Drinking Life into Oblivion

 

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While on vacations I was walking in the old city center of Recife in Brazil, when I stumbled upon a homeless man, who had drunk his life into oblivion. I stopped to talk to him. Surprisingly he engaged in a friendly talk with me. There was a woman with him, but she went away very angry, having seen that I had a camera, and warning me not to shoot her.

I actually asked this man if he wanted to be photographed; he said yes with a large smile, which lasted only as long as his answer. The smile was replaced by silence and a expressionless face – as if he was posing for me – marked by numbness, lifeless eyes, rough skin and deep wrinkles. The only shining part were his lips, still showing a bloody red color, proving him alive and still a human being, despite so much self-destruction.

You may find me overly sentimental – and you will have to deal with it yourself – but my heart aches and my stomach revolves, when facing human beings, who are still living in the streets and in this abandoned state, while I am not.  I want to keep feeling that pain. And doing what I possibly can to change this situation.

 

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Sharing sights & insights captured with diverse angles. Ex-corporate slave, now my own boss. Cycling, hiking, cooking, reading, yoga, writing and photography, are no longer only hobbies listed on my resume. It's what I do, when I want.

47 thoughts on “Drinking Life into Oblivion

  1. There is a very strong poem in here! I don’t know if you want to try. Just a thought, but I also love your poetry : ) It wouldn’t need to be Brazil-centered. There are so many of these tragic people everywhere, so common among our homeless here. Drugs, alcohol, and not infrequently, some undiagnosed, untreated form of mental illness. So, so sad. The fact that you paired the powerful photo with the powerful reflection is wonderful. It’s actually a dual-genre piece, and I love them.
    Sally

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sally,
      You’re the true writer and can name what I wrote better than me. I’m just the person who loves photography and people, and who writes about what life’s events bring to my heart and mind.
      You’re so right that this is a tragic and common scene we all encounter everywhere.
      Just read Andrea’s comment here on the homeless people she meets in NY. You both said similar things about it.
      I’m humbled by your opinion about my writings and shall never forget that. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a face that shows the other side of life. A life with non of the glitz of tv, fashion and money. A life lived by over a billion people on earth.
    You captured a piece of a soul in this picture Lucile. Bravo

    Like

  3. As I looked at this powerful photo, I was reminded of one of the most enlightening books I have read by Scheper-Hughes (1992), Death without weeping: The violence of everyday life in Bazil. Following is a highlight of key observations I wrote years ago. It seemed fitting to share it here.

    “Scheper-Hughes’ work demonstrates the impact of significant socio-demographic transitions in her discussion of motherhood and child death within northeastern Brazil. Her powerful, sensitive account demonstrates the ways in which parents and communities accommodate to overwhelmingly toxic and violent external pressures. In beginning her account, Scheper-Hughes (1992, p. 8) notes: “Often I groped blindly to understand and act within a context of radical, sometimes opaque, cultural differences as well as within a context of economic misery and political repression in which my own country played a contributing and supporting role.” The lives of the displaced rural peoples among whom Scheper-Hughes (1992) lived were severely constrained by poverty, hunger, and thirst: the outcome of national and international forces which have led to continued over-cultivation of the land with sugar cane for exportation and pollution of the major source of water. Added to the weight of hunger is the repressive role of the “state institutions of violence” which target the poor: beatings, incarceration, and killings are not uncommon. Scheper-Hughes (1992, p. 532) likens the experience of the poor of northeastern Brazil to that of inmates of “total institutions.” The very existence of the poor in northeastern Brazil rests within the hands of those in power: physicians, politicians, and owners of the large sugarcane plantations (the casa grande). Like inmates in a total institution, the most valuable currency the poor can exchange includes “dependency, silence, and passivity … and … loyalty to the doctor-jailer or the patron-boss.” In this environment of violence and hunger, “[c]hild protection … often takes the form of child theft,” taking children from their poor mothers and sending them to adoptive mothers in other parts of Brazil or to the United States.

    “Within a context of extreme scarcity and repression, hunger, childhood malnutrition, and thirst have been defined as a disease by the poor, nervoso, and medicalized by professionals and by those in power. Unwilling to recognize the failure of the state symbolized by the starvation of the poor, the medical profession and power structure treat peoples’ hunger with “tranquilizers, vitamins, sleeping pills, and elixirs” (Scheper-Hunges, 1992, p. 169). A crucial question emerges from the acceptance of the medical definition and treatment of starvation by the poor themselves: “[H]ow does if happen that chronically hungry people “eat” medicines while going without food?” (Scheper-Hughes, 1992, p. 177). The answer, according to Scheper-Hughes (1992, p. 199), is suggested by Antonio Gramsci. The poor people of northeastern Brazil are not coerced to look to physicians for cures, but rather, have gradually come to share the views of the medical intellectuals. The appeal of medical solutions to hunger and child morbidity and mortality is understandable given: (1) the fit with a “popular cultural with a long tradition of ‘magical medicines’”; and (2) the need to do something to survive in a way that does not invoke reprisal from the oppressive power structure (Scheper-Hughes, 1987, p. 200). Continuing survival in a repressive political environment, despite poverty, hunger, and high rates of child mortality and morbidity, speaks to the tremendous resilience of the poor people of Brazil (Scheper-Hughes, 1992).”

