By André Diniz
André Diniz tells the extraordinary story of Maurício Hora, who lives in one of the most dangerous slums (favelas) in Rio, Brazil. Despite overwhelming odds, Hora has made an international name for himself as a celebrated photographer. We are led from his challenging childhood living with his drug-dealer father up to the present day.
Born into poverty in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, living in the original favela, the shanty-town of falling-down shacks perched on Providencia Hill behind Rio’s train station, Mauricio Hora’s life could have gone wrong in so many ways.
Picture A Favela is pretty much the story of how it didn’t.
And it’s all down to Hora’s ability to find hope in his surroundings combined with his skills in capturing what he saw in his camera’s viewfinder.
This is very much a tale of triumph over adversity, and fittingly this biographical graphic novel ends with ten pages of Hora’s beautiful images of the favela. But it’s the 120 pages before this that tell the story of one man’s life and that is all down to Diniz.
Using some very striking black and white imagery Diniz sums up the boy that Hora was and the man that Hora became; of his difficult childhood, father a drug-dealing old-school gangster, in and out of prison, schizophrenic mother, right up to the present day, with Hora successful, an internationally exhibited photographer, but never losing contact with the favela, never moving out.
Now, if this were simply Diniz doing a straight forward biography it would be unspectacular but neatly done.
But where it goes above and beyond a stylishly drawn life history, is when Diniz takes us beyond the Hora family, to the extended family dynamic of the streets of the favela, complete with the families, the children, the gangs, the criminals, the cops, all forming a unique and vibrant ecosystem, strange, unfamiliar, yet so obviously true, a natural extension of the favela itself.
This is when the thing comes alive, where we get something that goes beyond the simple life story trotted out, when Diniz takes us inside Hora’s head, enabling us to see a little of what Hora sees through his viewfinder.
Alongside the genesis of the photographer; isolated, neighbourhood kids scared to play with the gangster’s son, an outsider looking in, we see the camera setting the boy free. And alongside that we view the favela and the people, growing, changing, and adapting to this changing world.
The troubles of the favela continue to this day, with Rio due to host the Olympics in 2016, and a program of slum clearance rolling out across the city in preparation.
Hora and others across the city continue to document the changes, whilst attempting to help the people in need. So we’re left, thanks to Hora and Diniz carefully controlling the message at the end, with hope for the future of the favela.
So not perfection, too neatly squared off for that, it feels too processed, too cultured a retelling. But it looks beautifully stark even if the tale inside is too neatly packaged to really get over everything I think it wants to. In fact the final pages of the book, given over to Hora’s photogrphy actually manage the power, majesty and crushing despair better than Diniz’s art ever does, and that’s both a shame and a perfectly fitting end to the book…