You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Documentary’ category.
Crowdfunding, eh? What to make of it. I feel like the jury is still out, but then again I have had my head somewhat in the sands of late. I have benefited in the past from a Kickstarter campaign and in the immediate aftermath tried to give my feedback on the dos and don’ts.
Where the successful intersections between cultural production and social justice lie is, for me, a constant internal debate, so I hope this post serves two purposes.
Firstly, to clarify my thinking and to highlight the type of crowd funding campaign that I think encapsulates best practice.
Secondly, to bring a half-dozen endeavors (5 prison-related and 1 purely photo-based) that I think deserve your attention and, perhaps, your dollars.
On the first purpose, I’ve identified common traits among these projects that are indicative of a good practice:
- Track record. These fund seekers appearing out of the blue; they’ve done work in the specific area and have chops and connections.
- Direct action. These projects will directly engage with subject and, consequently audience on urgent politic issues
- Community partners. These funders have existing relationships with organizations or programs that will provide support, direction, accountability and extended networks
- Diversity. Of both product and outcomes. Projects that meld digital output/campaigns and boots-on-the-ground activism get my attention. Creators, in these instances, realize that they must leverage every feasible avenue to get out the political message.
- Matching funds. In cases where matching funds exist, I am reassured. It shows that the creator is forging networks and infers that they are inventive and outward looking when it comes fundraising. It infers that we’re all in it together; it might just give us those necessary warm fuzzy feelings when handing over cash on the internet.
On the second purpose, I’ll let you decide.
Let’s start with a campaign to help OUTREACH, a program offered by Toronto’s Gallery 44 that breaks down barriers to the arts by offering black & white photography workshops to 50 young people each year.
OUTREACH’s darkroom is the last publicly accessible wet darkroom in Toronto. Gallery 44 has offered accessible facilities to artists since 1979.
Donations go to workshops costs: photographic paper, film, processing, chemistry, snacks and transit tokens.
OUTREACH has several existing community partners including the Nia Centre for the Arts, Eva’s Phoenix, Toronto Council Fire Native Community Centre, PEACH and UrbanArts.
“I went from being a student to a mentor,” says one participant. “I recently had my work exhibited in the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.”
2. DYING FOR SUNLIGHT
In the summer of 2013, prisoners in California conducted the largest prison hunger strike in U.S. history. 30,000 men refused food in protest against the use of indefinite solitary confinement. Some prisoners refused food for 60 consecutive days. Dying For Sunlight will tell the story.
Across racial lines, from within the belly of the beast (Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit) California prisoners mounted a reasoned and politically robust defense of their basic human rights that garnered nationwide attention. Their families joined them in solidarity. This was a true grassroots movement built by those on the front lines of state violence
“We prisoners of all races have united to force these changes for future generations,” Arturo Castellanos wrote from the Pelican Bay SHU.
Filmmakers Lucas Guilkey and Nazly Siadate have spent the past year building relationships, and covering the California prisoner hunger strikes. They are joined by journalist Salima Hamirani and community organizations Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Critical Resistance, All of Us or None, and California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement in their effort to tell this story.
“In a world of sound bytes, Dying For Sunlight feature length documentary will allow us the time to more fully delve into the questions this movement has raised,” says Guilkey. “Why and how is solitary confinement used in California prisons? What does the movement against it look like? And how did we get to the point where we’ve normalized a system of torture in our own backyards?”
Dying For Sunlight takes the premise that, in order to understand our society with “increasing inequality, militarization, incarceration, surveillance, deportation, and the criminalization of dissent, we must listen to the voices of those who have endured the most repressive form of social control–the solitary confinement unit.”
The U.N. Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez ruled that solitary for anything more than 15 days is psychological torture, yet California and other states throw people in the hole for decades.
The film is in pre-production and all the fancy-schmancy gear is bought. Donations will go directly to costs associated with travel, expenses and editing related to interviews made up and down the state with family members, formerly incarcerated people, solitary experts, prison officials. They’ll attend rallies and vigils too. They hope to have a rough cut by December.
3. CHANGE THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS (AIA) CODE OF ETHICS TO OUTLAW DESIGN OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT UNITS
Raphael Sperry continues his battle to rewrite an AIA ethics code which predates the widespread use of solitary confinement in the U.S.
An architect himself, but on hiatus to concentrate on this political and ethical fight, Sperry points out, “even though only 3 to 4% of prisoners are in solitary confinement, half of all prison suicides occur among prisoners who are in solitary confinement.
