A São Paulo vignette

I just wanted to share a scene that I saw regularly on my wanders close to Avenida Ipiranga and São João, in the crumbling old part of central São Paulo.

Whilst hanging around, in the way that you can when you have nothing particular to do, I saw DVD sellers, who I soon discovered were illegal DVD sellers, dotted around a set of pedestrianised streets just behind the picturesque, but not particularly safe, Praça da República. Around their necks hung cheap plastic walkie-talkies, which crackled into life whenever any police could be seen. The messages bounced between the sellers until suddenly they all disappeared, only to reappear moments later when the ‘danger’ had passed.

I, obviously, wanted to photograph them, but this was problematic as they didn’t want to be photographed and wouldn’t even tell me their names. Some, but by no means all, had a vacant look that can only come with regular drug use. There was no benefit to them in being photographed. However, I still watched and took a few photos of the game played out between them and the police.

Illegal street seller in Sao Paulo

Even people who didn’t sell DVDs took advantage of the early warning system.

Police driving along the street moments after the DVD sellers had scattered

And when the police came, sirens wailing,

Illegal street sellers hiding from the police

everyone scattered.

Whilst all this was happening I stood at a corner boteco,

A sweet coffee in a Brazilian boteco

having a coffee.

It always surprised me that, although the police knew exactly where the street sellers were hiding, they just rode past and rarely bothered to go into the shopping centre where they hid, to arrest them. This, I was told, was because it was too much hassle for the police, too much paperwork. But occasionally they would swoop,

A plain-clothed policeman loading confiscated goods onto a lorry

and confiscate everything!

This provided a bit of entertainment for anyone passing by, and a good excuse for a chat, something Brazilians love!

A crowd watching a police operation on Rua Barão de Itapetininga.

The End


Originally a term for a pub, but now a general term for a place where you can get something to eat quickly, in addition to a shot of something if you want.


If you are interested in using any of these images please contact me. All photographs copyright Raphael Schutzer-Weissmann. Any use requires authorisation. Thank you.

© Raphael Schutzer-Weissmann


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