With stunning black-and-white images, photographer Mário Macilau uses the ‘language’ of his craft to question society

written by Jackie Prager, CNN

Surrounded by his images in his workshop in Maputo, Mozambique, photographer Mario Macilau adjusted the contrast of a photograph he took recently. The simple but eye-catching image depicts a boy covered in powder, participating in a traditional religious ceremony. Mackilau is finding a delicate balance between black and white in the picture as he sheds light on the people who live in the shadows of society.

The visual artist travels around his country, capturing images of social and environmental issues. For Mackilau, photography is “a very important tool to make a positive impact in the world,” he said, “the way people think, the way people look at each other, the way people judge.” , the way people stereotype certain cultures.”

Mackilau, 38, uses his art to question every aspect of society. The focus of his long-term projects is to reflect on how colonialism has affected the architecture of Mozambique, from the preservation of the country’s ancient religious ceremonies and the raw realities of marginalized groups.

“We need to store the social values ​​that we have,” he said. “For generations to come, they need to know where they are coming from so that they know where they are going.”

Mackilau’s art has been exhibited worldwide, including in group and solo performances in Lisbon, London and New York City. As a child, he spent many years outdoors in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, where he worked to financially support his family before becoming an award-winning photographer.

Mozambican photographer Mário Macilau . with the back of the lens

He says he discovered his passion for photography at age 14: “For me, photography was a toy. That’s what made me happy.” It wasn’t until McKillaw decided to trade his mother’s cell phone for a camera that he began pursuing art as a profession.

“Growing Up in the Dark”

The life experience of the photographer, being on the margins of society, inspired him to create his scariest series,”grew up in the darkOver the course of several years, Macilau documented the conditions of street kids living in Maputo – a difficult reality facing many Mozambican children. As of 2020 UNICEF According to the report, 74% of children in the southern African nation do not have proper access to infrastructure, including sanitation and electricity.

“My idea was to show them from different perspectives … how they’re living, where they’re staying, where they’re sleeping,” McKillau said.

Mario Mackilau (right) talks with a man photographed while riding his motorcycle through Mozambique. Credit: CNN

Before shooting for the series, he spent time getting to know the kids. He says he gained his confidence so that he could become “invisible” and capture his day-to-day real life.

“You need to build trust with people,” he said. “You need to tell them why: why are you shooting them; why is this project important to you, your creativity; and what will you do with this project?”

the series was shown 2015 Venice Biennale, All photographs were printed in a black-and-white composition – a style Macilau continues to use. This motif is prominent in one of his long-form series, “Profit Corner”, which humanizes the people working and living in a local dumpsite.

“I want people to look at my work and the first thing they should (in) look for is beauty,” he said, explaining that he believes his photographs are perfect in black and white. Using contrast helps people, “understand it simply and … they don’t forget about the photo.”

Inspired by his Mozambican heritage and personal experiences, Macilau says he feels a sense of responsibility to use his photography to expose the challenges in our society and to help make the world a better place.

“I’m trying to show the people around me that there is room for everyone,” he said.

Watch the full African Voices episode featuring Macilau Here,