The AIA is the voice of the architectural profession.
“The AIA has disciplinary authority over its members. In the current code of ethics, they have language that says that members should uphold human rights in all of their professional endeavors. So it’s pretty clear that members shouldn’t design a Supermax prison or an execution chamber,” explains Sperry. “[But] the language about upholding human rights is unenforceable in the AIA code of ethics. So all we’re asking them to do is draft an enforceable rule associated with it that says that members should not design [a project that commits] a specific human rights violation.”
Sperry’s tactics go to the heart of his profession and tackle this issue that stains our collective moral conscience. It’s strategic and laudable. He’s won institutional support before.
Donations go toward ongoing conversations, writing, speaking, research and pressure on the top brass.
4. A LIVING CHANCE
A Living Chance: Storytelling to End Life Without Parole is made in collaboration with females serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in California. The word “collaboration” is the important detail. It is made with incarcerated members of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a grassroots social justice organization with members inside and outside of prison. CCWP rightly identifies incarcerated women as the experts on the issue of prisons.
Audio recordings, interviews, letters, and photographs will constitute a website and a publication about LWOP which is considered the “lesser” alternative sentence to the Death Penalty.
People sentenced to LWOP have no chance of release from prison and very slim opportunity for appeals or clemency. There are approximately 190 people sentenced to die in prison by LWOP in California’s women’s prisons. The majority of whom are survivors of childhood and/or intimate partner abuse. In most cases, evidence of their abuse was not presented at their trial.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC) and prioritizes the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement. CCWP began in 1995 when people inside the women’s prisons filed a lawsuit against then-governor Pete Wilson rightfully claiming that the healthcare inside prison was so terrible it violated their 8th amendment rights.
A Living Chance was chosen as a recipient of a matching funds award up to the value of $6,000. Already, $2,000 has been raised in individual donations, so the crowdfunding target is $4,000 of a $12,000 total
Donations go creation of the storytelling website and publication, stipends for participants, travel costs to the prisons, and building future effective campaigns.
5. THE PRISON PROBLEM, SHANE BAUER’S YEAR OF JOURNALISM
“We spend over $80 billion a year on our corrections system and the cost is growing. At the same time, the number of privately run prisons is on the rise, and the for-profit prison model is spreading globally. In the US, the percentage of prisoners held in private facilities increased 37 percent between 2002 and 2009. Many of these are immigrants, a large number of which remain in pretrial detention for years,” says Bauer. “I’ll show you how U.S. prison practices are being exported to the rest of the world and dissect the systems that lead so many to be locked up in this country.”
For The Prison Problem, Bauer is basically asking for everything he needs to live on in order to create deep investigative journalism: funds to travel, interview, conduct research, and sometimes sue government bodies refusing access to information.
Bauer reporting in Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit, Crescent City, California, 2013.
Bauer promises at least three or four major feature stories, each is the equivalent of a magazine cover story. He’s got the reporting chops necessary — No Way Out for Mother Jones about solitary in California (video, too) is widely acclaimed.
6. HELPING KIDS OUT OF JAIL AND BACK INTO SCHOOL
Pennsylvania Lawyers for Youth (PALY) provides educational rights counseling and assistance to young people in Montgomery County, PA who are reentering the community after being incarcerated. It’s asking for a little help. Montgomery County, PA has been identified as having a disproportionate amount of minority youth being involved in the juvenile system, and suffers from a lack of agencies focused on supporting youth reentering the community.
PALY recruits law student, as volunteers, to work one-on-one with reentering youth crafting individually-designed educational plans.
The average cost of incarcerating a juvenile for a year is about $88k per year; educating that same student is one eighth that cost.
The ask of only $10,000 is small by comparison, but the effect could be huge. Donations will cover PALY’s first year of programming costs: training mentors, youth educational programs, and a ‘Know Your Rights’ campaigns for the community.
Lucia retrieving her stashed pack in the bushes. Kitra Cahana, California, 2013.
I’ll confess that until I met Kitra Cahana last week, I knew next to nothing about her work. That’s my loss more than anything because her work is fantastic; it’s empathetic and it subtly prods many assumptions of priggish Western culture.
Case in point is Cahana’s series Nomad, which documents the lives of a morphing group of young travellers in the U.S. All of it — the boxcars, the festivals, the tiredness, the freedom, the victories, the marginalised physical and psychological spaces, the run-ins with police and the friendship.