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    1. Carol – thanks for this thoughtful comment and for the knowledge shared. I’m grateful for your kindness to share your observations with us of such relevant theme.

      Fortunately, there has been major and impressive socio-economic changes in the last 20 years in Brazil, and the social discrepancy has greatly been reduced and life standards improved. Millions have left an impoverished life and inclusion in society is an undeniable fact.

      Whilst I m happy to acknowledge that progress, I’m also aware of the fact that this is not yet enough and much more still needs to be done to improve access to good health, education, security and infrastructure not only to the poor but all tax payers.

      I’m an incorrigible positive thinker and expect to see that happening still in my lifetime.

      Thanks again, Carol.

      And have a nice weekend.

      Lucile

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, Lucile. You are such a gifted photographer – able to inspire and capture such compelling and deep portraits of people to portray crucial social issues.

        I’m heartened to hear that the situation in Brazil has improved. Scheper-Hughes’ work had a profound impact on me and made me realize the disastrous consequences of the long history of US interference in Latin America. She inspired me to learn about that history. It came to mind yesterday when I saw your photo.

        I send my best wishes to you 🙂

        Like

        1. Thank you Carol, once more, for reading my posts and commenting. It is very considerate of you and It means a lot to me.

          I can only imagine how surprising it was to learn about the role played by the U.S. to help creating dictatorial regimes in Latin America and the poverty that derived from that. Brazil was thriving before the military coup and the army spent overs 20 years destroying the country and creating an abyssal social discrepancy. I grew up there and voted for the first democratic president. That might explain my profound interest for human rights, freedom and equality.

          Thank you also for appreciating my photos. I try to express my thoughts with images and words.

          My very best to you.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a stunning photograph.

    I can so relate to this… “I want to keep feeling that pain. And doing what I possibly can to change this situation.” Living in NYC homeless people are part of my daily interactions. Some have become friends who I miss when they are not at their usual corner or holding down their self-created “job” of holding the door and offering good morning greetings to all who enter Starbucks. Some would love a way out of their circumstances, some have resigned themselves to their circumstances, and some, as hard as it is to believe, have chosen their circumstances and want help from no one.

    It’s such a complex problem with many, many causes. Mental illness, disease, addiction, abuse, illness, underlying societal and economic pressures. It’s hard to know what to do or how to help. I volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless at my church and one of the most common things the men and women tell me I can do to help is talk to them, listen to them, acknowledge them. Especially acknowledge them when I see them out on the street and outside the soup kitchen.

    While there are some who choose homelessness because they don’t want to be seen anymore, there are many, many more who have lost all hope because they are seen no more.

    Thank you for seeing this man and caring about his plight.

    Like

    1. Andrea,

      I am humbled to learn about the amazing work you do. You are a wonderful soul, Andrea, full of compassion and love for others in need.

      It is amazing to think that a developed country like yours has a growing number of homeless people, in a situation that has been aggravated by the global financial crisis. What you describe is profoundly sad but not unbelievable. I have seen also here in Holland some people, who have chosen to live in the streets and refuse all help. I can’t possibly add any word to the possible reasons for all the cases, which you described with so much articulation and knowledge.

      Above all I second you that these people want to be acknowledged, want to be seen as people. The saddest part is that almost everyone ignores them, and may even be afraid of them. This man I met, needed exactly that, just a greeting and a little attention. I felt bad though even if I made his photo after his request and with his consent, but he wanted to be photographed. I didn’t give any money to him as a matter of respect and also because I thought he would use it to drink even more.

      You should be proud of your work as a volunteer. I pay the utmost respect to you for dedicating time to them. Thank you for being a fantastic human being. xxxx

      Like

  5. I find this very moving. I recently shot a drunk person too, though not a portrait, just a sneaky shot from behind, and I found it a very touching experience. Your photo is much more expressive than mine.

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    1. It is, unfortunately, a situation we encounter everywhere in the world. The man let me get closer, I guess, because he was surprised to be acknowledged, as I greeted him and his companion. I doubted to make his photo and only did it because he asked for it.

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      1. Yes, sometimes the most underprivileged and beaten people are the kindest. Not always. I love this kind of stories; sad ones. And you interpreted his story very well and gave him much human dignity too. Whatever he is, he is still a human being.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a powerful photo Lucile of this dear fellow human being.
    You are not overly sentimental, I can never judge a person’s life or his character, until I walk in his or her shoes.
    I can see such a difficult life, written all over this dear man’s eyes and face, and my heart goes out to him!
    ~Carl~

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  7. It is so hard to know what leads people to this kind of life. I think it is very complicated and easy to say it is a choice. I recommend Dr. Gabor Mate’s book ” In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” He worked with addicts in Canada. He described how many had suffered horrendous trauma and abuse growing up. Things from which they were not able to heal. I think it is true that we can not know unless we walk in someone else’s shoes.

    Like

  8. “Overly sentimental” is not the phrase that comes to mind when I think of you, Lucile: compassionate? Determined? Optimistic? You don’t take the easy path, which is to avert your eyes and walk away. I am remembering your post about the homeless poet, and the woman who saw his dignity.

    Like

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