Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2007: Julio Bittencourt „In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building“

Winner 2007: Julio Bittencourt

The 26-year-old Brazilian photographer Julio Bittencourt has won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2007 for a series of portraits of inhabitants of a house occupied by homeless people in downtown São Paulo.

Julio Bittencourt’s portrait series gives a face to the homeless people who have been living in house no. 911 in Prestes Maia Avenue in the heart of São Paulo ever since November 3rd, 2002. After its occupation by an organization for the homeless, it offers accommodation for over 1200 people. Bittencourt approaches the inhabitants as a photographer, without forcing his way into their immediate living space. In a strictly formal composition, he portrays the inhabitants at each of the 364 windows of the building. At the interface between the sheltered interior and the unfriendly world outside, they show how much life and security the shabby walls provide. Signs of dilapidation, such as walls blackened by soot and makeshift patches on broken windows intensify the contrast between the inside and outside world. The new city government of São Paulo wants to get rid of the glaring social problem in the city center and is planning to clear the building. 

“Julio Bittencourt’s photodocumentation makes use of the formal strictness of conceptional photography to create an impressive report. By putting the photos together as a series, he highlights the individuality and personal happiness of the subjects, showing a special relationship between ‘man and his environment’ in the spirit of the theme of the competition. In spite of the physical distance, the photographer creates a respectful closeness to his subjects, allowing them to choose how to present themselves. The work is a document of the strength of photography, which tells a complex story in a few pictures,” comments Gero Furchheim, who is responsible for the culture projects of Leica Camera AG as Manager of Corporate Communications. 

Honorable mentions in the traditional competition from the culture program of Leica Camera AG went to the Spanish photographer José Cendon for a reportage project in psychiatric hospitals in East Africa and the Norwegian photographer Margaret M. de Lange, who captured the childhood and youth of her two daughters in a long-term photographic project.

Julio Bittencourt

Born in Brazil, 1980, Julio Bittencourt grew up in São Paulo and New York. The autodidact has been working as a photographer since 2000. His award-winning In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building, appeared as a book in 2008. His Citizen X project is also dedicated to the shortage of  apartments in Brazil. His Ramos series documents life in a number of favelas surrounding an artificial salt-water lake in Rio de Janeiro. Bittencourt's work is exhibited around the world and is published in prestigious newspapers and magazines.