Mogli tries on a new dress he just found in a free pile at a truck stop in Washington State. Kitra Cahana, 2010.
As a 2014 TED Fellow, Cahana talked about Nomad to a crowd of TEDsters last month. The presentation A Glimpse Of A Life On The Road doesn’t sugarcoat of idealise the lives of these modern day nomads. “Addiction is real,” she says as she begins to list the many hardships that come with living subject to the elements and under the hammer of increasingly punitive laws.
“Who knows that in many American cities it is now illegal to sit on the sidewalk, to wrap oneself in a blanket and to sleep in ones own car?” Cahana asks the TED crowd. She goes on:
By night they sleep beneath the stars …
Some travelers take to the road by choice, renouncing materialism, traditional jobs and university degrees in exchange for a glimmer of adventure. Others, come from the underbelly of society never given a chance to mobilize upwards — foster care drop out, teenage runaways escaping abuse and unforgiving homes.
Where others see story of privation and economic failure, travelers view their own existence through the prism of liberation and freedom.
They’d rather live off the excess of what they view as a wasteful consumer society, than slave away at an unrealistic chance at the traditional American dream. They take advantage of the fact that in the United States up to 40% of all food ends up in the garbage, by scavenging for perfectly good produce in dumpsters and trash cans. They sacrifice material comforts in exchange for the space and the time to explore a creative interior.
Vagabonds confuse most of us. And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me.’ Why would someone even do that? Live like that?
To exercise empathy I must meet others at a half-way point, and I must meet them where they are at. And to understand. It was my lesson, from listening to Cahana, that I haven’t allowed my imagination to extend far enough to see a life-on-the-road as a solid political position.
In majority America, given the obvious economic inequality, waste, unemployment, sexism in populist media and the associated perverse obsessions of consumerism, you would think, we have plenty of reasons to opt out?!
Put like that, life-on-the-road seems like one of the more sensible responses. I’ve got a few lessons to learn from Cahana’s friends and subjects.
Kitra Cahana speaks at length about Nomad on the TED blog.
Coinciding with San Francisco’s annual Pride events and the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, Anthony Friedkin’s seminal body of work The Gay Essay goes on show this month at the De Young Museum, in San Francisco.
The Gay Essay chronicles the gay communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco between 1969 a 1973 — an era of great strides for political activism in the gay communities in California and nationwide.
Friedkin (b.1949) has always been committed to documenting cultures in his home state of California. The Gay Essay was one of his earliest efforts; he embarked on it as a 19-year-old. Self-assigned, Friedkin went poolside, to the city streets, and into motels, bars and discos in an attempt to create the first extensive record of gay life in the Golden State.
“Friedkin found his place in an approach that retained the outward-looking spirit of reportage combined with individual discovery. As an extrovert with an avid curiosity, he developed close relationships with his subjects that enabled him to create portraits that are devoid of judgment,” says the de Young press release. “He did not aim to document gay life in Los Angeles and San Francisco slavishly, but rather to show men and women who were trying to live openly, expressing their individualities and sexualities on their own terms, and improvising ways to challenge the dominant culture.”
In 1973, the San Francisco Art Week wrote, “The Gay Essay is comparable in magnitude to Robert Frank’s The Americans. The exhibit in its entirety is amazingly strong. And for the most part the photographs are singularly beautiful in execution.”
And yet, The Gay Essay has remained known, since, primarily only to photo-boffins. Consequently, I am personally eager to see this work. It’s “footprint” is not as large as its social significance warrants. Indeed, at the time of writing, a search “Anthony Friedkin” on Google has as the first result a speculative piece I posted on Prison Photography nearly five years ago. (Who knows, perhaps Google’s search metrics might shift a little once Friedkin and The Gay Essay enjoy new press interest for this big De Young show?)
The paucity of images and information on the internet is indicative of a wider photo culture that just hasn’t had Friedkin on the radar. This dearth has been reflected in the real world too. While selections from The Gay Essay have been on public display in museums and galleries in the past, the entire scope of the series — 75 vintage prints — has never been exhibited before in one venue.
“The Gay Essay accords with our goal of bringing to light important, and sometimes neglected or overlooked, bodies of work that enrich the history and study of photography, a medium that is central to art and society today,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
If you’re in the Bay Area at any point in the next six months, I recommend catching this exhibition.
The Gay Essay runs June 14, 2014 – January 11, 2015, at the DeYoung Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118.
