people portrayed are keeping their culture alive and they stand tall and proud. The latter photographs show people in, for want of a better term, western dress; and they don’t quite have the same impact. How could they compete with the former?
    Great work Leandro: I can’t help but wish these people well and this is a testament to your excellent photography.


  • i think my fav is #2….jumps off the page (screen)…it MOVES

  • Beautiful. And a strong statement of contrast and transition between those in traditional dress and those who follow in modern.

  • Very nice images but far too similar to Irving Penn’s World in a Small Room series and book

  • And thats a very very hard act to follow.

  • great stuff, Leandro.

  • I’ll agree with the “great stuff” comments and from what I can find of Penn’s work, the resemblance, to the extent that there is one, doesn’t bother me as this is much more focused and seems to have a different aim. The thing that bothers me is the borders and how they call attention to the medium. I don’t see that including them adds anything valuable to the work. Worse, I feel it subtracts from the subjects’ dignity by distraction and is kind of insulting. These people went to a lot of effort to pose for these photos and were obviously very proud of their costumes and what they represent, and then they end up in what could be perceived as an advertisement for Kodak.

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