Sebastian Liste

An Intimate Pandemic


Many say that violence is the social pandemic of the century in Latin America. Yet everyday life and social change in the region has never been immune to violence. The conquest, the slavery system, the independence, land acquisition, expropriation of natural resources and political revolutions have been violent. The threat of violence continues to be a common denominator in the region, although now manifested in different ways. Today, the issue of violence and crime is not a result of politics, but devoid of any ideological end. Violence has become familiar and intimate, a trivialized routine in the region, while targets of violence have become so blurred they cease to make sense. The loss of social dialogue has made it so that acts of violence seem the only way to resolve conflicts within these societies.

This new kind of violence mostly affects young, second generation urban dwellers, who are exposed to high consumer expectations fueled by advertising and mass media contemporaries. Most of these young people are not able to meet these expectations by conventional means prescribed by society and therefore turn to force.



As a sociologist and documentary photographer, I have been conducting in-depth research on the growth and transformation of violence in Latin America for the past six years. I have since developed some chapters of my project. It was a long trip from the favelas of Brazil to the ungoverned territory of the Amazon forest; witnessing the continent drug production and its impact in local communities in Mexico and Peru or the growing violence during the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and its corrupted penal system. Now I’m very near to finish this long term project. With a little bit more time I can better understand the roots of crime, punishment and security in Latin America; and to close the project in form of a book that will alert political and media leaders on this important issue.




I was born in 1985, and I spent my life between two families in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in Spain and Uruguay, the origins of my family. When I was a teenager I discover hundreds of pictures, my grandfather took while working in different communities in the continent. After days of looking them in a slide viewer I become inspired by creating a visual map of Latin America and I decided to become a photographer to document a region with bloody and open veins, as Eduardo Galeano described in the several books that become my inspiration. I studied Sociology, Political Sciences, Anthropology, Photography and Poetry before feeling ready to start my long term documentary project in 2009. Since then, the chapters of this ongoing life project have been recognized, published and exhibited worldwide.


Related links

Sebastian Liste

38 thoughts on “Sebastian Liste – An Intimate Pandemic”

  1. Holy shit. This is brutal…and beautiful…and personal…and fresh even though it’s covered ground. Well done.

    FYI – I’m not really digging this way of viewing the images here on Burn. Makes it hard to focus on one image. It may have been done on purpose to force the viewer to see the whole chess board, but I’d personally like to be able to scroll through the images.

  2. BRIAN…

    why can’t you keep scrolling thru the images as before? this way you can see the essay in it’s entirety as a “whole” AND/OR go linear click by click if you want….click thru much faster….captions easy to read….i don’t see the downside….???

  3. Before I could scroll beginning with the cover image. Now, if I click on the cover image, can’t scroll from that. If I click on one of the first group images, I can scroll through that group, but I don’t get to scroll through the second group, and vice versa.

    Anyway, still blown away by this set.

  4. I like the new format. Not only does it make the captions much more easily readable, but offers so many more potential story-telling avenues that did not exist in the old format that I find it pretty exciting. It does need an easier way to flow from cover photo to first chapter, on to second chapter… Maybe instead of subjecting the reader to the jolt of having to close out after each section and go to back to the beginning and then start the next section anew, there could be some kind of button to make the shift more seamless.

    As to the essay, it looks so, so, so, sooooooooooooooo familiar – but yet it is all that Brian says it is. Excellent, excellent, tough work that digs so very deep. I doubt it will lead to much change and improvement in the situation, but those who know and care must keep trying. One of these times it just might and if this isn’t that time, it could help to build the impetus for the time that is.

    The picture of the birthday party… what a statement!

  5. I like this essay a lot. When I read the Intro I thought that the photographs would not be able to match expectation: but they do. That people have to live in such conditions in such a resource-rich part of the world is depressing and baffling. Congratulations, Sebastian, great access – stay safe.