Accompanying the original full-frame black-and-white prints will be contact prints, documents and other materials from the photographer’s archive and loans from the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society that provide valuable historical context and insight into the conception and execution of the work.
Exhibition catalogue: 144 pages, Yale University Press. Hardcover $45.
All images: © Anthony Friedkin
Anthony Friedkin started out as a photojournalist working as a stringer for Magnum photos in Los Angeles. Friedkin’s photographs are included in major Museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco MoMA and The J. Paul Getty Museum. His work has been published internationally including in Rolling Stone, Newsweek and others. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
In recent months, there’s been a number of interesting — and in some cases, urgent — photo stories coming out of prisons worldwide, that I’d like to draw you attention to.
Anthony Alvarez, left, 82, eats breakfast with Phillip Burdick, a fellow prisoner and member of the Gold Coats program at California Men’s Colony prison in December. Mr. Alvarez said he has been incarcerated for 42 years for a series of burglaries, possession of illegal firearms and escapes from county jail. He eventually got a life sentence due to three-strikes laws. Shown is Mr. Alvarez’s first day being assisted by the Gold Coats; he largely needs help with mobility. Mr. Alvarez tries to work out for a few minutes every other day. Mr. Burdick, 62, has been volunteering with the Gold Coats for more than 18 years and is the longest-serving member of the program. Mr. Burdick has served 37 years on a 7-years-to-life sentence for first-degree murder.
Andrew Burton‘s photographs of aging prisoners for the Wall Street Journal have been well-received. With one of the largest state prison populations, a history of long sentencing laws and inadequate healthcare, the old men and women have the odds stacked against them for a comfortable day-to-day living.
The percentage of prisoners 55 or older in the U.S. increased by more than 500% between 1990 and 2009.
Burton’s photos focus on the Gold Coats program at California Men’s Colony, in San Luis Obispo, which pairs younger, willing prisoners with older prisoners suffering dementia and terminal illness. In 1991, California Medical Facility created the first prison hospice program in the nation to deal with the AIDS crisis, and the hospice is now used for elderly prisoners who are terminally ill.
Great photos. Burton is realistic about the situation but seems clearly impressed with efforts there.
However, here’s some context. Ever since California’s medical prison system was deemed cruel and unusual and it was brought under federal receivership, the state has been making efforts to deliver specific facilities for health care. The largest was to open the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, CA. It is the largest medical prison in the world. At a cost of $840M it was supposed to solve many issues and provide care for 1,800 prisoners. Nothing is so straightforward. Since opening in July, 2013, it has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.
Watch this space. Hopefully vast, vast improvements will ensue.
[Todd Heisler has photographed at the California Men's Colony too.]
Erika Roberts, 26, of Hartford is a factory worker, a dancer, a teaching artist, a worshiper, a mother of three, and a felon.
Photographer Andrea Wise soon realised that when lives are intertwined with the criminal justice system nothing is straightforward. From the millions of effected formerly-incarcerated millions, Wise’s Freedom Bound manages to tell the story of Erika Roberts on very humanising terms. And with touching photographs.
“Her story is both a simpler one – a quiet story of a young family just trying to do the best they can – and a more complex and nuanced story about life in poor urban communities where people grow up in and around trauma, where criminal activity and incarceration are commonplace, and where Erika’s story isn’t all that uncommon,” says Wise.
Freedom Bound explores Erika’s quiet determination and struggle to break the cycle of incarceration.
“Erika strives for more from life, for her children, and for her community,” writes Wise.
In 2012, Anibal Martel photographed inside Lurigancho Prison, the largest and most overcrowded prison in Peru.
“According to the National Penitentiary Institute of Peru (January 2012) Lurigancho has a capacity limit of 3,204 prisoners but it actually holds 6,713 with a ratio of one police ofﬁcer to 100 inmates,” says Martel.
“With corruption, tuberculosis and drug dependency together with its appalling management by the state, the prison gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous prisons in the world,” Martel continues. “Today, Lurigancho is fighting to survive thanks to the internal organization of some prisoners and their work. These prisoners have managed to create a small, internal infrastructure that allows them to feed themselves and live a more dignified life.”
French photographer Eric Gourlan voluntarily spent a month inside Kyrgyrzstan’s prison and documented life in two men’s prisons, one women’s jail, and a juvenile detention centre — all in the capital Bishkek.
Gourlan has published on Flickr photographs from the juvenile facility in Bishkek, Kyrgryzstan.
