Everywhere a Crackland

A drug user consumes crack in the old center of Salvador da Bahia March 19, 2012. Many Brazilian cities now have their own “cracklands,” areas of the city where swarms of crack users have converted entire neighborhoods into nocturnal encampments doubling as open-air crack markets. At nightfall throngs of stupefied buyers crowd around dealers before skulking away behind the telltale glow of cigarette lighters. Sociologists, health experts, and law enforcement officials all agree that crack use is a rapidly growing problem that puts Brazil squarely in the center of the international drug trade. Picture taken March 19, 2012. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

We were led from one alley into another and into a bar where a gang was playing dominoes for money. The place was eerie, but strangely familiar. A Worker’s Party logo was… painted on one wall…

After several failed attempts to photograph crack addicts during the day, it was 8 pm and I only had four hours left. I called a “brother” who said he had a “brother” who knew a guy in the historic city center. We were led from one alley into another and into a bar where a gang was playing dominoes for money. The place was eerie, but strangely familiar. A Worker’s Party logo was painted on one wall, and on the other a scene of a tropical island with palm trees and boats on a beach.

The brothers talked it over with a local crack dealer as I got a drink and ate a boiled egg. What seemed like an hour passed until one of them came back to tell me that the photos were authorized as long as the dealer himself didn’t appear and the place wasn’t recognizable.

It was close to 10 pm and I grabbed my backpack and met the guys in the alley where the crackheads usually smoke. There were five there in the alley, the oldest of whom said that he’d been in the life of crack for more than 20 years, and that it’s a dead end. He said he’d tell me more after taking a “shot.”

A woman told me I could photograph all of them because everyone already knew they are crack heads, and that nothing matters anymore. I got close enough to use a 24mm lens and they smoked as if I wasn’t even there. The smell of the burning rock was strong and other users appeared and approached. Only then did I learn that after the “shot” comes paranoia, and the story changes. It was as if I was suddenly in another place, with different people.

Two of them came to my “brother” and asked him for money. The woman who spoke calmly before suddenly also wanted money and threatened to break our car. Others surrounded the dealer and demanded more rocks. He tried to show he was still in control, but then told us to move fast to the car, and he climbed in with us. We were forced to leave without finishing the assignment or interviews I had planned. But alive.

(excerpt from Reuters Photographers Blog | read the full accounts here)

(View a large format gallery of the images here)

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