Adjusted: Brazilian parental abandonment from the perspective of family albums
The documentary photographic project "Adjusted: Brazilian paternal abandonment from the perspective of family albums" is an analysis of the phenomenon of paternal abandonment in Brazil, based on an elaboration on the aesthetics of family photo albums. The project is based on a phrase said by the Vice President of Jair Bolsonaro (PSL), General Hamilton Mourão. On September 17 2018, Mourão stated that the country is experiencing a crisis of values and that unstructured families, without fathers, are a "factory of maladjusted elements".
In Brazil, there are at least 5.5 million children without their father's name on the register, according to a survey by the National Council of Justice (CNJ) in 2011. Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) of 2017 show that 57.3 million households are headed by women only in the country, that is, 38.7% of the households.
Although the data show how common the situation of paternal absence is, mainly motivated by abandonment, the topic is little discussed and very normalized. In this sense, Mourão's speech came as a last straw for many of these families and solo mothers and was one of the great motivations of the movement # Elenão that shook the country between the first and second round of elections, in repudiation of the candidacy of Bolsonaro.
The idea of the project arose in this context, with the objective of telling the stories of some of these families, and mainly, to highlight the affection and the “adjustment” found by them, regardless of the father figure, but also, the difficulties, the longing, the tiredness and the other consequences of absence for mothers and children.
The methodology of the project took place through the resumption of the language of family albums, which in the last decade have been the center of new analyzes and debates in the theory of photography. Analog family album photography was democratized in Brazil only in the last decades of the second half of the twentieth century, perhaps reaching a peak in the 1990s and soon being impacted by digital records. For Miriam Moreira Leite, in her book "Family Portraits", the democratization of photography allowed that "almost everyone - not just the wealthiest - could become an object-image, or a successive series of images that keep successive moments present of life, or remember the memory".
Thus, the albums as a popular phenomenon had a short but symbolic existence, having a very strong identity character, in addition to having become one of the main archetypes for the preservation of family memory. In the book “Family album, the image of ourselves”, researcher Armando Silva analyzes the narratives created in this type of file.
The album will be built from the point of view of the generations who participated in it (grandparents, parents, children), the cultural regions, the age or sex of the narrators. (...) The album is a book that has a beginning and an end. Although they are not rigidly defined beginnings and ends, they exist, in some cases more than in others. If an album starts its story by telling us about the mother's pregnancy and continues with the child's birth and later life in the central family, until, say, when she gets married, there will be a coincidence between the beginning and the end of the story, as in a traditional, realistic novel. But it doesn't have to be that way. It may be that (...) the narrative begins with the death of a loved one, the mother, and continues with the story of the grandson, leaving an entire generation in oblivion or visual ignorance. (...) The album has its whims in the ways of showing or forgetting. (SILVA, ARMANDO. 2008. p. 29 / p. 31 / p. 32)
Thus, family albums end up being an unconscious depository of the desired narrative for the construction of that family's history. In this sense, the common thing is that the themes chosen to be photographed, and their editing in the albums, portray moments of joy and unity of the family, such as birthdays, parties, births. Thus, as Silva points out, there are moments and essential characteristics for the description of each family that are not portrayed in the albums, such as death, or other forms of loss. The absence, in the case of this research, of the father, is an example. At the same time, the presence of photos of the father, even if few and that at certain times, is marked in the albums. According to Silva, the construction of the albums was characterized as a feminine activity in Latin America.
In addition to the family point of view, there is another group quality: someone tells the stories, the family, its collective narrator; however, another tells them, usually the mother, the grandmother, the eldest daughter, the sister or the aunt, and that makes them a women's story. In this way, the album is not only seen, but especially heard (with female voices). SILVA, ARMANDO. 2008. p. 19)
Based on this understanding, they were used as a starting point for researching the families' stories, but also as an aesthetic reference for the project, both the albums of the families I followed, as well as the aesthetics of this analog photography, of plastic, dust, with very particular characteristics of a record made by those who do not study photography.