There’s a great interview with Gourlan on the Institute for War and Peace Reporting website. Gourlan explains that he gained access through valuable partnerships with State Service for Execution of Punishment (GSIN), the United States Agency for International Development, Freedom House, the OSCE Center in Bishkek, the GSIN Public Oversight Council and the Kyrgyz NGO Egel — a long list which gives us an idea of the importance of partners for this type of work.
“I would really like to commend the openness of [prison] officials in Kyrgyzstan – I could go almost everywhere I wanted,” says Gourlan. “The only thing was that in the first two days, I was accompanied by guards until everyone got used to me. But then I was given more freedom and practically could move around on my own. On some occasions, I ate with prisoners.”
Gourlan met some hardened criminals but also met people who’ve been victims of overly-punitive sentences.
“One woman told me that she had been in a very difficult financial situation and somebody asked her to transport 30 grams of heroin from point A to point B for 100 [US] dollars. She was caught and given 12 years in prison. She had never used drugs before, never sold them, and never got her 100 dollars, but she has been locked up for 12 years,” explains Gourlan. “Obviously I do not know if those stories I was told were true or not. But that was not why I embarked on this project.”
Eric Gourlan’s project was backed by Freedom House, the OSCE Centre in Bishkek, a local NGO called Egl, and the prison service in Kyrgyzstan.
Isabelle Serouart‘s rare photographs from within a prison in Madagascar were published by SoPhot. The images are small and embedded, but I also found this footage Serouart made of female prisoners singing.
“In a very confidential way record of women song in a jail in Madagascar,” says Serouart. “To sing is a way for her to survive together.”
“The program allows inmates to learn job and life skills while providing kennel and grooming services to clients from the surrounding community,” says Ryder. “In addition, unruly dogs from other programs (who might otherwise be put to sleep) are able to have a second chance by entering the prison’s training program.”
This is a win-win for the women, the dogs, the prison administrators and the media. Despite prisons being a continual source of distress and latent abuse, the press always needs new angles — depressing stories don’t have the readership coming back. A human interest story about (wo)man’s best friend and redemption plays well, and we’ve seen them before. Here’s a couple more similar project in Florida and Colorado.
Another thing that makes me slightly uncomfortable with the story is that simultaneously, just over an hour south, detained immigrants were on hunger strike for their confinement in solitary and slow progress of their cases. Now I know, the state prison system and U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement are different authorities, but if we’re to look at lock-up in Washington State, I’d suggest we factor in ALL types of prisons and prisoners. ICE facilities remain the most inviisble.
The full WSJ story, to accompany Ryder’s video, by Joel Millman and with photos by Stuart Isett, you can see here (behind a paywall).
As an aside, the most interesting photography project on prison dog’s programs remains Jeff Barnett-Winsby’s Mark West & Molly Rose. After Barnett-Winsby had photographed the prisoner (Manard) and the program administrator absconded from the Safe Harbor Program and escaped from Lansing Prison, KS and went on the lam for 11 days. A weird tale of fact and fiction, manipulation and unsaid knowns. The investigating police acquired Barnett-Winsby’s photos because he had made the most recent images of Manard’s tattoos. Yet Manard had drawn false tattoos for the shoot predicting their use later following his escape. Twists and turns. No photographer can ever plan or predict such a bizarre story, or implication in it.
A child plays with his mother at the cafeteria inside The Community Prisoner Mother Program in Pomona, California. Mothers and their children live in open barracks shared with two other mother-child family pairs.
Pregnant in Prison offers a look at a select group of minimum security prisoners who may live with their young children until the child turns seven years old. Mothers live with their children in rooms shared with other prisoners. During the day, children are enrolled in the on-site preschool and Kindergarten and mothers take rehabilitation and other classes.
In 2011 and 2012, 233 female prisoners gave birth while serving time in the California prison system. So, this program applies to only a tiny fraction of women suffering California’s prison system. It is a welcome, forward-thinking program. Psychological studies are unanimous that close bonds between mother and baby, from the earliest hours, are vital in sparking healthy cognitive and social behaviours. Why wouldn’t we allow incarcerated mothers the ability to raise their own children?
In terms of such residential programs, most (and there are only a handful) allow mothers and babies to be together until the baby is 2 or 3 years of age. Pomona is exceptional.
