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Srey Neth and Lia move into the STAR House, a secondary transition home designed to help victims of sex trafficking to learn the skills to reintegrate into society without falling back to sex work. The teenagers are residents of Transitions Global and have experienced horrific physical and mental abuse largely at the hands of their fellow Cambodians. Photo: Tim Matsui, 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant Winner

The Alexia Foundation has opened its call for entries for the 2014 Women’s Initiative Grant.

There’s a lot of grants out there but the Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant is one of the best. Why? Firstly, it’s a large amount of money: $25,000. That’s the type of money needed to get at an issue in any depth. Secondly, the expectations are high. The winner has six months to produce the work and then is encouraged to plug in the product (and the lessons within) to a host of diverse media outlets. Thirdly, it is about women and their needs. When U.S. females earn 77 cents for every dollar a male earns; when women are trafficked worldwide; when women are bearing the brunt of holding together families and communities in the face of the prison industrial complex; when women face issues such as these and others which are part of routine gender violence, the Alexia Foundation is making it’s contribution to bring these issues to the table.

I am also a big fan of journalist Tim Matsui who was awarded the 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant. His project Leaving the Life is about domestic juvenile sex trafficking. Latest update here. A trailer for a film ‘The Long Night’ which accompanies the project and produced by MediaStorm can be viewed here.

Photojournalists worldwide are encouraged to apply to the Women’s Initiative Grant. Deadline: June 30, 2014.

From the press release:

Unlike the first Women’s Initiative grant, which specifically focused on abuse of women in the United States, this call for entries is intended to permit the photographer to propose a serious documentary photographic or multimedia project encompassing any issue involving women anywhere in the world.

While considering the idea of women’s issues, several themes have been suggested, including femininity and the culture of abuse; women making a difference, leading, changing things for the better; gender inequality; the direct connection to women and education, and the impact on birth rates, health of children and the productivity of the women; gender discrimination, women in leadership, women in the military, mental health issues. They are by no means intended to influence proposals, but they may help photographers start thinking about this topic.

The Alexia Foundation’s main purpose is to encourage and help photojournalists create stories that drive change. While our traditional grant guidelines put no limits on the subject matter for grant proposals, a number of proposals about women’s rights in the last few years have been so powerful that we have been compelled to create a grant specifically on issues relating to women.

Apply here.

Winner announced Sept. 1, 2014.
Winner has six months to complete project, by March 1, 2015.
Contact Eileen Mignoni at grants@alexiafoundation.org with any inquiries.

Black Bag Hanging

I’ve celebrated John Darwell‘s project Discarded Dog Shit Bags (DDSB) once before. Happy to note that the work is now available as a photo book.

DDSB is just about bonkers enough; it is left-field (in all fields, actually, and steaming) and DDSB proves there is a photo project for absolutely everything.

“I began to notice the appearance of dog shit bags,” explains Darwell, whose 2011 project chronicles the growing epidemic. “At first I spotted them tucked away in dry stone walls or behind said wall. But then they began to appear everywhere, hanging on fences and thrown into bushes. Anywhere they could be found they would be.”

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While seemingly silly and scatalogical, the project points to a real issue that many city-dwellers feel is out of control. Americans own 83.3 million pet dogs. In Europe, the figure is 60 million, including 8.5 million in Britain. Those big stats mean it only takes a small proportion of irresponsible owners to make an unsightly mess.

Darwell’s not showing anything that the vast majority of people haven’t seen before — and it’s the familiarity with the images that calls attention to the problem. In the past, Darwell has documented other environmental issues, including various nuclear sites, like Chernobyl, but when he’s not been working on long-term projects he’s been at home in rural Cumbria, England, walking his dogs.

“The local parks became particularly troublesome but even beauty spots were not immune,” says Darwell. “Why go to the trouble of bagging your pooch’s poop to then simply chuck into a bush or hang on a railing?”

