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Minais Gerais Highlands

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In early 1950s, Brazilian novelist Guimarães Rosa went to a 10 days journey with 8 native cowboys along 150 miles in Minas Gerais, resulting in one of most important works of Brazilian literature, “The Devil to Pay in the Backlands (1956)”. After more than 60 years I decided to follow his path based in this journey, and also the scenario described by Riobaldo in all his adventures of the book.

This was the trip I was unconsciously planning ever since I first read the novel, about 8 years earlier, even before I ever considered being a photographer. In 2015 with this feeling inside me, I read “A boiada”, which consists of the notes Guimarães Rosa took during his journey. After reading this book I started “The Devil to Pay in the Backlands” again… Reading just a few pages I felt I should take this first step to know Brazil and myself better: a 15 day trip through the Minas Gerais highlands, backlands; several cities, towns and villages, some of them bordering São Francisco — the longest river that runs entirely in Brazilian territory.

About seven months before the actual trip, I started researching for someone who could guide me into this journey; someone who knows the geography, its people and Guimarães Rosa — crucial for understanding my curiosity in the backlands. A good photographer friend called Renan Gago helped me not only as a assistant, but also being an outstanding company.

Since it was my first trip traveling as a photographer, I started planning how I would pack my bag and what my travel kit it would be. The most important thing for me was I had enough memory cards, batteries and external drives for backing up my files. Another thing I planned ahead was being prepared to control light (using one strobe, one reflector and a variable ND filter), because mostly I couldn’t control the time I was going to photograph: my idea was to know people before photographing them, to take their time until they are comfortable with me — rarely I had the opportunity to schedule for the best hour of the day.

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Unfortunately for logistics, budget and availability reasons, I couldn’t stay any longer (my initial idea was 30 days). There were people I visited more than one day, so I was able to take my time to pick up a better spot and light for the photograph and make them more comfortable with me, and even feeling myself more intimate with them. On the other hand, there were other people that we didn’t planned to meet and were extremely open to talk and to be photographed in a reasonable short time (about 2 hours or 3 hours of talking and 10 minutes of actual shooting). The were no rules. Actually, the great thing about making a schedule is really to be open to what may or not happen, not having any responsibilities to be rushed for.

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I’m still not sure of what this project will become. My plan is finding a way to visit them again in a near future, personally give them their picture framed in acknowledgment for their time and kindness. All of the people I met offered their home for staying in my next visit, I was thrilled every time and I can’t wait to return.

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I was in a place that deeply related to me and I think this is the most important thing of my experience. Just be honest and care about whatever you shoot — be truly honest and care deeply. I feel I’m in a road of understanding myself better as a person after this journey, and I hope these pictures can evoke the warmth and kindness of all the people I happily met in Minas Gerais, Brazil.


About the author: Bruno Fujii is a photographer and art director based in Brazil. You can find more of his work on Instagram and website.

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