João Roberto Ripper Barbosa Cordeiro
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fellow Since 1995
This profile was prepared when João Roberto Ripper Barbosa Cordeiro was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Photojournalist João Ripper treasures the small victories in his seven-year effort to document the lives of Brazilian workers. He recalls, for example, feeling especially gratified when Amazon squatters invited him to photograph their harvest and when big-city news photographers asked to "come breathe the air" of the studio archive and see workers in a fresh way."As our work here gains recognition, people begin to see the laborer as a person, not as a brute who goes on strike. We manage to capture what's beautiful in worker's movements," Ripper says.The Center for Documentation and Images of the Worker has an archive of more than 20,000 photographs of laborers and workers in Brazil. Its five main associates and numerous collaborators, who include photographers and historians, are expanding the unique archive and making it available to such "clients" as labor and human rights organizations and their publications. Amnesty International has used photos from the Center's archive in denouncing torture and murder of rural workers in Brazil.The Center's photos, slides and accompanying records portray the lives and struggles of Brazilian laborers throughout this century but principally during the past ten years as labor organizations grew, challenged military rule, demanded democracy and gained political strength. Unions furnish written or taped materials to enhance the Center's visual archive.Besides its primary function of documentation, Ripper says he perceives that the Center increasingly serves an educational function as well.Early this year, (1990) he and co-workers traveled in the United States presenting lectures, slides and a photo exhibition on rural workers in Brazil, all to benefit Amazon rubber tappers."Our intention was to try to show that the deforestation, the murders (of rural workers and activists) and the foreign debt are intimately connected," Ripper explains. "The idea was to show Americans a human side to ecological themes, to tell them it's nice to support ecology in Brazil, but before you defend the forest you have to defend the lives of the forest people."Within Brazil, the Center's growing educational function is to encourage the national media to photograph and report about workers with greater sensitivity."Life in Brazil gets very little space in the press," Ripper says. "Even though our work is a grain of sand in the history of the Brazilian worker, it is helping change that history."