Sun, Sand, and Documentary Photography Teaches us the Power of Opening our Eyes


Praiabalhadores, a Portuguese portmanteau of praia (beach) and trabalhadores (workers), is the curious coinage adopted by Italian photographer Caterina Suzzi for her documentary series cataloguing the beach vendors of Praia do Forte. This idyllic beach in Buizos, a small town near Rio de Janeiro, sees an array of vendors touting their wares and refreshments, which was an irresistible draw for Caterina whose work has been shaped by a fascination with human relationships.

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“All working-age members of the family, but often very young children, take turns” in this unique sales role, Caterina tells us. Families sometimes manage to support all the members off the income from a single cart, and invest heavily in its maintenance and stock.

Caterina herself grew up and studied in Italy. She was a student of art during her university years in Milan, then moved to Paris for over a decade starting with the prestigious Magnum internship. After working alongside photographers and on her own projects full-time, she upped-sticks and moved with her husband and two daughters to Buzios. She’s a founding member of photography collective Images Sensibles, and her work has a sensitivity that can only come from a passionate interest in one’s fellow man.

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THE PLUS: So tell us what inspired this series?
Caterina Suzzi:
In Brazil street workers still exist, unlike in many other western countries.
People on the beach only think about themselves, and don’t pay the workers any attention, as if they were just a part of the scenery. But they are not. Their “caddies” were so colourful and full of different stuff. So aesthetically perfect.

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TP: Some modern cultures have certainly lost sight of jobs like this.
CS:
I love unusual and “obsolete” jobs because most of them are disappearing. I’m sad about that.

TP: Was it difficult to balance the light, and to take the equipment out on the sand?
CS:
The light was very strong, magic, and this white sand…was like a natural reflector.  But yes, it wasn’t easy. Very hot and windy. My sensor was full of sand!

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TP: What attracts you to photographing human subjects?
CS:
I love to meet people, to talk to them and to hear their stories. For me, making a series demands that you spend time with people: no two photos are the same, and that’s what I’m always looking for.

TP: So it’s the unpolished elements that you’re concerned to bring out?
CS:
It’s also because I have the feeling that society is becoming faster and more and more individualistic. I think it’s important to think about others, and I want to take my time with things. The thought of countless lives existing simultaneously on this earth has bewitched me ever since I was young.

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TP: Are you more of a beach-lover or a city-lover yourself?
CS:
I love both. But I think big cities are becoming too inhuman and I hate indifference.

TP: What was the first job you ever had?
CS:
My very first job was in a restaurant in Milan, but I remember I was a bit clumsy!

TP: What’s the next thing you’re going to turn your camera lens on?
CS:
Personally, I’m very concerned about the women’s rights and want to focus on that. I also want to carry on a series on the religious cults that I’ve started in Brazil. As an Italian, I feel very concerned also about the crisis of migrants, I used to go to Lampedusa when I was young. The world is changing. Mass migration concerns us all, and we cannot pretend not to see them.

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