We often talk of ‘taking’ photos, but how can photographers give back? Nando Azevedo explores that question through a career capturing injustice, protest, reform, and resettlement
WORDS | QIANE MATATA-SIPU
Nando Azevedo is on a mission to change the way people see the world. In doing so, he is also having a great impact on how people see themselves.
His recent exhibition, created with the Auckland Resettled Community Coalition (ARCC), shone a light on former refugees and asylum seekers who have made New Zealand their home. Attended by more than 2500 people who viewed the work as part of the 2018 Auckland Festival of Photography, The Resettlement Portraits celebrated strength and resilience, while opening dialogue for understanding and healing.
“I have been working with the coalition since 2015 and wanted to create a body of work that introduced the New Zealand audience to these communities. They are from about 20 different cultural backgrounds,” says Azevedo. “A lot of refugees and asylum seekers have to go through some of the worst things that humans are capable of doing to other people. Through that process, a lot of one’s identity is lost. By showing the beauty of their culture and identity, there is a sense of personal healing and a rebuilding of pride.”
Inspired by Gottfried Lindauer’s portraits and the way that they document the cultural history of Aotearoa, and the significance of that history in today’s multicultural society, the Brazilian-born artist wanted to create a series that added to New Zealand narratives of identity.
“In 50 to 100 years, these new cultures will be blended into what will be identified as a ‘New Zealander’,” he says. “I hope [that] these portraits will help people to understand their own identity in this context.”
While 27 portraits were exhibited, and will go on to tour nationally in areas of refugee resettlement, the full series is made up of 60 photographs. The ARCC is working on publishing them in a special-edition book, set to be released at the end of the year.
This recent series is one of a large number of socially conscious photo projects that Azevedo has been involved in over the years. He has taught photography to youth in correctional facilities in Peru; taken portraits in India and Sri Lanka, gifting Polaroids to people as he travelled; photographed protest and passive resistance; captured life along the Amazon River; and documented the story of a woman who underwent reconstructive surgery following genital mutilation.
His work isn’t about photographing ‘exotic’ people in remote locations for decorative art or as a travel souvenir; it is driven by the direct benefit to the lives of those he captures with his lens. The images that help people overcome challenge, influence mindsets, celebrate positivity, and connect humanity are the ones that Azevedo is most proud of.
“We as photographers have the power to amplify voices,” the photographer explains. “I believe that there is a lot of misinformation and false concepts about humanity as a whole. I want to break down those false ideas that exist. I use photography and media to show who humans really are, and what we’re really about.”
As a child, Azevedo dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. He didn’t come from a family of creatives. His uncles were engineers, his mother was a physiotherapist, and his father a doctor. However, at age 15, he started playing with a camera. Making films became his favourite pastime, so he farewelled his medical aspirations and went on to study cinematography.
On graduating, Azevedo got an internship in a photography studio that specialized in advertising. Working across all areas, it was a great place to learn photography and lighting techniques, work in a studio setting, and have access to top-quality equipment — a luxury that most don’t have so early in their career.
However, for all its positives, there were as equally many negatives. Azevedo was unimpressed with the way that models were classed, the emphasis of stereotypes, the drive to consumerism, and the overall ‘fakeness’ of the industry: “It always bothered me, but I was an intern. I was there to carry
stands and turn on the lights.”
At 22, he started travelling, growing in experience and confidence.
“I always cared a lot about people, but when you grow up in a place like Rio de Janeiro you need to be hardened, otherwise you can’t go cope walking two blocks from your house. There are families living under bridges with toddlers and babies; there is poverty. You become desensitized to it so you can function,” he shares. “Travelling and seeing how people live in other parts of the world helped me build that consciousness and understand that we are all human — if it is not good for one person, it is not good for all of us.”
With that in mind, Azevedo began to forge his own path in the industry, blending his commercial experience with his passion for social change. Alongside establishing a freelance photography and film career, he also founded a platform, named ‘Fairshots’, to connect photographers and non-government organizations (NGOs). The platform helps to give voice to NGOs that are making positive impacts, both locally and globally.
“The idea came out of a realization that I could do this kind of work for myself, and get a lot of satisfaction from it, but there would be greater impact if others could benefit from it, too. I will never be able to work for every NGO on the planet, so we expanded the idea to help as many as possible,” he says.
Photographers who are interested have the opportunity to work on causes that are close to their hearts, from refugee and humanitarian aid, to health, orphanages, the environment, and animal welfare, to name a few.
“It is a network working for a better world,” says Azevedo. “You can use your knowledge of lighting to sell washing powder, or use those skills to help people out of poverty.
“No offence to any washing-powder companies; it’s still important to wash your clothes,” he laughs.
Azevedo encourages those wanting to transition into this area of photography to start in their own neighbourhood.
“You don’t have to go to a faraway country to help a group of people you have never had contact with,” he says. “Some of the most interesting work is often done in your own space. The key is to find someone to help, and start.”
THE GOOD FIGHT
If you would like to see more of Nando’s socially conscious projects, head to nandoazevedo.com, and to check out Fairshots, the platform he founded to connect photographers and NGOs, visit fairshots.org.