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Sobering Portraits Look at the Residents of São Paulo’s ‘Crackland’

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Crack addition has reached epidemic levels in Brazil. It’s a topic that’s not getting addressed but instead getting swept under the rug — or rather, into a small infected enclave of São Paulo, appropriately named Cracolândia, or Crackland. It’s a place where crack addicts don’t go to die or rehabilitate, instead they go to live in a state of drug-fuelled chaos intertwined with inertia – a kind of frenetic energy trapped inside a cage. As you can imagine, Cracolândia is rife with drugs, poverty, disease, and mental illness.

This is where photographer Sebastian Palmer set up his simple studio setup, outdoors — a seamless backdrop, a light, a stand.

The result of 2 weeks photographing in Cracolândia is a series of portraits Palmer calls Ghosts. It’s a series of tight black-and-white portraits that you can’t help but be sucked into. Most are shot with direct eye contact, some are in the middle of an elevated emotional moment — a tear swells in the corner of an eye, a cathartic head tilt carelessly opens the mouth and invites us into a world of broken teeth.

This invitation, this feeling of being “sucked into” the the images, is less a matter of our own control or even that of Palmer’s. He will tell you himself that stepping into Cracolândia, you forfeit most of your controls, and instead it’s the crack-addicted residents that run the show, conducting a mad symphony of order and disorder. They call the shots. It is their choice to be in the photos, what they do, how they act, where they look. As much as Palmer tried to direct them, there is only so much you can do, directing a crack-addict, on their own turf. But what they did grant Palmer was access. They granted Palmer access to their time, their face, their emotions, their life — for a brief moment.

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All images © Sebastian Palmer

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