    I like the Sebastian’s photography; great composition and content. Captions are always important to me so I like the new layout too. I found it easy to navigate.



    i have no idea how you were scrolling down before!! i sure could not..slow slow slow before…..captions were flat out annoying….i hated the backend of our previous system so much that i dreaded editing….i am happy they went out of business….except for putting us in panic mode…yet it is always frustrating that one cannot just design and make up features….that is without spending 300k on a website as Magnum did and then still have bugs….custom designs would kill us anyway…those take a full on team all day and all night…we need to have something we can all use easily…easy backend….we can still play with what we are doing…we are not locked in…..we can tweak a bit…we can always have the text in one place as before and scroll ….but then we lose the overall magazine look….much much better on the phone as well…which is where most people are most of the time….also see how Panos story is…if we go that way we can scroll thru all pictures top to bottom….so it just depends on how we set up each story and each can be different…we can go with the contact sheet literally ..all pics same size, and we may do that with some stories……but even with the text breaking up the scroll as here , still everything is much faster and captions much easier to read imo….we will plan the text breaks to make sense anyway when we use them….so you can scan the whole essay in 5 seconds and pass on it if you want…OR go in and dig a bit….most essays have taken weeks to shoot and to prepare etc as you well know…so anyone coming to Burn as a viewer should respectfully take the time to view…Burn is intended for viewers to at least think a bit…again Instagram is for fast viewing and audience building….Burn is for studying the nuances of the narrative form….we will make it even more so…

  7. by the way, Sebastian Liste who did not break any rules by entering the EPF was considered by the jury to not be an “emerging” photographer but an established photographer….he is with a major agency and has achieved worldwide recognition so much so as to have the jury make this call…i would agree…we have published Sebastian here prior when he really was an emerging photographer…for sure this is a subjective decision…when is somebody no longer emerging? when is somebody known enough to be considered established? should we just open up the Burn grant to anyone and everyone including all the clearly established? or, just leave it for the jury to decide as we have here?

  8. Some powerful and effective images here. The pictures from Salvador de Bahia make me think about my last visit there in 1993.

    Three images from that visit stay in my mind. The first the old center of Salvador on a Sunday afternoon. I was watching residents playing football (soccer) in the street. Suddenly someone threw a stone at me — though obviously aimed not to hit me. I asked a bystander why and was told that, “On Sunday’s the street belongs to us”, meaning not to “os brancos” (the whites). The second image is from aboard a schooner on which we were taken sailing in Bahia Bay by a (white) Bahian industrialist. I noticed that the crew was all white, which surprised me considering that Bahia in the center of black culture in Brazil. When I asked the boat owner, an elderly white Bahian, about this he responded, “I hired the crew in Portugal. I wouldn’t trust blacks with my boat”. The third is from a dinner party given by the top members of the financial sector of Salvador: a dozen men and their wives, all white.

    That visit made me think about the specious claim made at the time by white Brazilians that the “there was no racial problem in Brazil.” The argument was that there had been no segregation in Brazil and that the Catholic religion recognized all races that being “human”, unlike some Protestant sects. Ironically, all this was supported by Gilberto Freyre’s book “Casa Grande e Senzala” (translated into English as “The Masters and the Slaves”), which has been considered a classic of cultural anthropology. More recently, Freyre’s argument has been criticized for being essentially racist. Freyre — I am simplifying — celebrates the mixture of races but views everything from the point of view of “the masters”, a type of appropriation of black Brazilian culture. I doubt that many people could today argue that the is no racial problem in Brazil.

  9. Sebastian’s work is the real deal…no way around it.
    I had the privilege of seeing his “on the inside” exhibition at Visa pour l’image last year…pretty powerful work in person and printed beautifully as well.

    Talking about emerging photographers…well I assume becoming established does not make you rich all of a sudden…or ever? especially in the long term documentary genre….money has to come from somewhere.
    I re-read his statement and he states his intention of turning this work into a book so this is probably why he entered in the first place….and probably why serious photographers submit work for grants like these in the first place me thinks….
    Which has been the mission of the EPF since its inception no? To enable them to continue their work by winning the grant.
    So, yes….maybe leaving it open to all not just the “emerging”?!?!?

