Flavio and Mario

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Gordon Parks, [Flavio da Silva and his brother Mario on the boardwalk during their first trip outside the favela, Rio de Janeiro], 1961
[Mario and Flavio da Silva at Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro], 1961

In 1961, Gordon Parks created a photo essay for Life Magazine about Flavio del Silva, a young boy who lived in the favela of Rio de Janeiro. Flavio suffered from asthma and had never left the slum. Parks described how he took Flavio and his little brother for the first time out of the favela to the beach at Copacabana . The ocean was only ten minutes from their home, but neither of the boys had ever visited the beach.

This was the day I had promised the trip to Copacabana Beach. When I arrived this morning at 7, Flavio and Mario were already waiting at the entrance to the favela, waving and jumping excitedly. They had made no attempt to dress up so the dirt from the day before still covered their bodies. Excepting for soiled, tattered pants, they were naked. I started to suggest their tidying up a bit but their eagerness had got the better of me. They scrambled into the back seat and pleaded for us to go on. As we drove through the valley of gleaming white buildings Mario’s hand closed tightly about that of Flavio’s and the two of them sat close together, wide-eyed and silent, in the center of the car seat-looking.

Suddenly the whole of the vast, curving waterfront and the thronged beach came into view. The car drove slowly along it.

‘Look, look, look,’ Mario cried. Hundreds of multicolored umbrellas cast pools of shade over the long strip of blinding white sand. Children of the same ages as Flavio and Mario ran about, eating, laughing, playing leapfrog, and flying large colored kites.

‘Flav,’ Mario said, turning to his brother, ‘is this here all the time?’

‘Yes, yes, yes of course,’ Flavio practically shouted.

At first the two were afraid to move about out on the wide, exposed serpentine walks and the expanse of sand beyond. They were just feeling bold enough to move off to the water when a jet liner roared over from behind the buildings. The boys ducked and cringed. After the din died away they joined hands and warily approached the water. The first time a wave broke against the beach they screamed and ran. But within minutes they were skipping joyfully and unafraid in the foamy surf.

Later they walked along, gasping at the elaborately dressed windows of Rio’s expensive stores. I bought them food but they were too excited to eat it. When finally it was time to go they begged for one last ride along the waterfront. So we turned and circled and Flavio and Mario sat silently as we swept past the vision of the beach and sea.”

The photographs of Flavio and his life in the slums had a strong impact after they were published in Life. Seeing the suffering of the young boy, readers contributed $300,000 and Life arranged for Flavio to be flown to Denver where he was treated for his sickness.

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About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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