“My aim is to illuminate the dignity and humanity that shines through regardless of the challenges of poverty and oppression that impact these people and communities.” Tariq Zaidi

Nearly 30 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s residents, about two million people, live in “favela” communities, slums that often lack basic services like running water, sanitation, security or education.

Life for Brazil’s poorest communities got a lot worse after the country spent billions of dollars on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Award-winning London-based photographer Tariq Zaidi went there to document the struggle – and pride – of people who call Rio’s favelas home.

25 April 2017 A young family, residents of the abandoned IBGE building – an occupied squat. ‘Favela’ Mangueira community, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

A man stands at the windows of the abandoned Ministry of Finance building (now an occupied building/squat) in the ‘Favela’ Mangueira community, North Zone, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In 2010, Mayor Eduardo Paes included the “Morar Carioca” program as a centerpiece of the social legacy for the 2016 Olympic Games. With a budget of around R$8.5 billion ($ 2.62 billion), pledged to upgrade and integrate every favela into the formal city by the year 2020. The plan has mostly failed to materialize.

Victoria 12, at her home in “Favela” Vila do Metrô community, Mangueira, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In his series, “Empty Promises: Priced out of Rio’s favelas,” Zaidi documents life in the Favela Manguiera community, just 1km from the Maracanã Stadium.

“In their bid to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Brazilian authorities promised to improve life in the favelas of Rio,” Zaidi writes in his project description. “But the ‘pioneering’ pacification schemes and the promise to splash about billions of dollars remodeling the slums as part of the Morar Carioca (“Rio Living”) program has had an unintended consequence.”

In fact, increased rent prices pushed the poorest families into squatting in abandoned buildings.

But his documentary work is about more than showing the dark side of Rio.

5 April 2017 Pamela, 16, with her 7-month old daughter; lives with her mother at the old abandoned IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) building; an occupied squat of around 100 families. Favela Mangueira community, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“Despite the difficulties of their living conditions, this community is bound together by a sense of camaraderie, dignity and a pride in the place they call home.”

Zaidi’s work in Brazil is part of his ongoing personal project, a long-term effort spanning six countries to produce a visual documentary anthology focused on “capturing the human spirit across some of the poorest communities in the world.”

“My aim is to illuminate the dignity and humanity that shines through regardless of the challenges of poverty and oppression that impact these people and communities,” Zaidi says.

Eventually, he’d like to show the work, about 50 percent complete, in local communities where it was made, as well as in international exhibitions and in a published book.

28 April 2017 Pamela (pictured on the left) checks her mobile phone. She has been living at the occupied building of IBGE for the last 15 years. Favela Mangueira community, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

25 April 2017 Men play cards in the Favela Mangueira community, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Following His Heart

After 20 years working in the corporate world, Zaidi gave up an executive management position to pursue photography, with a specific goal of documenting social issues.

“I was so tired of the corporate environment, it was just killing me and I felt like I was going to die if I kept doing this,” he said. “I felt the need to live, do what I love and give it a shot.”

A professional photographer friend warned him it wouldn’t be easy. So Zaidi did the research, planned his finances carefully, studied his craft and rapidly achieved widespread success and acclaim as a professional photographer.

“I was very lucky,” he says. “I had a tremendous amount of success for a beginner in my first year. But you need to do the research. What has already been done, what are going to do differently, what are you going to do better. I spent a hell of a lot of time researching what is out there already, from the countries I visit to the people I meet with to the subject matter I want to tackle. And one of the most important things is, whatever you do, you have to be humble to the people you are working with. No judgement ever. If you are humble and respectful, they will allow you to get closer to them and closer to their lives. That is where amazing images come from.”

Pro Tips from Tariq Zaidi:

Gear: “You really do not need lots of equipment. I basically use one body (Canon 5D III) and one 24-70mm lens, that’s pretty much it. My total stuff that I take on a trip for a month, including clothing, lenses, laptop, etc., weighs less than 10kg.”

Top Advice: “Don’t give up. The next day will be better or maybe something amazing will happen right in front of you.”

What it’s about: “If you want to take a good photograph, it’s about the moment. It’s about the light. It’s about something special. It’s got nothing to do with your equipment.”


You can follow Tariq Zaidi’s work on Instagram (@tariqzaidiphoto).

25 April 2017 Girl washes dishes in the main stairway of the abandoned IBGE building, Favela Mangueira community, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Girls playing with a baby on a carpet in front of the abandoned IBGE building, ‘Favela’ Mangueira community, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Men watch a TV novella at “Favela” Vila do Metrô community, Mangueira, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The average age of favela residents is 36-years-old.

‘Favela’ Mangueira community, North Zone, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The residents of the favela communities in Rio continue to hope for change; however, the chances for any improvement to their living situation remains uncertain. According to the New York Times (Feb 2017), the new mayor is projecting an almost $1 billion budget shortfall this year, and the state budget is expected to fall more than $6 billion short.
Despite the difficulties that persist, two-thirds of those surveyed said they did not want to leave their favela neighborhood. While their fate is likely to worsen, what binds this community together is a sense of camaraderie, pride and dignity that would probably shame most richer communities in the affluent West.

About The Author

Tariq Zaidi

In Jan 2014, Tariq Zaidi gave up an executive management position, to pursue his passion of capturing the dignity, purity and soul of people, within their environment. His work focuses on documenting social issues, inequality, endangered communities and traditions from around the world. In Sep 2016, Tariq was named as one of the top 10 photographers you should know, focusing on social issues and inequality in various societies across the globe. In Feb 2018, Tariq was awarded one of the top Premier Awards in POYi75 (Pictures of the Year International Competition) - "Photographer of the Year" Award of Excellence for his work from North Korea, Congo and Brazil and also 2nd place News Division/Feature Category in the same year. Tariq was a winner of PDN Photo Annual 2018 (Photojournalism/Documentary Category) and awarded The Marty Forscher Fellowship Fund for outstanding achievement in Humanistic Photography, presented by Parsons School of Design, USA. Since Aug 2015, Tariq's stories, images and videos from Angola, Brazil, Cambodia, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Haiti, Indonesia, Mongolia, North Korea & South Sudan have been featured internationally in over 700 magazines/newspapers/websites (in more than 60 countries) including: The Guardian, BBC, CNN, National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Der Spiegel Magazine, El Pais, El Pais Semanal, Stern View, GEO, Independent On Sunday, National Geographic Traveler, GQ & GQ Style, Marie Claire, Esquire, PDN, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Telegraph, El Mundo Spain, El Pais Brasil, Conde Nast Traveler, The Daily Mail, Khaleej Times, ITV News, MSN, LensCulture, The Mirror, The Sun, Daily Express, L'Oeil De La Photographie, VICE, Global Times China, Geographical Magazine, Wanderlust, Internazionale, Feature Shoot, Grazia, China Daily, People's Daily, China, Times of London and many more. To see some of Tariq's most recent published feature stories please click here. He has won many major international photography awards, shown his work in over 50 international exhibitions and worked on projects and assignments in 18 countries across 4 continents. Tariq works as a freelance photographer based out of London, UK. He is currently working on a long-term personal project developing a visual anthology capturing the dignity of humankind in some of the poorest communities in the world. The first 3 chapters of this work from Haiti, Brazil and Cambodia will be featured at Visa Pour L'image, International Festival of Photojournalism, in September 2018. His work is represented by Zuma Press (USA), Caters News Agency (UK) and Getty Images (UK). Tariq is a self-taught photographer, holds an M.Sc. (Master of Science) from University College London and is a certified teacher. Having lived in 10 countries and traveled to well over 100, he is also a multilinguist.

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