Two Vultures and One Sparrow
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil 2009
I’m back in my Salvador to start a new workshop on Iansà’s celebrations one of the the Cadomblè’s deities. Among the aspects of life that I want to probe in my project on Salvador religion is an important one. The students are eager to start working. It’s their first time here. I start showing them around town. We begin taking pictures. We photograph in the markets, along the beach, inside the squatters’ compound, the capoerira’s class in one favela. As I walk through the saint Joaquim’s market I see two sweet old ladies negotiating the purchase of several chickens, doves, a turtle and a lamb. I shyly get closer and strike a conversation knowing their answers before they reply with the sweetness of their voice. The animals will be used as sacrifices to Iansà. I ask if I can go over to their house during the celebrations. They generously nod positively. That very night we arrive to the location given to me. When we get in the ceremony is in full swing. Many beautifully clad-women are dancing around in circle in a trance. They are all wearing sparkling dresses of different colors representing the different goddesses. One is wearing a golden crown; another one a silver one and she holds on to a sable. She has her eyes closed shut as another woman gently pushes her forward in the midst of a music that captivates and hypnotize. At first, we are not sure what to do. I feel we are stepping into something sacred and private. I hesitate until I see the nodding smile of one of the older women met at the market that I could hardly recognize in her new persona. I suggest to my students that we can take pictures. We all try defying the technical difficulties of the low-lit room. The dance continues for a while as more people join the circle. Others simply watch from behind. We return a second time the next day. The scenario has changed slightly. The openness of our hosts is moving. I cry of joy inside. I start feeling that it was meant to be. Once again, I’m assuming my role as a catalyst for my students and I. On the third day we accompany the whole entourage to give gifts away into the sea. One beautiful tall lady all dressed in white is still in trance. One other woman tells me that she has the spirit of a cop inside. Her eyes are facing the horizon; they get lost in it. At regular intervals she does the military salute. She stands in attention for a few second before resuming a more unassuming posture. We all try to capture this other unexpected and intimate situation that destiny has bestowed upon us. The flowers, bottle of perfumes start floating into the water. Some are washed ashore by the current. The lady in trance takes up large steps and continues to salute. Some other women all dressed in white stay with her to make sure that she’s ok.
The next day we are at the Catholic Church in the heart of the Pelourinho neighborhood where the official Iansa’s celebrations take place. A multitude of worshippers bring flowers; pray inside the church and in the courtyard in the back. Lit candles are everywhere. I urge my students to photograph another form of worshiping. We all work hard. The next day we are off to my favorite fishing village an hour drive from Salvador. New beautiful situations present themselves as we begin wondering to take some pictures. The fishermen are welcoming as always and so are the families of the landless movement. To our great joy, we learn that they are no longer without land. They have managed to negotiate directly with the owner the purchase of several acres of land. I see large smiles painted on their faces. We try to partake of their joy as they show us around the camp. A lady whistles to her countless chickens. It’s the signal that food is about to be served. I see all of them scurrying towards her. A little girl is squatting. She’s suddenly surrounded by a myriad chickens. I try to capture the essence of this simple, beautiful moment. Back in Salvador we continue with the editing. There are some disappointments and some joys. In the end, I feel that each of my students has faced the challenge of photographing the unstoppable flow of life in a dignified and courageous way. Their beautiful images stand before our eyes. They have become a reality; a small part of our history. The two vultures (the two more aggressive students) and the sparrow (the shy student) can now smile. Both shooting methods have given us some gems.