  10. DAVID

    Thanks. When writing my post above I tried to find a comprehensible discussion of Gilberto Freyre’s work that would place it in context, but found only opaque articles in sociology-speak (Freyre writes like a poet and is worth reading). However, I just found this 2012 article from the Guardian on Brazilian race relations, which is worth reading — and below is a quote from the article:

    “According to census results published in 2011 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), brancos (whites) account for less than half the population for the first time since the 19th century. Approximately 51% see themselves as preto (black, 8%) or pardo (mixed, 43%), up by more than 5% on 2000. The statistics also show that Brazilians of colour are at a significant disadvantage compared with their white counterparts. Racial inequality is manifest in many respects, starting with the share-out of riches. Two-thirds of the poor are pretos or pardos. With the same qualifications, coloured people earn half as much as whites. A black woman only earns a quarter of the salary paid to a white male. According to a 2007 survey, coloured people only account for 3.5% of executives, 10% of university students, 5% of members of parliament, 3% of the judiciary…”

  11. DAH-Most of the time, I would click to expand the easy to go full-screen, then manually scroll through the images. Easy peasy. Now I click on one of the image to expand, scroll through some of the images, then close down the images, scroll down past the next section of text, then click on another image to expand, then scroll through the remaining images, only knowing if I’ve reached the end of the story when I see a repeated image.

    I’m glad you appreciate feedback, but I completely accept and understand that you aren’t going to please everyone. If others like it, that’s cool. This is just my opinion. I could be wrong. It’s happened many, many times before. ;-)

    I will say, however, that the new layout will probably limit (or eliminate) my ability to view Burn at work. The new layout shows all the image at once, including things that are not safe for a corporate environment. Before there was a warning that the essay contains explicit material, and I could skip it until I got home.

  12. Regarding the new format, I suspect yesterday they were working on it as we were typing, as Brian Frank and I both had the same problem. I’m fine with the new layout as it give people options, which is usually a good thing. I trust any kinks will be worked out toot sweet.

    Regarding the essay, yes, very powerful and well-realized. As usual, I think grim essays like this would be much more powerful if there were some contrast, like how David’s essays often show the lives of the wealthy side by side with the lives of the desperate poor. When it’s all desperate poor, I think it’s a little easier for people to think something like “sad, but that’s the way it is and has to be.” Truth is, that’s not the way it is for everybody so it’s certainly not the way it has to be.

    I recall mentioning this a long time ago when David showed some of his work from Bahia: One of my favorite novels, “The War at the End of the World” by Mario Vargas Llosa is set there (albeit inland, not on the coast). It’s an historical novel set in the 19th century, so I’m not sure how much it relates to the present day violence, but it’s such a great work of historical fiction that I’m guessing it provides at least some insight into the violence depicted in these photographs. Anyone interested in a good read should check it out, in a good read about Bahia, even more so.

  13. MW

    Vargas Llosa’a novel is relevant to present-day violence in terms of alienation of a group through dire poverty. However, “The War of the End of the World” deals with a group of mainly poor white and mestizos — it doesn’t have the black culture element — that revolt against the Brazilian republic and are put down by the army. It’s a great novel, considered by many people and Vargas Llosa himself to be his best novel. Well worth reading.

    The interesting thing is that “The War for the End of the World” is to a large degree based on a non-fiction work by Brazilian journalist (and sociologist and engineer) Euclides da Cunha, “Os Sertões”, 1902, available in English in two translations, the most recent published by Penguin. It is considered a masterpiece of Brazilian literature. Portuguese novelist José Saramago has gone as far as to call Vargas a “poor imitator” of da Cunha, which could be an exaggeration given the quality of Vargas’ novel. On the other hand, da Cunha’s work, which I haven’t read also looks fascinating.

  14. Mitch, hmmm. my memory of it is that one of the main characters (Big João) was a former slave and that the fallout from the Emperor freeing the slaves was a recurring subtext, but it’s really been a long time since I read it, so my memories could be exaggerated. I’m a bit surprised to find that it’s now considered one of his best novels, even among the best in world literature. I was in Peru and read it in Spanish not long after it first came out, and back then and there it was widely considered a huge disappointment. I’ll have to look up “Os Sertos,” thanks for the recommendation.

