Working without a translator


Today I tagged along with Cara as she went to spend the day with a group of people who tag phrases and symbols around São Paulo.

After a metro/train ride of about an hour we arrived in a tiny, more run-down neighborhood of São Paulo than I’ve seen to this point. Favelas, rolling hills of dilapidated, stacked houses, surrounded the area.

This community likes to drink, and they like to smoke marijuana. “Legalize” was tagged multiple places in the neighborhood, and tiny, one room bars, could be found up and down almost every block. Most were packed with people in the midafternoon – although it was a Sunday, so that could’ve been a big influence.


We spent the first few hours at the home of our main contact, Leo. He lived in the house seen below with his wife and daughter. This frame shows the kitchen/dining room, one of the two rooms in the house, with the door to the bathroom on the left and the entryway, where there is access to other apartments, on the right. They made Cara and I lunch before they planned on heading out to do some tagging.



The group spent a little time scoping out an area to tag before they got to painting. On the trip, they rolled a joint and smoked it when they arrived at the location.



Sometimes, working without a translator is great. It’s always possible to communicate through a few basic words I’ve learned in Portuguese, and hand gestures can usually take care of the rest.

Most importantly, I’ve found that it helps subjects ignore you. When you can’t directly hold a normal conversation, the talking between the subject and me dies down quite a bit and I’m able to make pictures without worrying about inserting myself into the situation. This group was great about letting me do what I needed to do while they did what they needed to do.



As you can see, they’ve tagged all over. According to the group, run-ins with the police happen somewhat frequently.




I’m not sure if I’ll have time to get back to this community again due to work on the motoboy story, but I hope I can at least get back out once more.

They warmly welcomed me and showed me their passion, and I feel a renewed sense of appreciation each time someone does that for me.


Thanks for looking.


2 Responses to Working without a translator

  1. Ivan Feitosa says:

    Dear professor Bruce Thorson, just sent you a msg thru your Facebook.

  2. Merry Christmas Eve….love the picture with the stroller and folks walking up the inclined sidewalk and the lavender paint in the shape of a U. Miss you, kiddo.

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