This isn’t photographer Omar Z. Robles‘ first time in South America, but he continues to unearth new, diverse richness of cultures found within. He’s captured local ballet dancers on the streets of Argentina and Chile, but there’s something a bit special about his latest work in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city. Coming off the chilly streets of Prague, Robles steps onto the vibrant streets of the city, capturing the contradictions that fill this magical place.
Once again, dancers are at the forefront, throwing their bodies into gravity-defying leaps and sinking their limbs into the city streets. But more and more, Robles’ series of dance portraits also speaks to the specificity of each location, the dancers providing the backdrop for his uniquely personal travelogue.
One minute moving to the rhythm of music on Ipanema Beach, caught up in the throws of a local celebration, Robles quickly realized a different reality for locals, when policemen stormed the crowd to catch young thieves in the group. This was just the beginning of the adventure, one that gave the photographer a taste of the good and bad that Brazilians in Rio encounter daily. But through it all, he remained enthralled by the positivity he saw through the difficult times that were had.
“Seems that in our short time there we got a small taste of everyday life for Cariocas. A melange of bohemian joyful spirit menaced by constant uncertainty and fear,” Robles writes. “Yet people still fill the streets daily after-hours to drink beers amongst friends, almost as a sign of solidarity. They sing at the top of their lungs and dance following the ‘blocos’ as one entity. They will not give in, they will not give up and they will fight together. Brazilians graciously sway through this system with the poise of a veteran tightrope artist, knowing full well that at any given moment things can fall apart beneath them.”
Robles offers a measured view, one not ripped from an idealistic tour book, nor pushed toward the terror that sensational headlines often convey. For him, Rio was a place that reminded him of his native Puerto Rico, a place where tropical weather, warm hospitality, and drum beats come together to create unmatched energy. And what he came away with was a better understanding of the Brazilian spirit. “Brazilians understand that life is full of crappy moments, but life is still beautiful nonetheless, and it must go on. What matters, in the end, is the relationships we build, the people we love, and the beers we share.”