  15. MW

    Vargas’ book has had many rave reviews, including Harold Bloom placing it on his “Western Canon” list. I came across a statement that he has compared it favorably to “War and Peace.” But I’m writing this to let you know about what seems to be a fascinating book, “The Scramble for the Amazon and the Lost Paradise of Euclides da Cunha” by Susanna B Hecht. Here is a link to a review in “The Nation”:

    And here is a link to the publisher — you can click on “Reviewers Quotes”:

    Here is the quote from TLS:

    “Hecht launches this feast of a book with a moving account of the Canudos rebellion. . . . Monumental. . . . Compelling and elegantly written. The author’s deep knowledge of the Amazon and its history bursts from every page with the exuberance of a tropical rainforest. The Scramble for the Amazon is a revelation of a period, region, and cast of characters unknown to many readers. It will long remain the definitive account of this episode of South American history.”

  16. should we just open up the Burn grant to anyone and everyone including all the clearly established? or, just leave it for the jury to decide as we have here?……..

    The YOUNG TALENT AWARD should be retained

    With the EPF ……. that should be open I am sure that the bigger names will act with discretion and not be part of the process. It is just that most emerging photographers essay work is quite unresolved and want the fund to fill in the missing aspects of that work. It is far better to show what is than what could be

    To me it is far better to give it to someone with a clear artistic path and is keen to use the fund to assist in a NEW project not trying to fix something that is half baked. Along with the images presented the photographers intention should be considered.

    Maybe an essay is not required a series of singles that showcase the artist should also be permitted

  17. I am sure that the image “Ana celebrating her sith anniversary.” or “Couple making sex. The prostitution levels at the favela are very high.” presented as singles would have generated a fair amount of discussion. Maybe viewers would go the the photographer’s site and try to figure out what makes her/him tick and then come back and comment on the singles armed with that extra visual knowledge

  18. Visually Sebastian Liste’s entry looks too busy on this new format and one cannot see the trees for the forest. Whereas Jacob Aue Sobol’s looks a lot more interesting and resolved at first glance

  19. Ernesto Bazan on Sebastian Liste…

    We met in Perpignan during the festival in 2008. At the time he was maybe 22 or 23. He says, “Ernesto, I’ve been dying to come to your workshops, and I’m hoping to come this Decemeber to Brazil with you.” I say “Fine,” and finally he did come and we had a workshop. I took him and the other students to this place, the ex-chocolate factory. Then at the end of the workshop, he told me, “Ernesto, thank you very much, but I feel like I need more mentoring. I’ll come back in ten days.” So he came back to take a second workshop with me in Bahia, Brazil. He did a second workshop with me and then, from the pictures from the two workshops, he realized that he wanted to spend much more time with this group of people in Salvador. So he came back by himself and he stayed in this chocolate factory photographing daily life of the people living in this place for three months. He has won all of the possible contests that you can name. He just won the Alexia Foundation [grant]. And I just spoke with him…he’s actually staying in my house in Brooklyn. This is the type of relationship I want to make.”

  20. While I was working in Barreto I would go to a photo lab every week to print hundreds of images. I brought every family an album and they used them to start their own family albums. They always asked me for all of the images that I took, including the images of them having sex or smoking crack. No taboos there!”
    Sebastian Liste

  21. Pingback: Paolo Marchetti – The Price of Vanity « burn magazine

  22. IMANTS

    everything that you suggested is already possible and what we already do…

    the jury is not feeling that anything they choose is “half baked”….the intent is always to reward a body of work already shot AND to further future work….

    pretty hard to give an award for something that has yet to happen!!

    by the way, i can think of at least two EPF recipients who got the grant with “singles”…the most recent one by Danila Tkachenko for example and Alejandro Chaskielberg”s moonlit work…any one could be considered a “single” stand alone image…10 “singles” becomes an essay ( or body of work or collection or series)

    photographers rarely, if ever, submit “singles”…however, please do so…happy to have a look…we have published your singles before….however usually when we have published singles the comment of course then is “i wish i could see more”…so this a double edged sword…..we are happy to present either way….

    and no reason you cannot start a discussion on any photo in any essay…why would it have to be presented alone to start a discussion? would you really expect us to take the Liste essay and publish only one provocative picture for discussion? that would make zero sense…you really expect someone here to see a single and then go to the photographer website and see the full essay, and then come back here to discuss?

