Julian Germain’s collaborative project 'The Beautiful Horizon: No Olho da Rua' is currently being exhibited at the Brighton Photo Biennal. What has become a sort of makeshift photography school for Brazilian street kids celebrates photography as a universal tool to explore identity and self-expression. This gave birth to 17 years of shared experiences and relationships, which, for Julian, override the documentary or the political appeal of the project. Dazed Digital caught up with him to hear more about it.
I am generally interested in exploring everyday subjects, normal people leading normal lives. I've consciously steered clear of dramatic or spectacular or glamorous subject matter
Dazed Digital: How did your relationship with Brazil and Belo Horizonte begin?
Julian Germain: I was in a British Council curated exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo. I was asked to do some portfolio reviews with local photographers and Patricia Azevedo was in the queue. I loved her work and we hit it off immediately. She, her partner Murilo Godoy, and I all share an interest in popular visual culture, especially vernacular photography and signwriting. A few months later, Patricia, Murilo and I agreed to work together on a project which would be about generating rather than 'collecting' photography - in other words, putting cameras into the hands of people who don't generally have the opportunity to use them. Patricia and Murilo live in Belo Horizonte, so we approached an amateur football club based in a favela there. That was 1995 and we've been collaborating on a number of similar projects ever since, of which No Olho da Rua is by far the most important.
DD: Who or what inspires your work the most and in particular this series?
Julian Germain: I am generally interested in exploring everyday subjects, normal people leading normal lives. I've consciously steered clear of dramatic or spectacular or glamorous subject matter. My recent Classroom Portraits book is a good example of the kind of thing that I think is important. Everyday experiences we all recognise and have a connection to.
The No Olho da Rua series is however something different in the sense that the subject matter - street kids - is pretty dramatic. But the simplicity I look for is still there. We give the kids cheap point and shoot film cameras and encourage them to discover photography for themselves. We love the fact that making photographs is so simple and yet the images have the capacity to record people and places, small details and sweeping views and also to convey ideas, feelings, emotions, actions. These moments, captured in an instant, can produce images of such great depth. So the work is about a process of working with photography, working with each other in a collaborative way.
DD: Can you tell us the story behind one of the photographs being shown?
Julian Germain: Rosemary was one of our quietest participants; small and so timid we wondered how she could survive out there on the street. Amongst all the pictures in the archive, Rosemary's are among the most coherent. She produced series of pictures and one of our favourites is her series of car pictures. She would wait at one of the several sets of traffic lights around Gameleira junction and photograph the drivers waiting at the red lights. Initially we just enjoyed her choice of subject and admired the pictures, documents of people's 'awkwardness' really as they realised they were being photographed by a street kid. Later, we discovered her motivation went beyond producing pictures for the project. It transpired that she was working the same spots each day and that she was selling the prints back to the people in the photographs as they passed by on their regular commute. The other kids assured us she was doing quite well from this venture.
In the picture featured in the exhibition you can just see Rosemary's reflection in the car window, as well as two other street kids looking through the window on the opposite side of the car. The driver just ignores all the action going on around him and stares straight ahead.