Monday, March 19, 2007


The first part of this letter making process is to visit the homes of families who were willing to participate and make portraits and record the voices of those who will leave to work in the sugar cane plantations next month. The portraits and recordings will stay with the children and their families.

Roberto para pablo:
Eu amo ele demais. Ele é todo que eu tenho. E eu sinto muito falta de ele quando eu vou embora. Todo dia fico pensando em ele.

[R: I love him a lot. He is all that I have. And I feel his absence when I go away. I think of him every day.]

Adelcio: Eh Gustavo, chega pra ca. Oh filho, papai vai viajar para corta de cana, e daqui um pouco tempo papai volta viu?
Gustavo: viu
Adelcio: Papai fica morendo de saudade pra voce, filho
Gustavo: viu
Adelcio: Voce vai ficar com soudade de papai? Chora não, Chora não. Daqui um pouco tempo papai volta viu? Papai tem que trabalhar ne?
Gustavo: viu
Adelcio: Papai volta logo. Viu filho? Papai vai ficar com soudade de voce, fé em dues papai volta, viu? Ne filho? Chora não. Papai volta. Daqui seis, sete meses papai volta. Da um abraço pra papai, da. Papai vai, mas papai volta, viu? Chora não.

[A: Hey Gustavo, come here. Oh son, your father is going to travel to cut sugar cane and he will return after a short time, you see?
G: ok.
A: Your father will be dieing of longing for you, son.
G: ok.
A:Will you miss you dad? Don’t cry, don’t cry. You know, in a short time, dad will return. Dad needs to work, doesn’t he?
G: I understand.
A: I will return, understand son? I will miss you lots, but with faith in god I you dad will return. Right son? Don’t cry. Dad will return. In about six or seven months dad will return. Give dad a hug. Dad is going away but he will return, understand? Don’t cry.]

Ronaldo: Oh Carol, papai viaja dia oito de mes que vem, ce vai ficar com soudade de papai?
Carol: vou.
Ronaldo: vai. Ce quer ir mais com seu papai?
Carol: quer.
Ronaldo: ce chora?
Carol: Choro
Ronaldo: Chora? Ce fica com soudade?
Carol: fico
Ronaldo: ce quer papai fica ou ce quer papai vai?
Carol: vai.
Ronaldo: papai tem que ir pra comprar comida, comprar sandala, comprar ropina, comra masã. Ce gosta de masã?
Caral: gusto
Ronaldo: ce quer pai vai pra comrar pra voce?
Carol: quer. E eu não vou falar palavrão.
Ronaldo: ce não vai falar palavrão, so coisas boas. Se vai cuidar pra sua mai quando eu vou emobra
Carol: ah huh
Ronaldo: vai?
Carol: vou.
Ronaldo: Então bom.

[R: Oh Carol, your father is going away to work on the 8th of next month. Will you miss your dad?
C: Yes, I will.
R: Do you want to come with me?
C: Yes, I want to.
R: will you cry?
C: yes, I will cry.
R: You will cry? Will you miss me?
C: Yes, I will.
R: Do you want dad to go or to stay?
C: I want dad to go.
R: Yes, dad needs to go so that he can buy food, shoes, clothes, apples. Do you like apples?
C: yes!
R: Do you want dad to go so he can buy apples for you?
C: Yes, and I wont say any more bad words.
R: That’s right, you wont say any more bad words, just good things. And you will take care of your mom when I am away?
C: yeah.
R: will you?
C: yes, I will.
R: Ok, good.]

So, what am I thinking about this....I originally thought that my work would be with about five families, but when the NGO decided to make this project of “The Cartas” into an official part of their work, I officially gave up a significant piece of my control for this initial part of the project. They want the project to serve all of the families that take part of in the ngo’s activities. I would have preferred to concentrate on a few families. This illustrates the tension between this work’s function as a social service for the families and its function as a document of a social phenomenon. To actually be a social service, the ngo believes that it needs to expand and multiply. To be a documentary project it needs to focus and specify…unless the point of the project is to express the enormity of the number of families that this problem touches via an accumulation of images…
Following through with this expansion pushed my limits, my patience. I felt angry, at times furious about what I was doing. I usually consider a portrait making process to be a sacred and intimate encounter between two individuals. In this case, I was followed by a troop of seven loud chatty women and was pushed to visit 27 homes in three days. (I have at least 15 more to visit next week.) The portrait making was interrupted by people heckling me, hey Emma your pants are falling down! You have too much stuff in your pockets! Hey, I think this subject needs to take a bath. Go take a bath, put on some lipstick, we will wait. Flashes of my coworker’s camera, taking pictures of me working. My troop of assistants getting caught up in teary emotions. A mother running into her bedroom to let tears flow privately. Emma I am too shy, can we do this another day. Sorry, I am afraid we can’t but I will come back another day on my own, I promise, and we can talk. My subject’s eyes distracted, perhaps looking at one of my assistants eating an orange or wondering who the hell is this American anyway who didn’t take the time to enter my home and have coffee and chat before she made this ridiculous request to take my picture.

But it is also important to note that these moments of doubt and frustration were among a flood of moments of enthusiasm for this project, pleasure of watching the fathers and their children see themselves together on the digital screen, and genuine excitement about receiving an image to keep.
And I also think that there are documentary benefits to letting this work expand. I was able to meet many people who would have otherwise been impossible to encounter. Now I have a larger pool of families who are willing to participate and I will be able to choose those families that are more enthusiastic about working closely with me. NGO staff can help me with unexpected needs. Their involvement will leave room for changes or additions that I could never have imagined. I also think that this release of control could let my idea evolve, perhaps more naturally, in the field, within the communities, letting those who live there become the leaders of this work in its actual context. A relative release of control of the paths this project might follow, I think, gives this work a better chance of becoming something practical and permanent…and, well, perhaps the permanent thing will be as valuable or more valuable than whatever I produce as a document.