1987, Lisbon, Portugal
Mário Cruz studied Photojournalism at Cenjor – Professional School of Journalism.
In 2006 he started to cooperate with LUSA – Portuguese News Agency / EPA – European Pressphoto Agency.
Since 2012 he’s been focused on his personal projects dedicated to social injustice and human rights issues:
“Recent Blindness” – Winner of Estaçao Imagem 2014 Award
“Roof” – Winner of Magnum 30 Under 30 Award
“Talibes, Modern Day Slaves”
– Winner of World Press Photo 2016 – Contemporary Issues – 1st Prize Stories;
– POYi 2016 – Issue Reporting Picture Story;
– Winner of Estação Imagem 2016 Award
“Living Among What’s Left Behind”
– Winner of World Press Photo 2019 – Environment – 3rd Prize Singles
– Winner of Estação Imagem 2019 Award – Environment – 1st Prize
His work has been published in Newsweek, The New York Times, International New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, El Pais, CTXT and Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
The way to the Roof project
The power of photography is what captured my attention since I can remember.
The photographic narrative always seemed to me a sea with infinite possibilities, I guess I feel more comfortable in expressing myself through images instead of words.
When I realized that photojournalism could change perspectives and at the same time spark solutions it became clear to me that documentary photography would be my life’s path.
It took several years until I had the necessary tools and confidence to emerge in subjects that are hidden or ignored. My work shows who I am. It’s important to me that my authorship is well-defined because that’s what I look for when I’m seeing work from other photographers.
And, that particularity of photography, the singularity of the author’s vision, also contributed a lot to my interest in storytelling.
Over the years I noticed that what drives me further in a story is its own process, every story is different, the people are different, the conditions are different, the risks are different but what is present in all of them is my conceptual process and I’ve been valuing it more and more over the years.
The Roof started when I was tired of my daily wire work for an agency. I was lost in a way. It took me a long time until I started photographing this project because I was exposing myself for the first time. Besides, I was photographing a dramatic reality in my city, where I was born and where I still live. So, it was truly a very important experience to document people’s lives so different than mine but so close to mine. At some point it was like I was living to parallel lives in the same place.
I was really upset with the media. The way national and foreign press were covering the Portuguese crisis was the opposite of what I was seeing. There’s more to a crisis than demonstrations and politics. The consequences are deeper. The result is often devastating.
I started noticing that many abandoned places in Lisbon had signs of life.
A trail leading to a closed factory, covered windows in unfinished buildings, deserted villages with padlocks on the doors.
Those strange situations caught my attention and soon I was drawing a map of the city, one very different from the touristic.
I spent more than one year creating that map and trying to know who were the people living in those places before I started documenting what was happening. It was complex, it was exhausting and sometimes frustrating, but it was the necessary approach for me to have access to those who lost literally their way of living in a blink of an eye. Most of the people that I photographed were hidden, their families didn’t even know they had lost their houses or even their jobs. Maybe is a false impression of mine but the Portuguese tend to hide their problems, they always try to look better even when they live in misery. As I was entering their lives, I realized that I could show a very direct consequence of the crisis that was not being seen by the general public and to be honest that was not even being considered at all.
I found young people, old people, families, couples surviving in places you would never consider associating to Lisbon. To me I was discovering that not all my neighbors live the way I do since I end up photographing cases 5minutes away from my house at that time.
It was important to me to bring that sense of hiding, of obscurity and diffusion to the project. The roughness and the fragility of the sites where these people found their new homes also contributed to the concept of the work.
Needless to say, it was a difficult task to start photographing.
For almost a year I just visited regularly some of the people that I encountered and only after that I started photographing them. This process was the opposite of what I used to do for the agency, so it was all new to me. Even the camera. The project started with the Fujifilm X-Pro1. By then it was the perfect fit for me. The opposite of intrusive and in a way very low profile.
To be honest all I care about a camera is pretty much that. It should be discreet and with the capacity of capturing what I’m seeing in the simplest way.
I got the feeling that I was breathing for the first time while I was photographing.
The work was interrupted when I felt the need to stop it. It happened also when Portuguese had elections and a new government was elected. The work was published in The New York Times and it captured the national attention because of that. Some of the people that I photographed saw their lives changing again but this time for the better when they received help in different forms. There were cases that change completely to the point of some people gaining a new home, a decent one.
The following years I developed two different projects: “Talibes Modern Day Slaves” in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and “Living Among What’s Left Behind” in the Philippines.
Both were photographed with the X-Pro2. Both scream for action. Both demand our attention.
I feel the need of challenging myself constantly, to confront my fears and for some reason I’m attracted to what is less seen, I guess photography should be everywhere so it should definitely be in the places in which can a make a difference.
Now, in 2019, with new elections and new perspectives for the future I went back to the Roof project to see if the crisis and its consequences really belong to the past.
Sadly, it was easy to find that the problem continues.
Tourism was crucial to solve the Portuguese crisis, but the housing market skyrocketed, especially in Lisbon. As the Portuguese capital became one of the favorite city destinations in Europe many more were forced to leave their homes and survive in abandoned places.
Many of the people that I photographed have jobs but receive the minimum wage which is not enough to rent a house or, sometimes, even a room.
There are always some who lag even when there are indicators that the economy is moving forward but, in fact, there are too many in this condition. People who work, people who don’t give up, people who live in ruins next to the new hotels.
The ability and need for survival make these people find new homes in places that should not be inhabited.
In photographic terms it is a return to a project that was a starting point.
My photography evolved during the evolution of the X-Pro series but what I’m looking for still is the same. The X-Pro3 is even more discreet, simple and silent. Is almost like an unnoticed presence. It is actually the right tool. Now it’s a natural connection with the camera and photography is a natural key player in terms of communication.
We just need to use it in the best way possible.