An Untranslatable Brazilian Feeling, in Photos - OZY | A Modern Media Company

An Untranslatable Brazilian Feeling, in Photos

By OZY Editors


Because maybe pictures can define an untranslatable word.

Antonio Franco is a freelance photographer living in Rio de Janeiro.

Everyone feels it at some point, in some way. Even after 23 years of living in America, Brazilian photographer Antonio Franco felt it.

It wasn’t like a deep sadness or overbearing sense of nostalgia per se. It was more of a constant longing, a yearning, for a life that never was. “It was a little of this and a little of that and a little of what will never be,” Franco tries to explain in English. But he can’t. Not because he doesn’t know what he was feeling. He knows exactly what he was feeling: saudade. It’s a Portuguese word with no English translation. It’s something that stays with you, he says, “like a faint shadow on a hazy day.” After two decades of living in California, working as a journalist and photographer, 30-year-old Franco says he finally decided to move back to Brazil “to kill the saudade, as we say.”

When he finally returned home to Rio de Janeiro in 2009, he found that his family needed him. His grandfather refused a wheelchair despite a bad knee and stubborn limp. “So I became my grandfather’s legs,” says Franco who’d run his errands. “I became his hands,” signing and writing, as his grandfather’s were too shaky. “I became his eyes,” reading aloud stock prices and newspapers. They laughed and joked and fought until his grandfather passed away. 

He also found a country where “people are still constantly on edge,” says Franco. As a kid in Brazil in the late ’80s, he remembers military standing on every street corner and hyperinflation forcing his family to rush to buy groceries before their money was worthless. Today, everyone fears that the next crash is imminent, he says. “It’s like collective post-traumatic stress, and it’s always under the surface here, especially with my generation that grew up with it.”

Franco has stayed in Brazil, where he works as a freelance photographer, practices yoga and spends time with his family. But still, he says, his saudade remains. “With words, emotions can get lost in translation, but perhaps with photography, with the layer of language removed, we might see it— and another— a little more clearly,” he says. In the following photos, taken over the last year, Franco says his intent is to show “resilience, hope and beauty in unexpected places” — as well as an expression of an otherwise untranslatable term.


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