Growing up in darkness

Story highlights

  • Mario Macilau photographed children who are growing up on the streets of Mozambique
  • Some have been abandoned; others are working to make money for their families

(CNN)Many of us travel through streets each and every day so we can get to our homes. But for the children documented in photographer Mario Macilau's "Growing in Darkness" series, the streets are their homes.

The title refers to how some children in Maputo, Mozambique, are forced to literally grow up in darkness as they find themselves seeking refuge in places without electricity.
"I entered into their private spaces: bridges and abandoned buildings where they live and sleep. These places (are) very dark, damp and pernicious," Macilau said via email. "In these makeshift places, there are no facilities, light, water or any other form of domestic support."
    The darkness is also a symbolic representation of the children's condition. It is as though society allows the literal lack of light to conceal the situation, rendering the children overlooked.
    Photographer Mario Macilau
    "We forget that (these children) are humans as we are. We ignore the fact that they have feelings and that they dream as well," Macilau said. "The main issue in Maputo today is the ignorance from each person to another -- (it) is the same thing that happens with (these) children. They are in the street because of our ignorance and ego."
    There are various reasons children are forced to live on the streets. Some have been abandoned by their families, while others have moved into the capital city to earn money for their loved ones.
    The project is particularly personal for Macilau, a Maputo native who carried groceries and washed cars as a child to help his family with finances.
    All of Macilau's photos were shot in natural light and developed using a pigmented inkjet technique, resulting in a black-and-white photo series that provides a hauntingly rich and raw portrait of these children's lives.
    "My aim was to go where everyone advised me not to go," Macilau said. "I was determined to reach the sight that seemed to frighten many."

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    Having initially visited his subjects without a camera, Macilau says he and the children were able to develop a mutual trust and sense of safety.
    "It is from this position of a friend that I managed to capture their existence: the adversity of their environments, the endurance of their young but possibly condemned bodies, and their resilience that, daily, defies the inhumanity of their hardships," he said.
    Macilau's photos present everything from children sleeping and seeking shelter from the rain to dressing up as cowboys and ninjas.
    The power and permanence of the images stem not only from the subject matter, but also Macilau's decision to shoot in black and white. He notes how viewers are more likely to retain the images in their memories because the lack of color enhances the details and deep, poetic significance that lives within each photo.
    The photos also raise questions regarding the role society plays in the growth of its children. He notes that many of the children are engaged in forms of child labor, meaning they are vital participants and contributors to the functioning of Maputo. Macilau asks: "What is our role in this? How can we remedy their unfavorable situation?"
    Macilau effectively sheds light upon a situation that is simultaneously so visible and invisible.
    "Spending time with them reveals their charming sensibilities, human gestures and the immensity of their heart," Macilau said.