Sophie Barbasch is a photographer based in New York City. She earned her MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and her BA in Art and Art History from Brown University. Selected grants and residencies include the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, the Blue Mountain Center, and a Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil.
I went to photograph the military police school in Fortaleza, Brazil in 2016, right when President Dilma Rouseff was being removed from office in what many saw as a coup. It brought to mind the fragility of democracy and the memory of the dictatorship (1964-1985) especially as conservatives were calling for a return to military rule.
The military police (or Polícia Militar, also known as PM) was founded in 1809 and is a separate institution from the military itself. However, during the dictatorship, the PM came to be defined as an auxiliary, or reserve force, of the military. Today, there are still links. For example, if an officer is charged with a crime, the case goes to a military court rather than a civil court, and the PM still has a military hierarchy of command.
Similarly, the school adopts a military chain of command. I was curious to see how the students reacted to an educational program that prioritizes discipline and order. But what struck me the most was not the history or context so much as the way they looked at each other. In an environment that is all about surveillance and optics, I observed them observing each other. I thought about how the simple act of looking can be disruptive.