Let me be clear though, I don’t want to see more prisons with this type of program; I want to see less prisons with lesser need for these types of programs. I want to see community supervision instead of incarceration and if prisons must be used, then for them to be bursting with positive programs designed around the women’s needs. That said, the Community Prisoner Mother Program has many elements to inform better care.
ANONYMOUS GREEK PRISONER
An expose by a Greek Prisoner registered on American news consumers’ radar when Medium published the piece Greece’s Biggest Prison Is Boiling by Yiannis Baboulias. The photographs accompanying the piece were taken by a prisoner and were then published repeatedly through the Twitter account @kolastirio.
He also got his footage out:
The expose caused outrage.
Baboulias writes, “People suffering from HIV, tuberculosis, psoriasis, cancer and other serious diseases, are discarded like trash in common rooms where hygiene is an unknown term. Spaces designed to hold 60 people, now hold more than 200. Reports say that some of these diseases have already started spreading amongst the inmates, making the prison a threat to public health in the general area. As inmates report, when the staff realises someone is close to death, he is quickly transported to a hospital, so his death won’t be recorded in the prison’s logs.”
Given that the infrastructure of Greece is collapsing in the wake of it economic meltdown, how surprising is this neglect? Hospitals are having budgets cut by 25% so what chance have the prisons and prisoners in the grapple for resources?
In an update, Baboulias says that the prisoner that leaked the photos and video has been prosecuted and faced trial.
“It was clear to me that would have required a great time commitment when I realized that permissions to photograph in the prison were going to take months to obtain,” says Bispuri. “In a few cases I’ve had to wait for years.”
Women’s prisons are rarely any better.
“There certainly is anger in female prisons as well, which sometimes turns into violent attacks. Moreover, in most prisons, female inmates are denied the “intimate visit”, that is the possibility to have sexual intercourse with their husband or partner, which is instead granted to those male inmates who behave properly,” explains Bispuri.
The work has had some effect. Following an exhibition of Bispuri’s photographs, in Buenos Aires in 2009, in collaboration with Amnesty International and the Argentine Government, Mendoza Prison’s Pavilion N5 was closed down.
“Life conditions there were tragic,” says Bispuri.
Bispuri’s series Encerrados describes how hellish many of the facilities. He has had a knife held to his neck and infected fluids thrown at him as protest to being photographed. Still, Bispuri is sympathetic to the resolve of many prisoners.
Amy Elkins recently won the Aperture Portfolio Prize for her projects Parting Words and Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night. Congratulations to her. I’ve written and thought extensively about both projects (for Huffington Post and for Daylight Digital, respectively) and in the wider context of Elkins’ approach.
Hope you appreciate these works and find something you like. Sorry this post is effectively an illustrated barrage of links, but we should be grateful there’s so much work being published! Let me know what you think of it all.
Colonel Matcegor Ivan Gregorevitch
Throughout the ongoing events in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Russia, we’ve seen many images. Some good, some bad, but most briefly (tomorrow’s chip-wrap, and all that). Has photography adequately described the unfolding turmoil? For me, the jury is still out, but I’m in a combative mood this evening.
Of the news photography coverage I was impressed with those by Brendan Hoffman and Sergei Ponomarev (who’s been shooting in the region for years) and as a scene setter, I liked Maxim Dondyuk’s old work from a Russian kids military training camp. Of the amateurs, Dima Tolkachov showed us just how ripe for image-making Maidan Square was.
Knowing that armchair critics such as myself would be decrying the fact that photojournalism was doing exactly as it was supposed to do — capture wrought images of struggle with smoke, barricades and actions — a few photographers aimed to make series that were descriptive of the people and the struggle, but forged new typologies. Stationary typologies of weapons and fighters from within the front lines. Anastasia Taylor Lind and the duo Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni both made portraits and (sometimes within arms reach) Tom Jamieson and Donald Weber made studies of DIY weapons and molotov cocktails respectively. Of Jamieson and Weber’s work I’m ambivalent, even if critics I respect are all for it.
If I am being imprecise here, it is because I feel I can afford to be. I mention these photographers’ works as context for Julie David de Lossy‘s work which was made long before events erupted in Kiev. De Lossy’s series Black Sea Fleet Cadets and Black Sea Fleet Veterans are not reactive as the above-mentioned bodies of work are. Maybe, as a consumer of images, I am just more comfortable seeing formal portraits made in times of peace as opposed to times of shells and bullets falling all around?
