Privacy to moulder away unseen and with little care?
That is a valid point. While I'm sure that any of us would like to get a portfolio in the NY Times, but would any of us do something similar to accomplish that?
As a reply to your point, have you ever been to a mental hospital? I don’t intend this as a quip. My SO, a RN, worked in one for 2 years. In the US, patients right to privacy are protected both as a general respect, for their and their families safety, and also due to HIPPA laws. According to my SO, you could theoretically see many of the same scenes in mental hospitals in the US. The conditions are somewhat better, but sadly, conditions vary widely. In any event, the detail is that in the US, the general public would not be allowed to do so.
Were something like this to take place in the US, it is likely that the photographer and the newspaper could or would have a law suit made against them by each of the subjects. Being a patient mental hospital, by it’s very definition means that these people don’t have the state of mind to decide it’s okay permit this kind of thing.
I'm pretty sure the photographer and the Times was aware of this, so they probably did the deed where rights to privacy are not so restrictive. Slice it as you wish, it still amounts exploiting disabled people.
There is a long history on the advancement of the mental asylums, and treatment of those who are disturbed. Interested people can look into a wide variety of works on the topic. I read a few books while a student, and can make some recommendations if anyone is interested The reading will show that the treatment of disturbed people has come a long way. Perhaps not as much in Brazil as other places, but the goal of any modern hospital or asylum is to provide safety and aid.
Were these photographs made on random streets, that would be more tolerable both from a right to privacy and a photojournalism perspective, than what amounts to going behind closed doors and taking advantage of disturbed people.