A new photographic series aims to bypass the stereotypes of the Brazilian city and explore what it’s really like to live there
What comes to mind when you think of Brazil? The sprawling, golden expanse of Copacabana beach and the wild scenes of Rio Carnival? Or, at the other end of the spectrum, the violence and gang-related crime that permeates the alleyways of its favelas? While the country is often portrayed as a place of extreme glamour and danger in the media, there is, of course, a lot more to it than that – which stylist and writer Nazanin Shahnavaz and photographer Hick Duarte set out to spotlight in their new project.
Shahnavaz headed to São Paulo and befriended a group of young creatives, who she shot and interviewed with local photographer Duarte over the course of a few days in the city. Their aim was to get past the stereotypes and instead capture what it’s really like to live there. “We cast models, an actress, a DJ, and some skaters we met,” explains Shahnavaz. “We wanted to explore what it’s like to be young and creative in one of the world’s largest cities. There’s a mixing of cultures that runs deep in São Paulo, which gives it a vivid personality, and there’s a constant exchange of ideas, traditions, and aspirations that makes anything feel possible.”
Taking into account the city’s growing fashion scene, the group was dressed almost entirely in emerging Brazilian labels, with the likes of Beira, Cajá, Sometimes Always, and Another Place among them. The clothes are all understated, though, and the personalities of those featured shine through. “We didn’t want it to feel contrived,” says Shahnavaz. “The clothes are always complimentary to their own personal style.”
Photographer Duarte echoes Shahnavaz’s sentiment when it comes to the diversity and vibrancy of the city. “A short subway ride can take you from what feels like Beverly Hills to Detroit,” he says. “Brazil has a rich aesthetic legacy and I’m fascinated by how creatives are reinterpreting these codes in their work, and mixing them with elements of global culture. There are endless stories waiting to be told in São Paulo if you are willing to search for them.”
Get to know the group below.
SAMUEL D’SABOIA, ARTIST
“I’m from a beach town called Recife and I first visited São Paulo when I was 18 to walk in a show at fashion week, and I never would have comprehended the impact it would have on my life and my career. The city is one of the world capitals for fashion, music and art so I’m constantly involved with amazing projects and am always meeting new people. I’ve made some incredible friends – there’s a real sense of community, mutual love and respect.
I’m a visual and multimedia artist, but instead of calling what I do art, I call it living. Since the beginning of this year I’ve lost five friends, and art is my way of keeping them alive. It’s my place of comfort, of finding peace and fulfillment. My work and way of life speaks about Afro-Presentism, the ascension of black people now, and how the disruption of stereotypes can transform the way we see each other as people. This summer, I’m heading to Atlanta to work with Messy Heads, then on September 1 I’ll be launching my first solo show at the Ghost Gallery in New York. It will be my second international show, but the first one where I will be present.”
NINA MOREIRA TAKUSHI (RIGHT), ARTIST AND MODEL
“I was born in São Paulo and I love the city, there’s so much to do here that it’s hard to get bored – I like to ride my bike without setting up a destination so I can constantly discover new places. It’s comforting that the city is so big and filled with so many perspectives. It frees us from those little boxes we’re supposed to fit into, but it can be exhausting living here with all the environmental problems and economic disparities. I’m most crazy about art and tattoos, and I’ve been doing them for so long that it’s hard to remember how I started – but I’ve always found it easier to communicate through visuals than words. When I’m working on a piece of art, I become totally immersed because it feels like the only thing that makes sense at that moment. I’m not used to making big plans. I like to live free of expectations but I’m full of ideas I’m excited to make happen. I just want the chance to keep evolving and exploring myself and the world.”
LOLA MARIA, HAIR & MAKE-UP ARTIST
“Life in São Paulo is chaotic, but in a good way. there’s people from every region in Brazil and around the world. I moved here from Goiania, a town near Brasilia – it’s not so good, but it’s very rich in culture. I’m a hair and make-up artist, I love working with hair and beauty in all its different forms. I feel like hair is one of the most important ways to express your personality.”
THAYS BORGES, STYLIST AND COMMUNITY ORGANISER
“I work with Coletivo Abebé, a collective that focuses on Afro-indigenous culture, and I do some styling, too. I recently travelled to Los Angeles to work for Yeezy. As a community manager, I work with the city to organise festivals, conferences, and parties centred around African culture. I reach out to marginalised people who don’t have access to popular-culture and strive to help other women with their self-esteem through art, music, and fashion.
