João Pina’s photo essay Gangland – Rio de Janeiro’s Urban Violence, shown in Bite! magazine is a remarkable document, showing the lives of the drug dealers and gang leaders and the police units, working in some of the most dangerous places imaginable and making fine black and white images that tell the story in a remarkably powerful manner. He shows us both sides of a war on the streets in which everyone is a victim and “it is nearly impossible to escape the violence.”

Some of these pictures I found extremely moving though they are not exactly pleasant viewing, and I think it is essential to turn on the captions before you view – though it is a shame they obscure a little of the bottom of the image.  I think by default they are off, which I think is the wrong decision for a documentary site; viewing them without captions tends to aestheticise them and turn  the viewer into more of a voyeur.   I think it is a shame too that the larger set of these images on the photographers own web site – with some more other great work – presents them entirely without captions, although they are prefaced by his statement about the work.  Although it is only too obvious what some of the images are about, others are frankly impenetrable without some added context.

João Pina (b Lison, Portugal, 1980) started working as a photographer in 1998, and first went to Latin America in 2002; in 2003 he joined the Portuguese collective Kameraphoto, and from 2004-2005 studied on the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography program at the International Center of Photography (ICP)  in New York, USA. Since 2007 he has been based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  His work has been published in newpapers and magazines around the world. He worked together with writer Rui Daniel Galiza on his  first book, Por Teu Livre Pensamento, (2007) about the people, including two of the photographer’s grandparents who were  arrested, tortured and imprisoned by the long-running Portuguese fascist regime which only came to an end in 1974.

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