Kolia, 20, Cadet at Nakhimova Institute
The Black Sea Fleet was an aging institution that was under threat of closure for decades. Somewhat ironically, the 2010 election of the now-ousted pro-Russian Yanukovitch as Ukraine president brought with it a new extended lease of the Black Sea Fleet facilities beyond 2042 (presumably now defunct). The Russians provided discounts on natural gas in exchange. Quite why the facilities to this old military group were part of negotiations between the Russians and Ukrainians is not entirely clear, yet de Lossy explains that it recruited both Russian and Ukrainian cadets and that both Russians and Ukrainians honoured the veterans. De Lossy adds that in Sevastopol — where the Black Sea Fleet was based — is considered by the locals as a Russian territory.
It is within the experience of the ranks young and old that we might begin to discover the historic and complex ties between Russia and Ukraine. De Lossy’s work requires us to do more than identify the good guy and the bad guy from afar; indeed it instructs us that as history collides with current affairs our labels may shift. Whereas the work of many photographers is literally made on one side of the barricades or the other, and whereas such work has buy-in from one side or the other, archive work such as de Lossy’s takes us back to a time before people were forced to stand one side of the line or the other. It takes us to a time that explains the now.
Images of violence are images of loss; loss of stability, loss of choice (to a degree) and loss of self. In mainstream (news) images of ongoing revolution and violence, loss is an abstraction — the parameters and extent of loss are still being determined. Made in times of non-violence, de Lossy’s photographs depict the absence of violence. Her quiet portraits of cadets and veterans are a requiem for times not shaped by nationalism and conflict.
Quietness replaced by conflict is a grave loss. For all. However they identify.
JULIE DAVID DE LOSSY
Julie David de Lossy studied political sciences and international relations. She worked for two years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, before receiving a Masters degree in Conflict, Security and Development from King’s College London. For many years, she has photographed in Central Asia, working on the security and environmental issues in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. She has an ongoing project called ’20 Years After: Soviet Legacy in Central Asia.’ She lives in Brussels.
Rashed, 14, leaves the camp to buy furniture from Jordanian merchants and comes back to sell it, much as his family once did back home.
Toufic Beyhum‘s photographs of the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan provide a look into the makeshift pastimes and work as well as the daily mundane activities of Syrian refugees. His series Champs Elysées focuses on the retail and food stands along the central road in Za’atari nicknamed Champs Elysées by French aid workers.
This body of work is more interesting than many others emerging from the Syrian conflict. There are no bombs here, but there is trauma. That trauma though isn’t immediately apparent. We’ve got to dig deep into Beyhum’s photographs.
Beyhum’s focus on small-scale trade is instantly connective; there’s no society in the world that doesn’t move about the continuous modest commercial negotiations. Beyhum shows us the less fraught but no-less-important side of the Syrian conflict and the refugee resettlement.
How do cities, wanted or not, develop? How do humans resettle? And what happens if that resettlement is involuntary? Refugee camps are a hive of struggle and psychological trauma, but they are also a hive of survival and continuing on. Of course, the degree to how much refugees want to live on, move on, accommodate and adapt in camps differs hugely. In Western Sahara, for example, refugee camps have housed Sahwaris who fled war over 38 years and the definitions of “home” are under great assault.
One hopes that Za-atari and Syria’s other refugee camps won’t be the “home” for repeated generations. Za’atari is home to an estimated 130,000 Syrians. It is only 3 years old. It is now the 4th largest city in Jordan. It’s an extraordinary place for all the wrong reasons.
The world tends to think of refugee camps as a necessary inconvenience — as better than war, and as the most stable iteration of displacement. Refugees, on the other hand, are daily reminded of lost goods, careers, projects and anchoring points of pride from their former lives (a French psychologist talks about this very well in this VICE feature, Syria: Ground Zero shot by Robert King).
Beyhum’s series, I think, expertly patrols those gaps between subject and audience’s perceptions.
Before digging a little deeper into Beyhum’s work I want make a nod to work made by NOOR photographers at the turn of the year that simultaneously documented the camp and provided opportunities for refugees to make new family portraits. VICE:
Nina Berman, Andrea Bruce, Alixandra Fazzina, and Stanley Greene — supported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Japan Emergency NGOs (JEN) — turned a large tent into a photo booth where refugees could come and have their portraits made. Refugees were asked to bring an object they cherished or, if they didn’t have anything, to bring a person they loved. A boy came wrapped in his blanket. A man brought his shisha pipe. A mother posed with her five children. In all, about 300 portraits were printed on the spot and given to people to keep.
