Marc Ohrem-Leclef

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Marc Ohrem-Leclef
2016 Annual Juried Competition
Third Place Winner

In 2006 I followed news of the infamous destruction of Beijing’s historic Qianmen district ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. The fact that an event which is to embody the spirit of uniting people from many different nations directly causes the destruction of historic neighborhoods and removal of thousands of residents struck me deeply. 

In many of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, the city’s housing authority Secretaria Municipal de Habitação (in shortSMH) has been enforcing policies to remove families from their homes and demolish those homes to make way for infrastructure projects in preparation of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. In response to news reports of widespread evictions of residents from their homes and businesses, beginning in 2012 I began to portray the people affected by completed and planned evictions, as well as the residents organizing their neighbors in resistance to SMH’s policies.

For this project I have created two parallel bodies of work:
One group of images consists of portraits of the people who live in the favelas, the people who make them the vibrant neighborhoods they are. Many of the residents are photographed in front of their homes,which have been designated for removal by SMH with spray-painted code numbers. The second group features directed images of residents posing with flaming emergency torches in their communities. Referencing iconic imagery ranging from Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ and Bartholdi’s ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ to news imagery of the Arab Spring, these photographs invoke ideas of liberation, independence, resistance, protest and crisis, whilst making use of the core symbol of the Olympic Games—the torch.
Together with the portraits, these images juxtapose the dynamics of celebration and togetherness with those of struggle based on social-economic disparity, which the mega-events are bringing to Rio de Janeiro and its citizens.
Elements such as one’s relationship with the surrounding community; the connection to the actual place (land); memory, both personal and familial; mobility, relative to wealth and ultimately class; language and forms of expression and the constant state of change those elements are subjected to, are addressed.

The works in OLYMPIC FAVELA create a representation of those residents who choose to stay and defend their home in the face of great adversity and state power. Copies of letters written to the head of SMH and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Organizing Committee asking for participation in the project are included. None of the politicians and committee members participated.

The portrait of Major Priscilla Azevedo represents a key element on side of the Executive branch: Major Priscilla Azevedo headed the first successful effort of ‘Pacification’. Pacification aims to ‘pacify’ a favela through increased presence of para-military police-units, in an effort to successfully push the drug- and gun-trade out of a community. It has been implemented to date in many favelas, with both positive and negative results for the residents. Major Priscilla Azevedo was the only representative on the side of city or state agencies to participate in the project.

Marc Ohrem-Leclef was born in Dusseldorf, Germany. After studying Communication Design at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Germany he relocated to New York City in 1998. Ohrem-Leclef’s visual arts practice centers on immersive portraits of communities—whether they are formed by bloodlines, social circumstance, or cultural movements. Ohrem-Leclef’s work has been exhibited in Germany, Brazil and the U.S. It has been reviewed and featured in publications such as Artnews, BBC, Slate, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, Internazionale, Huffington Post.  OLYMPIC FAVELA, a book of photographs by Marc Ohrem-Leclef with a text by Luis Perez-Oramas (MoMA), was named “best of 2014” by AmericanPhoto Magazine. In 2013 Marc was invited as a Guest Lecturer in the Advanced Photography Seminar at Columbia University, New York.

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