Spanish photographer Sebastian Liste (b. 1985), now living in Brazil, has won several awards for his project Urban Quilombo, which documents the extreme living conditions faced by dozens of families who have set up home in an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia. Sebastian was also one of the participating photographers for the 3rd edition of Slideluck Potshow London and Maria Teresa Salvati, Director of SLPS London, interviewed him about his intense experience in the Brazilian community. (See a selection of his images here)
My first question about this project would be how you decided what community to focus on. How did you end up there?
I was not looking for a community to photograph. I just stumbled upon the place and after visiting repeatedly and beginning to understand its people and its rules, I imagined living there with them. This idea captivated me. For a long time I have been interested in how life in a community is created and shaped. We are living in an important historical moment where this kind of life is changing and disappearing at the same time with the feeling of belonging and identity.
What's the story you wanted to tell before you went there, and did you find anything different in the end that changed the original plan?
All that I wanted to tell came after meeting the community. Really, I came without preconceptions. This is not the kind of place you read about in the news or check online. It took me a while until I realised what I wanted to tell about them. For sure the initial plans changed, as well as the lives of people who live in the community changed too, over the two years I was working with them. At first I wanted to talk about the interpersonal ties between families that make life possible in such harsh living conditions, about the communal support to overcome the economic, drugs, prostitution and everyday problems. At the end the experience felt so intense that all these objectives were mixed and disguised with the way I was experiencing life with them.
Your photographs are very compelling, persuasive. In this project you depict intimate moments of sex and drugs. How did you manage to capture such moments?
I firmly believe that if you spend enough time with someone and you live those moments with enough intensity and without pretending to be there just to take great pictures, you are able to understand and photograph all aspects of a person's life. Thinking and living this way, this opportunity came up, without waiting or looking for them, just living life together with these people.
What do you think is their perception of intimacy? Do you think it differs from ours?
Probably in some places in Brazil, life is more relaxed than in other parts of the world. More in general, I think that less complexity and less shamefulness could define the Brazilian society at large. I mean, when compared to other Western societies.
You often photograph sub-cultures in marginalised areas of Latin America and the Mediterranean Sea. Why?
After a long time travelling around the world I realised that I have more to say about the places where I was born and where I grew up: Latin America and the Mediterranean Sea area. What I normally photograph in these places is culture of resistance, human beings who transform his immediate environment to survive. These environments sometimes are abandoned factories or simple hand-made houses built in the middle of nowhere, as the place of my latest project in Spain. On this side of the mountain is all about the relationship of man with nature, and the fight and struggle to transform and live with the social and psychological reality that they're facing.
Are you inspired by any particular other photographer in this matter?
No. I really like a wide variety of photographers. But more and more I feel that my influence from them is not bigger than from writers, painters, musicians or film directors.
Is this a conclusive project or would you still follow these people to record how their lives evolve?
I think that now I am half-way. So I need at least another two years to finish this project about the Barreto community.
In March 2011 the Brazilian government evicted all the families from the chocolate factory and since then they are living all together in a marginalised neighbourhood in the outskirts of Salvador de Bahia. During the last months I visited them in this new home and I´m continuing exploring how this change has impacted their lives. This project is no longer only about a specific community, now it's more a documentation about the social and geographical marginalisation, the gentrification process and how we currently build our cities.