I spent a few hours with four selected families, who fit the profile of father abandonment, and were also interspersed by social class and race. It is known that the phenomenon is more observed in the lower Brazilian classes, but the project also tried to deconstruct this supposed determinant essence.
The methodology of documenting families started with interviews of about forty minutes, in which the family was invited to tell their story. The objective was to understand the role, importance and impact of abandonment in the development of that family. In parallel, families were invited to observe and show their family albums. My photograph captured both the moments of watching the albums and the everyday moments of that family. The idea was to portray moments of emotion that are not necessarily joyful, and of everyday normality, in order, precisely, to also propose a critical opposition to the moments that are usually portrayed in albums.
At first, the original idea of the project was to document families using digital and analog photography, the latter made with plastic cameras that also refer to those used by most Brazilian families. Due to setbacks involving analog photography (a film burned due to an accident in which the camera opened with the film still undeveloped) and also a lack of experience with analog photometry, the original idea was partially abandoned.
The final product of the project is a documentary essay, alternating between digital and analog parts. The project was impressed and also placed in a photo album, inside a used shoe box. The photos are inserted in the albums with pieces of paper that bring quotes brought by family members during the interviews. The idea is to refer, again, to the Brazilian aesthetic of preserving this memory.
In addition, the scanned version of the essay is preceded by a video of one of the children of one of the chosen families flipping through a photo album in which the father appears on the front pages, and stops appearing at the end. The video was made with my partner Juliano Vieira, who suffered parental abandonment around the age of eight, mainly due to alcoholism. The purpose of the video is to metaphorize the absence's timeline, and the way it manifests itself in this memory object, thus opening the project.
In one of the families photographed, a pleasant surprise was added to the final result of the project. Mother Solange had four children with José Carlos: Juninho, Luidgi, Ana Luiza and Victor. In 2006, she decided to separate from him, and since then, the father has met his children at least every two years. Having moved to Rio de Janeiro, he does not pay a pension or help with their raising. When asked about the analog photographs the family owned, Solange confessed that João Carlos had taken most of it. However, during the project process, she remembered that there were two rolls of film never revealed, photographed on the day the family moved to that house, in Jardim Eldorado, on the outskirts of Diadema (SP), more than a decade ago. The negatives, partially damaged by time, were revealed in the Gibo Lab, and portray a moment of anniversary.
In another family photographed, mother Elizabeth and son Thiago had a single remaining image of the father, who only registered his son when he was 17 years old. In the image the father appears together with companions of a soccer team. In compensation, Elizabeth, a black woman, has in her album very old photographs inherited from her family, which even portray her great-grandmother and godmother, Laurinda, who was enslaved until she was 15 years old. She is the first known ancestry, and there are no photographs of family members who came before her. The observation of the images by the family, in this case, also served for the self affirmation of the African descendant black identity, and as subjects who had different parts of their past and memory kidnapped and erased.
It was also clear that the memory of the image not only differs from the memory of the word, but in some cases actually replaces the memory itself. Some people do not remember what happened, but the picture of what happened. As photography is used to reinforce the integration of the family group, reaffirming the feeling that it has of itself and of its unity, both taking the photographs, as well as conserving or contemplating them, lend the family worship ritual the content of domestic worship. . (...) The recognition of family photos can act as a trigger for multiple memories and constitute, on the one hand, a way to rescue a forgotten past and on the other (LEITE, Miriam Moreira. 1993. p. 18 / p. 87. p. 135)
In addition to the imagery result of the project, the visual product itself, it was possible to perceive, after the meeting with the families, a great rush for the meeting and for the elaborations caused by the debate on the theme of father abandonment. I spontaneously obtained the return of members of the three photographed families thanking them for what they called a cathartic and important process for building intimacy, for solving issues and problems, and for a greater understanding of the effects of abandonment on their identity.