Rio de Janeiro’s communal spaces are an antidote to its inequities, snapshotted through a humanist lens by the Copenhagen-based photographer

Rio de Janeiro is a city at odds with itself: culturally vibrant, artistically rich, naturally breathtaking—but marked by extreme inequality, cut through by disparities in race and class and education. Photographer Paw Gissel was in Brazil, contributing to a documentary project about those adverse structures contradicting the nation’s abundance. “It had a very academic approach,” he tells Document, “so I wanted to take a break from that, and explore a more poetic aspect of the city. I found that the beaches present a refreshing contrast—they offer a kind of free space, with a unique atmosphere of social diversity and accessibility.”

Gissel sought to capture that open environment—documenting chance encounters with Rio’s inhabitants, brought together in the context of communal space. “Most of my subjects seemed pretty confident,” he says. “But it was definitely a challenge to strike up a conversation with people in that setting.” The ease on view in the resulting portraits speaks for itself: testament not only to Gissel’s skill as a photographer, but also to the best of what Rio has to offer—grounds for community that, however momentarily, transcend social tension, a snapshot of a more united potential future.