A Potent Mix of Adrenaline and Responsibility: Pedro Silveira Reflects on his Human Rights Fellowship

“To a Brazilian photographer, who had never been in the US, to explore New York looking for human rights issues was a potent mix of adrenaline and responsibility. The challenge was to conceive, execute and present a project in New York in a few weeks. 

Before attending the Photography and Human Rights Program, I was starting to research  a project about homeless people in Brazil. In the city I live in, numbers show five percent of the homeless population has been murdered in the last four years. It is like a silent war. At first, I focused on the kinds of huts the homeless build for shelter. A precarious architecture, erected with what is left from the consumption of others in the forgotten corners of the city. 

This issue always touched me, and when I arrived in New York for the first time it became more ardent to my eyes. 

My first impression was that, unlike Brazil, there were not huts built from recyclables or other found objects serving as a temporary refuge. I was freaked out to learn that the city has more than sixty thousand homeless people. Where did they stay? I needed to get close to understand more clearly my questions about the relationship in New York between excessive consumption/waste and the homeless. 

Finalizing the concept for my New York story in the first days of the program was essential, but successful storytelling depended on hitting the ground and getting pictures. I started to follow the traces of a wandering life in the Big Apple. I started by the island edges, on an exciting process of exploration. But it was in the very heart of Manhattan that I made a meaningful image that stitched together the story.


This picture confirmed my path. Susan Meiselas said, “the entire story is in this one picture.” I kept working on the ground and decided to bring new layers to the project with audio and video, which was such an important development for the final story.

I think the class dynamics at the program were vital for everyone. The whole development process of the projects was shared between students and teachers, allowing us to see daily progress. I had never imagined meeting a group of teachers more dedicated to understanding and to provoking new photographers to follow their own views. Professor Fred Ritchin, a real gentleman, carries years of expertise as an editor, author and curator in academia. Susan Meiselas, a very special woman, has covered human rights issues worldwide for decades and develops long-term projects on the ground. Ed Kashi, to complete the dream team, has passionate views on the ways of the field and fresh ideas for inspiration. 

My peer HR Fellows were from Bosnia, China, Egypt, Iran and Syria. As a class we were sixteen students, from eleven different countries, and this made the discussions so rich. For me, coming from Latin America, it was an intense exchange of culture and experience. I’m so glad to have attended the program. If I could give a hint to somebody that is looking for knowledge, experience and a great challenge in New York, I would say: go on and show them what your work wants to talk about! But most importantly, show them your voice in your work. I’m sure that they can’t wait to hear strong voices. 

The most important thing that I heard in New York is that “it doesn’t matter if it’s long, follow your way!” Since 2011, I have been working on my first long term project here in Brazil. When I returned from New York this summer, I was encouraged go on with my project. Now, past days on the ground are connecting with my newer photos. I am conducting what I want to tell in a new way. Since the program, I put a lot of thought into figuring out the presentation strategies for my work.

I’ll be always grateful for this lifetime opportunity.”

- Pedro Silveira, 2014 HR Fellow

Applications for the 2015 fellowship are open now! DEADLINE: Thursday, December 4th, 5pm Eastern Standard Time. Apply here!

Simone Salvo