There are common attributes to all refugee camps (devastating stories of different degrees) but Beyhum identified one of the defining characteristics of Za’atari — the extraordinary growth of independent businesses. According to UNHCR’s Andreas Needham, is the growth has been “impressive compared with other refugee camps.”
Eighteen months after the camp’s establishment there were 2,500 shops, and 700 on the Champs-Elysées alone.
So while I’d argue that photography’s role is to give subjects a voice, gift or benefit (e.g. NOOR’s portrait studio) its role is also to usher audiences into the psychological territory of the subjects. The shops and shop-owners in Beyhum’s series are perfect vehicles in explaining to us far-away and comfortable consumers that the Za-atari refugee camp is a place of making do.
Beyhum’s images must remind us however that survival is only partly related to the aid-organisations’ food and shelter that provide physical security. Survival has as much to do with forging ones own spaces, purpose, pride and as a result psychological health.
What a refreshing foil to the photographs of desperate handout and sacks of rice being thrown from atop aid-trucks that we so often see in the media.
Please scroll down to read Dimechkie’s original text that accompanies these images. It provides important context.
‘CHAMPS ELYSEES’ by NADIM DIMECHKIE
The salesman on the Champs-Elysées displays the shiny black shoes in neat, even rows. Each time the wind picks up, each time a truck roars past, they are drowned in billows of fine desert sand. And each time, the salesman dusts the sand off each shoe, wipes it down and places it back in line. Another cloud of sand may come along any moment, but the shoes will stay clean.
130,000 refugees are trying to make a living somewhere they do not wish to live. Most have left their homes, trades, families, and material possessions behind and they want to go back now. But until they do, they must manage with what they have left.
Father-son traditions fostered in the souks of Damascus and Aleppo, and preserved by the protectionism of successive Assad governments, are so ingrained they are almost instinctive. By one reckoning, 80% of the shops hark back to skills honed at home.
Where tradition fails, resourcefulness steps in. There are no cars here, and law and order is the preserve of the UN. So Abdul Mansoor, once a policeman in Syria, now makes phenomenal falafels. Omar was a car mechanic; now he sells second-hand clothes. Mounib established an impressive perfume shop — which he insists is nowhere near as good as the one his family ran in Syria for generations.
Some jobs have been invented before anyone’s come up with a name for them. What do you call the kids who use wheelbarrows to help people with their shopping for tips, or to resell UNHCR blankets and tents so they can buy what they really need? What do you call the welder-joiners who fuse impossible things from impossible combinations of materials, or the makers of custom-made flat-bed trolleys designed to shift shipping-container homes between buyers and sellers?
Small gardens grow in infertile ground. Bottled water is still sold even though water filtration units have been closed down. Recently, someone stuck a whole police station on wheels and dropped it off somewhere they felt was more appropriate.
The ‘Mayor of Za’atari’, UN Special Field Coordinator Kilian Kleinschmidt, appreciates their entrepreneurial nature. Refugees are building their own amenities, like showers and toilets and kitchens. Even if this is sometimes using illicit materials, Kleinschmidt prefers to see refugees build facilities proactively than wait to receive them. Elements of their success are also down to other factors: there are 193 NGOs here, including UNHCR who provide blankets for warmth, containers for homes and security for business to thrive.
Atallah revived the family bakery from Syria and set up shop in Za’atari.
Some business-owners benefited from existing ties with Jordanian pre-war business partners and set up an enormous supermarket in the centre of Za’atari.
Of course, not all of the attributes brought by the empty-handed are good ones. Fear has also followed them—of government informers, of ISIS informers, of the mafia. Criminality, which characterized the town of Dara’a from which many of the refugees fled, has followed many of them too.
A combination of good governance and the opportunity for dignity has quelled many of these less desirable elements, while providing opportunities for the better instincts to grow. For some, there is even excitement here—in the relative law and order, in the electricity (which some Syrian villagers had never had on tap before), in the entrepreneurial opportunities. But nobody wants to be here.
For all their ability to survive the present moment, no one can build lasting happiness here, for that would mean accepting their fate. Still, there is enough tradition and resourcefulness to make life bearable.
And there is always pride — another resource from within. Pride keeps the streets tidy and the wedding dresses moving. Pride keeps the homes orderly, the teenaged boys groomed and fragrant, the barbershops busy. Pride keeps the shoe salesman in business.
All images: Toufic Beyhum
Introduction: Pete Brook
Text: Nadim Dimechkie