29 June 2016

Land of Giants

29 June 2016 - Written by Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

The Land of Giants is a hidden location in Itabaianinha, in the North East of Brazil where Luisa discovered a dwarf community in their coloquial everyday life.

© Luisa Dorr, from the series, Land of Giants

Luisa Dorr was born in Lajeado, Brazil. She studied photography at the Lutheran University of Brazil in Canoas - RS. Dorr's photographs have been published in CNN Photo Blog, PDN, Wired, Lens Culture, Feature Shoot, El Pais, Gup Magazine, Fisheye Magazine, Folha de Sao Paulo, Estadão, Vice, L'oeil de la photographie, among many others. Her photographic work focuses on the genre of portraiture and seeks to address its contemporary aspects. Dorr has exhibited in Brazil, United States, Spain, France, Portugal, England and Russia.

In 2015 Dörr was selected for the LensCulture Emerging Talent and one of the PDN Emerging Photographer. She is currently represented by VII Photo Agency as part of the Menor Program and continuous to be based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

How do you get into photography?

I'm from a village, in the south of Brazil. My family had a transportation company, but two of my aunts are photographers, they inspired me a lot.

I began to study graphic design for 3 years when I finished high school, but I was not happy with it, so I decided to change my life. When I was 22, I moved to Porto Alegre and started studying my passion, photography. At this point, I started my first project, My Place about Brazil’s models in the south of the country. I finished my academic studies in two years, while working as an assistant in an advertising studio.

I moved to Sao Paulo in 2013 to work as a cultural producer in a renowned company involved with photography called “Estudio Madalena”. I worked there during one year - I had no idea of how to work in production - but I learned a lot that year and met many people. Finally, in 2014, I started freelancing.

How did you decide on the title, Land of Giants?

The locals call the city like that.

Cruz Juarez, 52 -years-old, 1.30m. He struggled with alcoholism and stopped drinking three months ago after having an accident that nearly cost him his life. He was in a coma for three days. © Luisa Dorr, from the series, Land of Giants

In your previous projects based in Brazil you have focused on women's topics, such as in Maysa, Young Miss Brazil and My Place. How did you decide to take this shift specifically focusing on a community?

This female recurrence is connected with events of my past: my father was always absent, so my role model has always been my mother. But not only this, it goes far beyond that, I think sometimes things just happen. Women are needed in photography, we have another way of shooting, and I like to photograph women, it comes to be close to what I'm interested in intimacy and identity.

Is it widely known in Brazil that Itabaianinha holds what is considered the city with the largest population of dwarves in the world?

Not, it’s not. There is no official census, but the calculation is between 70 and 150 dwarfs, with about 25 times more than the national average….

From looking at your photographs I get a sense that the dwarves are not excluded in their community in Itabaianinha. What are your thoughts on that?

I went to Itabaianinha in March 2015 and spent three days to do the first contact. I didn't go back because of money, because in order to do a great work it is necessary to invest time to gain the trust of the people. They feel "less than us" because of height. They are not ashamed to be small, this is common, the city is like that, but many times they are targets of jokes, not from the population that lives there, but from the people that go to see them (journalist, photographers, etc). Some Brazilians television programs go to Itabaianinha to do comedy shows with the dwarfs. Nobody ever did a serious work with them, to tell their story and lifestyle. I feel that this work can build “a new perspective of their lives”.

Joaldo 26 -years-old, 1.35m and his girlfriend. They live in Itabaianinha. Since the 90s, doctors, led by Dr Manuel Herminio Aguiar-Oliveira, treated about twenty children suffering from genetic mutation. The treatment is free and guarantees a normal height, according to the doctor, but some reject. Joaldo was treated for four years. He took shots every day, and while he did grow, he complains that the process was painful. © Luisa Dorr, from the series, Land of Giants

How did you gain access to their lives?

I started looking on Facebook for people that live in Itabaianinha. Nobody answered until Sergio Oliver accepted my request, and things changed. We started to talk and he seemed interested and decided to help me.

When I arrived to Aracaujo the capital of Sergipe, I took a bus to Itabaianinha, in the middle of nowhere... During the road trip I made a friend from the city, and she told me: "Near the central plaza, there is a snack bar and a hotel from a dwarf, he is the owner". Once I arrived, I went to that bar and asked for a hot dog and started to talk with the dwarf. That way I made my first friend. Sergio (from facebook) joined me 2 hours after I had arrived.

The next day, Sergio picked me up early in the morning since you can only work in early hours of the day or at dusk due to the high temperatures. We walked around and talked to people… Building the trust wasn’t easy, but was so nice, at the end of the day I went to a dwarves football match…

On the second day the writer arrived, and all the dwarfs just loved her, first Spanish to visit their village... We spent the day around Itabaianinha and at the end of the day we went to Adalberto’s bar to have a drink with our subjects... We left early the followed morning - it was like this, so fast and so good - I really miss Itabaianinha.

Football players from Itabaianinha. © Luisa Dorr, from the series, Land of Giants

What are your future plans with this project in progress?

I really hope to go there this year to finish the work. They are waiting for me. It was special our time together. Sometimes, photography can bring much more than good photographs, bring out a more open and empathetic person from me, and hopefully a critical dialog with the society.

To learn more about this project, visit Luisa's PHmuseum profile

Written by

Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

Reading time

6 minutes

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