From an early age, Peter Bauza wanted to create images with impact.
“My photography is about defending people who need help,” Bauza says.
His storyboard, “Copacabana Palace” honors and documents the lives of more than 300 families who have been living in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro for the past 10 years “sem teto, sem terra” (without root, without land).
They struggle in extreme conditions in abandoned and unfinished condominium blocks named “Jambalaya” after a television show or “Carandiru” after the famous state prison in Sao Paolo.
The German-born photographer pursued an international business career after graduating in commerce, which took him to several countries where he also developed his visual language. According to Bauza’s website, his life-long respect for multicultural viewpoints “fueled by the fluency in five languages also afforded him opportunities.” His work is published and exhibited internationally and he is highly committed to social and geopolitical issues related to conservation, global health, diminishing cultures, sustainability and the environment. He resides in South America and Europe.
Bauza says he began working on the award-winning project “Copacabana Palace,” which is now also a book, in 2015 during a project in which he was documenting changes on the Avenida Brasil in Rio.
“Inspired by photographers that have done works in Africa I thought it would be a good idea to document the modernization of the old colonial infrastructure,” Bauza says. “At first I thought I arrived too late. However, 26 km from Rio de Janeiro I noticed a strange building, covered in graffiti, surrounded by love motels with no windows. Driven by curiosity I came face to face with the squatters.”
He then began to research squatting, adequate housing, etc. and realized that he had uncovered a hidden part of society.
“I had to search a long time to find it,” he says. “Hidden from our eyes this place is located in the outskirts, 60 km from all beautiful beaches and the real five-star hotel, Copacabana Palace.” Finding Jambalaya marked the beginning of his long-term project. Bauza spent 14 months living with the squatters.
“I knew I had to stay and to tell their story, a story of their challenges, needs but also their joy, happiness and love. The ironical ‘Copacabana Palace’ name was given very soon after I found the name scrawled on a dormitory wall in graffiti. A name, that have been used later so often by the people.”
He says he didn’t really consider extending the project, but felt deeply that the story needed to be told – that his work could be an opportunity for change.
“Indeed, 14 months is a long time with many up and downs. On the one hand you need to be close enough to be a friend but on the other far enough away to be objective,” he says. “Being friendly also means that you get close and this intimacy leads to understanding their feelings and sharing their life, their needs and their illusions…..The environment, safety and health is a challenging topic and many times I felt tired and drained. These are the moments you need good friends to talk with and to find new ways to think about and approach the body of work.”
Bauza is currently working on several new projects yet to be disclosed in detail. Among other topics, he said he’s focusing on issues around migration and the environment.