Entering the slums outside Buenos Aires, Sebastian Gil Miranda photographed children connected to gang violence
Earlier this year, Sebastian Gil Miranda won First Place in the Campaign category at the Sony World Photography Awards 2015 for his project Shoot Ball, Not Gun. The documentary project took place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where he visited one of the most dangerous slums in Argentina where two rival gangs violently struggle for turf and power.
Focusing on the town’s children, he photographed them playing football within the courtyard of the Chapel Our Lady of Luján. The children, for whom hearing indiscriminate gunshots at night is common place, are connected to these gangs, with fathers, brothers and family friends caught up in the bloodshed. With entries to the 2016 edition of the Sony World Photography Awards closing soon, we caught up with Miranda to discuss the project.
What’s the genesis of the project?
Usually I work helping NGOs and social foundations. In this case, I knew that Uniendo Caminos, a foundation dedicated to educational support for children in various slums of Buenos Aires, needed content to offer workshops in a centre that had opened, in Villa La Cárcova, Jose Leon Suarez – I offered to teach a photography workshop for children between 6 and 11. I began learning about the history of the neighbourhood and I started working with the children.
The first day, I asked a 6-year-old boy if I could take his picture, and his immediate pose was as if he had a weapon in his hands, the next as if he smoking ‘paco’, one of the most common drugs in these neighbourhoods. I found out that I was working with children who were sons of both sides, children of the enemies but playing together. I realised that if nothing changes, in a few years these children will be killing each other like their families.
The children played football all the time when I was there, and it provided a clear contrast to the stark reality of the neighbourhood, and the future of these children.
Where does your interest in violence in areas like Villa La Cárcova come from?
I have a human, social and professional interest. In addition to documentary photography, I am a psychologist and I’ve been a university lecturer in subjects of Research, Ethics and Human Rights at the University of Buenos Aires. I have always been interested in social issues, especially related to children in difficult situations. I try to find a balance in my work as a photographer – not only to report on reality, but to try ensure my actions can help in some way.
What was the biggest risk you took to get the shot?
Being one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the fact of entering and walking around poses a risk. The original idea was to teach students the basics and for them to go out and take pictures of their own neighbourhood to see how they view their environment. The day we tried, three armed men on motorcycles arrived and told us in strict terms that this was not going to happen.
How did you gain the trust of your subjects in a neighbourhood that might not be welcoming to outsiders?
When you are passionate about your job, it becomes easier. The camera can sometimes be an initial obstacle, but accompanied by a conversation, it opens doors, predisposes people and creates a common interest.
When I studied architecture, the first day of school, our teacher took us out onto the street. He told us: “look”. We all looked around, and the teacher said, “it’s not enough to look at the surface; look up, down, backward, sideways, look at the details, look beyond, connect with what you observed.” That’s what I try to do, connect with what I see.
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Find more of Sebastian’s work here.