Photography

Photos of Life in 'Portugal's Toughest Neighbourhood'

Photographer José Ferreira's new project captures a marginalised community as it's torn down.

by José Ferreira
01 April 2019, 11:01am

All photos: José Ferreira

This article originally appeared on VICE Portugal

Just a few kilometres from the centre of Lisbon – where millions of tourists a year are helping to fuel rapid gentrification – the city's 6 de Maio neighbourhood is slowly dying out.

For decades, 6 de Maio has been mythicised as a place so dangerous and ungovernable that even the police wouldn't dare set foot in it. In reality, the community was built mainly by Cape Verdeans who arrived in the late 1970s, after the nation gained independence from Portugal. Fast forward to 2016, which saw the local government actively breaking up the neighbourhood to make room for a new urban development project through a series of forced evictions and police raids.

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

After learning about the local government's attempts to dismantle the neighbourhood, documentary photographer José Ferreira spent a year in 6 de Maio, capturing the day-to-day lives of its residents, with the aim of creating something that will help outsiders better understand the marginalised community, culminating in the photo series Out of Law.

"Many people here were born to poor families that had next to nothing," Ferreira says. "They have nothing to lose."

The first thing the photographer wanted to do was gain the residents' trust, which wasn't easy. "It's a tight-knit community – they all have each others' backs," he explains. "Many of the locals are suspicious of people they don't know, and they have been relatively closed off from the outside world. But once we had a mutual understanding, they were wonderfully humble and friendly to me." Ferreira eventually became a welcomed presence in the community, and also started working with some of the local rappers, shooting their album covers.

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
Many of the young men in the neighbourhood own a gun.

6 de Maio won't exist in its current form for much longer. Due to the evictions and constant demolitions, much of the neighbourhood looks like a war zone. "All the police have ever been focused on is making sure crime doesn't spread to other neighbourhoods, rather than actually fixing the problems here," Ferreira explains. The demolition trucks are an almost constant presence now, as families are being rehoused across Lisbon, away from the community they grew up in.

Out of Law shows that 6 de Maio is about more than just crime and dilapidated buildings. Ferreira hopes that his photos will help preserve the community in some way, long after it's been torn down.

Scroll down to see more photos from Out of Law.

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Carlon, 35 (left) was born in Cape Verde and emigrated to Portugal with his parents when he was two. He has been working as a barber here for 18 years.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A police car patrols the area.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A group of men work out in a home that was demolished by the local government.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
Two guys fight next to a demolished house. They are both "snipers", whose job it is to warn everyone when either the police or a rival gang is on the way. The fight started when one of them didn't do his job properly.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A man holds a machete, which used to belong to his father.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A scar on a man's stomach, caused by a gun shot wound.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
At age 15, this man was sent to a juvenile correctional centre. At 18, he was sentenced to a prison term for car-jacking. At 25, he returned to prison for assault on a worker in a jewellery shop.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A resident taking care of his cannabis plants.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A man giving his six-month-old a bath.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
Wilson, 24, dreams of being a professional boxer. He has set up a gym in a demolished house.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A nighttime poker game.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
A man looks on as a demolition truck tears down a house.
Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira

Lisboa Barrio 6 de Maio José Ferreira
Locals partying.