I’m starting to revisit my collection of photographs of rural workers handling different types of crops across the country. And I do so, inspired and deeply moved after watching a few times the documentary that competed for the prize at the 2000 Cannes Festival (and of great international recognition in the following years) by the great filmmaker Agnès Varda called ‘Les glaneurs et la glaneuse’ (* )(The collectors and I). Varda considers herself, in this documentary, a ‘glaneuse’, not of harvest remains, but a ‘glaneuse’ of information, images, and stories. (*)(https://mubi.com/pt/films/the-gleaners-i).
Varda very appropriately quotes, comments and shows two large paintings on the theme of Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) “Les glaneus” (The scavengers) (1857) and “Le rappel des glaneus” (The remembrance of the scavengers) (1859) by Jules Breton (1827-1906). The criticism of these great works of art comments, among other aspects, on things that are very typical and known to rural workers who, in these activities, show themselves with their ‘broken backs, eyes fixed on the ground’ in ‘repetitive and exhausting movements imposed by this hard work: get down, pick up, get up’.
‘The harvesters’ (of normal harvests), in a lot, resemble the ‘pickers’ who were poor workers, but worthy like any other rural workers who were authorized by the owners or tenants of different plantations to ‘pick up’ the leftovers after the realization of the main crops to guarantee their sustenance.
The context of my photos of rural workers harvesting in the interior of Brazil is quite different from the collectors of the classic paintings shown in the documentary by Agnès Varda, but even so I decided to make comparisons since I find similarities between these images because these rural workers repeat, daily, during the harvest period, the same scenes of having their ‘backs broken, eyes fixed on the ground’ in ‘repetitive and exhausting movements imposed by this hard work: lowering , pick up, lift’ being ‘supervised’, or controlled, also, as in Millet’s work, by one or more ‘inspectors’ of the bosses.
I can say that I am also part of this story because in my childhood – along with my brothers/sisters and cousins – I was a collector. My paternal grandfather and my father allowed (and encouraged) us to ‘pick up’ coffee after the normal period of the annual harvest in their small plantations. The product of this activity was sold, which yielded some money that was shared between us. It is even said that one of the cousins ’hidden’, surreptitiously, under the ‘skirt’ of some coffee trees, during normal harvests (in which we also actively participated), some good amounts of coffee which, later at the time of ‘ scavenger hunt’ was gallantly collected by all of us. Everything leads to the belief that both the grandfather and the father pretended that they did not know about this illicit maneuver.