Tourists climb up the Dois Irmãos mountains using a hiking trail that has its starting point in Vidigal, a favela in Rio de Janeiro. The trail was off-limits when heavily armed drug gangs ruled the community, but became a popular touristic destination after Vidigal received a so-called Pacification Police Unit, part of a government plan to make the city safer in preparation for the 2016 Olimpic Games
Worker from Rio's eletricty company work on a lamp post along the main road of Vidigal
The son of Walmar Luiz, a community organizer in Vidigal who also works as a location scout for film productions, in the living room of their home overlooking the ocean
Tourists enjoy an afternoon of samba and feijoada at Bar da Laje, located in one of the most scenic spots in Vidigal, a favela in Rio de Janeiro. The bar, too expensive for most locals, was built on a spot that was used as an execution ground by the drug gang that controlled Vidigal. The place still brings chilling memories for many residents, who have mixed feeling about their community becoming a playground for tourists and rich Cariocas
Monthly theater show in Vidigal organized by Nós do Morro, a local tuition-free acting school that formed several local actors who eventually went on to play leading roles in popular Brazilian soap operas and movies, among them the international hit City of God
Improvisation night at Cafofo da Nêga, a theater and bar in Vidigal where the local cultural scene meets for plays and parties. Several actors from Vidigal, formed in Nós do Morro, a local tuition-free acting school, went on to play leading roles in popular Brazilian soap operas and movies, among them the international hit City of God, and became famous. Most still live there
Locals and tourists mingle at a music concert in a small bar in Vidigal
A model agency representing only models living in Rio de Janeiro's favelas make a casting call in Vidigal to seek new models for their roster
Candomblé ritual in Vidigal. Candomblé is an African diasporic religion that developed in Brazil during the 19th century. It arose through a process of syncretism between the traditional religions of West Africa and the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. In many poor communities in Brazil, candomblé temples have been attacked by conservative evangelical Christians. They have also been evicted from some areas by criminal gangs
Cícero Francisco, an immigrant from the northern state of Paraíba, lives in neighboring Rocinha but runs motorbike repair operation on the sidewald of Vidigal's main roas, that he considers a safer place to work than his own communtity.
Boy flies a kite from a rooftop in Vidigal overlooking the ocean during a late afternnon in Vidigal
Workers chat at the construction site of a new commercial and residential building in Vidigal, an investment from a local entrepreneur
The Magalhães family in their two-room home in Vidigal. The patriarch, Carlos Eduardo Magalhães, used to work selling bottled water and sodas at the beach. After seriously hurting his knee in an accident, he now spends his days idly at home. Vidigal experienced an economic boom after becoming a popular touristic destination during the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, but not many residents benefited from it
Police officers and locals cruise along the main road that crosses Vidigal. A government plan to make Rio de Janeiro safer in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games increased police presence in Vidigal and in several of the city's favelas, which used to be controlled by heavily armed drug gangs. Safety increased dramatically, but the relationship between locals and the police, which in Rio has a well-documented history of racism and serious human rights abuses, remained tense.
Police officers patrol the streets of Vidigal at night
Early evening in Vidigal
Vidigal is a small favela in Rio de Janeiro’s rich south side. It hugs the steep slope of the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers, in Portuguese) hills, one of the city’s most iconic postcards, climbing up directly from the Atlantic ocean. Home to an estimated 30 thousand people, it had a fearsome reputation. It was controlled by a drug gang known for its viciousness. They had a habit of starting bloody wars against the gang controlling the bigger neighbor on the opposite side of the hill, Rocinha, the biggest favela in Rio. The battles, some lasting days, forced some of the main traffic arteries in the city to close for traffic, while the police, outgunned, stayed clear. In the meantime, some of the areas of Rio most visited by tourists hunkered down to the sound of assault rifle fire and grenades. In preparation for the two major global events it would soon host, the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, authorities in Rio devised a policy to attempt to put an end to the reign of drug lords over several of the city’s favelas, among them Vidigal. For a while, it was a major success. The new peace allowed residents of Rio to finally discover another side of Vidigal: its feisty mellow vibe and the stunning views of the city below. Soon gentrification followed. Young locals and foreigners moved in after the low rents and the fun atmosphere. A famous architect built a boutique hotel on the place where the former drug lord had his headquarters. Across from it, an entrepreneur from São Paulo built a fancy lounge bar, where famous DJs often kept crowds dancing well past sunrise. The artist Vik Muniz opened an art school for local kids. Several locals started hostels and restaurants to cater to the mobs of tourists roaming through its narrow alleyways. Others began to make a good living as local guides. Celebrities became regulars to the thriving local cultural scene. There were rumors that David Beckham had bought a house there, others that Madonna had joined Beckham in the neighborhood. For a time Vidigal seemed to be the trendiest place in Brazil, a novelty that both Rio’s locals and visitors were thrilled to discover. Longtime residents felt the change was disorienting, some seeing it as a threat while others saw it as a blessing, if not both at the same time. Between 2015 and early 2016, at the peak of the buzz, I spent a few months immersed in the life of Vidigal. That project became a long feature published by Geo magazine, from Germany. It was a privilege. Just as soon as the Olympic Games were finished, the successful policy that brought a fragile peace to Vidigal and other favelas was dismantled. A series of major corruption scandals engulfed Rio’s government, sending to jail all of the state's living former governors. The city descended into a deep economic crisis, from which it still has not recovered, and Vidigal went back to its old violent past.