    i love you Imants but that is the worst idea i’ve ever heard!!

    you do create singular images that are usually composites of several images…..anyway, as i said, just send us a provocative single….nothing at all is ruled out…all types and styles of work are welcomed at all times

    you must be loving Tasmania…i think you get a lot of rain this time of year??

    cheers, david

  23. MW

    you are complaining that Panos will only sell 1,000 copies of his tabloid? should be selling millions? ha ha, Michael Michael what world are you living in?

    i am not sure where you are getting your numbers nor your ideas…a good selling photo book at Aperture or Phaidon is around 3,000 books in the $35-75.range…..if Panos sells 1,000 on his own he will make 5 times as much money as a photographer selling 3,000 thru Aperture…any bookstore takes 50% of sales price and most photographers are getting 7-15% of net from an “established” publisher…so there is no money to be made doing a photo book..

    BUT there are rewards….first off, in today’s photo world you really don’t “exist” in any serious discussion without a book….period…a book is your “benchmark” if you will ….and the spinoffs in commissions and exhibits and print sales make a book almost a necessity…

    the only way photo books could sell millions is for a very low price online….ebooks maybe…but so far they just aren’t very popular….

    i think the direction for photo books is smaller and smaller runs from independent publishers…the big guys are suffering….only small independent publishers are willing to build them right for one thing…the established publisher must cut production cost and therefore values, and only independents can build a book properly…..1,000 books for an independent is about right….unless we can get the price of a photo book down to 10 bucks or less (the price of a good movie) you won’t see anyone selling more than 1k these days….ok ok “Humans of New York” the exception…that book is the exception to everything…..that book struck a chord..and has nothing to do with the photography nor the photographer…whose name i cannot remember but he hit it…

    cheers, david

  24. Oh, don’t worry, I live in this world, you can be sure; just like to imagine better ones. What I was trying to say is that quality photographers merit a larger audience, that’s all.

    On a related note, I’ve been watching “Salt of the Earth.” Millions of people will see that, and the photos it shows. Perhaps getting Wim Wenders, or Spike Lee, or some other accomplished directer to make a documentary about one’sphotography is another option for coming into “existence?”

    I know, I know, without the gallery show, Wenders never would have heard of Salgado, and without the books there probably wouldn’t have been that fateful gallery show. As you say, the existence of one is the prerequisite for the other.

    But I take a more humble view, both as a producer and consumer. The act of bringing a visually compelling photo, or series of photos, that have multiple layers of meaning into existence is the important thing. If anyone else finds it interesting enough to have a conversation about, that’s just gravy.

  25. I would not consider the image “Ana celebrating her sith anniversary.” as provocative maybe the other mentioned is…….. Putting up singles is about mixing and matching otherwise it is same old same old good to see the linear essay style no longer the norm

    I won’t be posting anything at this stage as all I do is create books and do a heap of fencing and rock moving. The only photo stuff I have done of late is for Linda’s site setting up here is a priority see and

    Moving to Tasmania is a positive step for both Linda and me, Sydney had run its course and no longer fitted our needs.
    Being in the southern part of the Island weather/rain sweeps by quickly and there are no days of constant rain…rain > wind > sun > rainbow > rain >rainbow > sunshine > etc

    Take care David good to see burn rolling on

  26. Pingback: Sebastian Liste: An Intimate Pandemic - Lit Riot Press

  27. “Couple making sex. The prostitution levels at the favela are very high. The pricipal cause is to get money for food or to take drugs”

    Please clarify. Is this a “couple” having sex, or is this a depiction of a sex worker and their client? If this image depicts a sex worker with a client then the caption shouldn’t be ambiguous. If the image depicts a “couple” — as in two consenting adults with no economic exchange — and the image is intended to graphically illustrate the sex trade in low-income, Latin American communities, then the use of the image in this way would be a serious misappropriation of the individuals’ consent. Either way, the image and caption deserve clarification.