I’m from São Paulo and I love this city for its diversity and its gigantic art scene. I love discovering new places here, I’m always getting around. The drawback is that there are very few opportunities for people like me who don’t have a university education, but every day you keep trying to survive. It’s incredible here – we just need to work out how to dominate São Paulo. This city is ours, the streets are ours. We are São Paulo.”
BELLA CAMERO (LEFT), ACTRESS
“My mother is an actress and I grew up following her to rehearsals and shows. Watching her perform inspired me to become an actress, it’s what I know, understand and love. I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro and moved to São Paulo to work on a movie, and from the moment I arrived, I knew I had found my home. I’ve had some incredible opportunities and there are always fun events happening all over the city. The negative side is the extreme poverty and the homeless crisis. It’s painfully sad seeing all this misery in the streets. The inequality is clear.”
GUILHERME MANFIOLLI, STUDENT/SKATER
“I was born and raised in São Paulo. Living here is awesome, the creative scene is awesome, people here do very well in the arts. At the moment, I’m studying and I also skate. With practice anyone can get the hang of it, it’s great for your health and for your mind – for me personally, the only downside to living in São Paulo is that there’s still a bit of prejudice towards skaters. I like walking through the city’s centre finding new places to skate. It’s one of the best areas, everything you need is about a ten-minute walk and you’re guaranteed to bump into a friend.
I honestly don’t know what I hope to achieve. I just want to live and be happy together with my friends. I know that whatever happens, we will be together.”
GUSTAVO FORNAZIER, DJ AND PRODUCER
“I’m originally from Uberlândia, but moved to São Paulo as an adventure and to DJ at the Paulistana nights. I’m a member of an art collective called BAIT, which began from a conversation with my brother, Adelio Fornazier, who’s also a DJ. We were looking for a way to develop an underground scene by occupying forgotten venues with a manifestation of electronic music, scenography, graphic art, fashion, and performance. I try to work on things that I love, such as techno, the collective, the street style life and visual arts. I love the community aspect of BAIT and I hope to be recognised for pioneering a new movement in the city.
São Paulo is an incredible city. I knew from the moment I arrived that it would be possible to fulfill my dreams here. Every day the city offers a new experience that expands my knowledge. I like to spend time with friends drinking and listening to new music, going out to special parties, taking long walks around the city or just sitting outside in one of the squares. I hope to continue living in São Paulo, work on my personal and professional development, and find ways to keep doing what I love most.”
MURILLO FERREIRA TOMÈ, STUDENT/SKATER
“I was born in São Paulo and have lived here my whole life. I’m studying to become a graphic designer, and when I graduate my goal is to work for a streetwear label like adidas or Nike SB – the kind of company where my designs can reach people. The best part of the city is the diversity. I love the people and the ways they express themselves. But there’s a lot of corruption here. People know very well what goes on behind the scenes, but nobody does anything.”
LENNO ROVAI, SKATER
“Life in São Paulo is hectic, there are so many things happening at the same time. A 24-hour city made up of people from around the world, different cultures, styles, stories...I love the diversity and the way this ‘jungle’ works. Everything is constantly in motion. At the moment I’m working with my father, we manage a store together. We opened it a few months ago and he’s relying on my management skills to make it grow. Maybe in the future I’ll go to university, but for the moment I want to set my own path – I’m still discovering who I am and what I like.”
“The city has a huge variety of artists; from erudite paintings to street graffiti, and from indie bands to great techno DJs. Art is the surname of São Paulo, every aspect of the city has culture and history, and it’s easy to find good places to hang out: historic bars, huge parks like Ibirapuera, great restaurants with all kinds of food, museums, and skate parks. São Paulo is a great place, but there is certainly a downside too. We have a homelessness crisis, huge economic disparity, and we have to deal with violent assaults, theft, and drugs on a day-to-day basis. Tragic news on TV is normal.”
RAFHAELA ZYOM, MODEL/MUSICIAN
“I live, learn, and feel life and its crazy experiences. I love music, I write and sing songs, I model, and most recently I’ve started a project with my girlfriend about women and motorcycles, documenting our adventures on the road. My heart is in being on the road, that’s my destiny. I’ll forever be in love with the feeling of freedom. São Paulo is a giant. I like giants: they’re great and powerful, but at the same time, they’re just too big for certain things in life. That’s why I often ‘escape’ from São Paulo and just go to nature.
The creative scene here is getting more and more diversified and free lately, thanks to all the young minds who are ready to fight the world. I just love the Brazilian way, the essence.”