Hick Duarte photographs a crew of Rio skaters in rural Brazil
In his new project, 'Comuna', the São Paulo-based photographer transplanted a crew of skaters out into the wild.
Photography Hick Duarte
São Paulo being one of the world’s liveliest cities is a fact that’s hard to contest. Brazil’s cultural and economic powerhouse, it’s a cosmopolitan hub with a diverse population and a breakneck pace of life to match its scale.
Exciting as life there may be, though, it isn’t exactly a particularly forgiving place to call home. Look out of the window of any given downtown apartment, and you’ll be met by a concrete sea that stretches far over the horizon. The months-long lockdown wreaked havoc on the city, it’s inherently claustrophobic energy only strengthened. As you can imagine, ideas of escape weighed heavily on Paulistanos’ minds.
“During the more difficult period of quarantine here in Brazil, I was very worried about spending the whole time in my apartment in São Paulo,” says photographer Hick Duarte. “I live downtown, and it's kind of oppressive to live here and watch everything that’s happening in the world. I needed to escape for two or three weeks, for both my mental and physical health.”
So he did, finding a house to rent on the coast a couple of hours drive outside the city. It was a decision that instantly brought about a cleaner, calmer state of mind. “I started to think more positively, to be more calm in processing ideas, and to be less anxious about the questions I'd been dealing with,” he says. “There was no city noise, no pressure, and I think it had a great impact on my work and creativity.”
Raised in Minas Gerais, a state in Brazil’s southeast larger than metropolitan France, known for its coffee and milk farms, Hick is at heart a country boy. “When I moved to São Paulo at 23, I started working a lot, things started to be more stressful and kind of anxiety-inducing,” he says. “I started to feel a kind of call to return to nature.”
Inspired by his earlier escape into the wild, he decided to extend the opportunity to a group of friends he first met on a music video shoot in downtown Rio de Janeiro, inviting them to be the subjects of his latest project Comuna. “They're illustrators, tattoo artists, skaters, and they have two upcycling brands, Shutney Molho and DVA Deluxe,” Hick says. “In Brazil, there are some stereotypes of people who live in Rio” -- that everyone is a beach-loving leisure fiend, to put it crudely -- “but these kids were the opposite to that. They share a real sense of being a collective. They're always skating together, producing work together.”
For the group of young skaters, the imposed restrictions of lockdown proved something of a challenge. “They were going crazy!” Hick says. “They need to be on the streets, skating and surfing the city. And some of them have difficult domestic situations -- they sometimes battle with their families, so being at home all the time is quite stressful.”
Accordingly, for eight days, Hick and the gang decamped to a farm in rural Rio de Janeiro state, owned by one of their fathers. Cut off from the internet, save for a daily update on family news, the group of urban natives were transplanted off the grid, encouraged to reconnect with a more primordial pace and way of living. “I wanted to find beauty and more authentic stories in a rural setting. I think people are more themselves without thinking about how to connect with, and be part of, a global or metropolitan culture,” Hick says. “They are themselves and they respect the natural pace of things. People live more slowly, and respect things that people here in São Paulo don’t have time to deal with.”
Time on the farm unfolded organically. For each shoot, Hick had his subjects do something, such as creating pieces of clothing, like hats or shirts, using a pile of old clothes and two domestic sewing machine they’d brought along in tow. Any time outside that was dedicated to skating, kickabouts and what Hick describes as “lysergic times -- taking acid and smoking weed to start thinking beyond our regular patterns of thought.”
The resulting images are a tender document of time slowly unfurling in the company of close friends, conveying a sense of slowness -- a sense of return to a more essential way of thinking and being. “It was about coming back to your roots, in a sense,” Hick reflects. “Living in São Paulo of course has its benefits. Without living here and working in Rio, I wouldn't know these kids. At the same time, it’s a city that almost urges you to to cut your roots. But removing ourselves from all that for eight days, it was super pure. It was just real connections, real relationships, touching skin and seeing eye to eye.”
All images courtesy Hick Duarte