  28. Seems to me that the caption is clear enough. The only valid point here, in my view, is that “making sex” is not correct English, the idiom being “having sex”. Perhaps it’s an unconscious translation of “fazendo sexo” or “fazer sexo” in Portuguese. The idea of misappropriation of the subjects’ consent is a red herring. In the unlikely event (on the basis of what the captions states), that the seal act here is not”commentarial”, the individuals are in any case not identifiable.

  29. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I was okay with “seal act.”

    I agree with Imants it would be nice to have more singles to discuss. Sounds like the problem is that no one submits singles. Of course if more were published, more people would probably submit them. Maybe a separate link for just singles? Or stick to the two essays a week and sprinkle singles in between? Or maybe there’s some other way we could suggest more work for the burn crew? Your welcome. Or add a singles curator to the crew? Or keep things pretty much the way they are, which we can all quibble with from time to time, but is for the most part really good just as it is.

  30. “Which of your photographs from Urban Quilombo was the most unexpected?

    SL: Probably the most unexpected situation that I experienced in Barreto was the story behind the photograph of the couple making love. I spent that entire morning talking with them in a small shack. At first, there were many people coming and going—some stopped by to buy crack, then returned to smoke, and then they would leave the shack. After a while, I was alone in the room with this couple and they moved the couch in front of the door. They did this so they could smoke crack without anyone entering. While we were talking, they sat on the couch while I sat on a bed in front of them. Once their high set in, they began to be very affectionate—kissing, fondling. One thing led to another and the two of them began to make love, not caring in the least that I was in the room. At this point, I could not leave the room because the couch was blocking the door. I grabbed my camera and as I watched this strange situation unfold I took a photo. Before this moment, I had never been interested in taking”pictures of people having sex.”.
    Sebastian Liste interview.

  31. MW

    way back at the beginning of Burn we did have a separate “singles” submission box…and we published quite a few singles…go back in the archive and take a look at those please….the comments were invariably something like this “i loved this single…then i went to the photographer’s website and saw so much more…why don’t you show them all in context?” so there you go…

    actually one of our very best essays at the beginning, an underwater series, ended up as an EPF finalist and was submitted here as a single….we (by chance) looked at the photographer website and realised it was actually an amazing essay…so unless we have a whole team of detectives on board here we pretty much have to go with what photographers submit and who they THINK they are…in class or upon close review person to person of a photographer and their work, i can often dig out the “hidden photographer”..yet barring this type of close up investigation we just gotta go with what people submit…

    Burn will become in the next few months more workshop oriented…that is to say more education oriented….after my own shooting and work, that is my thing anyway….its what we can do best here i think….

    i love out of context singles and prefer personally shooting singles….only rarely do i think “essay” for myself…and sometimes they do end up tying in with other bodies of work quite nicely…or they just stay singles…usually for me anyway, they do end up in a collection or body of work , if not an actual essay…i think the last “essay” i shot as an essay was Haenyeo (lady divers) last november…something where i was aware of the context of one picture playing to another….after that BeachGames is/was just series of very loosely connected singles…that i am working on still …may all end up in a zine or book, but the pictures in my mind are all singles…

    my next trip will most likely be to Cuba….there i will try to do a story….a short story….maybe a zine , most likely b&w…..maybe just 15 “singles” that will be under a Cuba umbrella of course, yet tied together in some way…thinking street fashion at the moment…..

    i honestly think that time and place automatically wrap pictures into a bundle….i learned the trade of journalism etc….yet i never really bought into it the way some do…i am not on a mission to inform…yes that in fact does happen with my work in the context of a magazine, and i know how to be a very good journalist, yet i MOSTLY love impressions more than “facts”…..for photography i care little for facts….i care about impressionistic seeing…that’s what gets my motor running…so yes a good single can do it all…

    cheers, david

  32. Mitch, whether Sebastian intended it or not, I saw “making sex” as a takeoff on “making love” and since the picture apparently showed an encounter with a prostitute rather than a lover, I thought “making sex” to be superb use of language.

  33. I just now read Paul’s Liste’s quote of how he came to make the image, which seems to rule out the prostitute angle – although it is certainly implied by the caption.

  34. Burn will become in the next few months more workshop oriented great stop the essays and get some people to chuck a single here and there ……………………mw will smile so will gladdy

Comments are closed.