Orange Bag

Green Bag Draped

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Black Bag in Thorn Bush  Christmas Pudding Bag

For Darwell, the whole affair has descended into a turdy farce with no behavioral logic.

“I photographed the same dog shit bag twice, a year apart and it still hangs in exactly the same place! There is a move to encourage people to use biodegradable poop bags. So the owner bags the poop then hangs it in the tree, the bag biodegrades and the poop falls to the ground where it was originally. Do you then re-bag the poop? The more you think about it the more insane it becomes.”

Even “dog wardens” in Darwell’s local park haven’t been able to curb the madness.

“They watch dog walkers through binoculars to make sure they bag the poop … but they don’t watch what then happens to the bag.”

Flinging bags of poo tends to be something dog owners try to do unobserved. For all his poop stalking, Darwell has only once witnessed a dog owner chuck a bag away, and it wasn’t the type of person you’d expect. “It was a little old lady,” says Darwell. “She chucked it in the river! I was gobsmacked.”

On that occasion the log floated out of sight and out of mind, but another time Darwell spotted a bobbing bagged doo-doo and chased it down. It was like that plastic bag scene from American Beauty but instead of airborne, Darwell’s polyethylene muse was half-submerged and struggling to keep its turtle head above the surface. “I was amazed it floated,” he says.

Dog Poo Bag By Bridge

Twin Bags

UK citizens aren’t the only ones walking alongside their four-legged friends straight into a canine-gut-stew-terror. On an Australian beach, Darwell found himself surrounded with yellow dog poo bags. In Germany, the bags are red, but you see fewer of them, as the Germans provide more bins, says Darwell, who has extended his stool survey internationally.

The British are, on available evidence, a resourceful bunch using any plastic sheaths they have at hand — nappy bags, shopping bags, etc. But for Darwell, all of this is just doubling the problem, not containing it. He wonders if leaving it to biodegrade might be a better solution. “Yes, I know there are, or can be, serious health implications, but then the poo would disappear in a matter of days,” he says.

This universality of bagging and discarding hit home when a magazine editor in Seattle asked Darwell to stop by his office to discuss his pictures. The editor was amazed to find out Darwell was from England — he thought he recognized the bags from his local park.

Home or away, DDSB has clearly struck a chord with folk. Laughably, often it is a conversation starter for Darwell.

“It’s amazing how many people now say, ‘John, I saw a dog shit bag yesterday and immediately thought of you.’”

Darwell has pinched this particular series off but his fecal fascination has not entirely run its course. He may follow through with a different angle.

“I notice a lot of people walking along with the tell-tale bag hanging from their hands vainly looking for a bin to dispose of the offending item,” says Darwell. “I’ve toyed with the idea of developing a new body of work of portraits of people carrying bags.”

The book DDSBs is now available through mynewtpress in signed and numbered limited editions.

John Darwell was part of the group show Confined (2011) at Bluecoats Gallery in Liverpool, the catalogue for which I wrote the foreword.

Hanging Yellow Bag Magenta Dog Poo Bag

Back Alleyway Bag

All images: John Darwell

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Kansas, MO and Brooklyn, NY based artist Jaimie Warren is the recipient of the 2014 Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer. This is a curious selection for many reasons — all of them good.

Firstly, I wasn’t aware of Warren’s practice; even though she has a Wikipedia page and a long history with VICE, I had not come across Warren’s work before. I am glad I did.

Secondly, her work is wacky. The meanings of her images are elusive and you’ve got work hard with them. As many photographic artists do, Warren plays with ideas of fantasy, fun, performance and artifice, but she does so in much more aggressive, brazen way. These are not the cool, clinical images of studio assemblages we see from many young (MFA-bearing) image-makers.

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I really, really enjoy Warren’s disfigured portraits and tableaus. They’re pop, they’re a bit grotesque, they cinch perfectly into the shock-visuals of audiences habituated to the  Tumblr-driven flow of images. Warren’s work is Peewee Herman meets Carnivale meets that bonkers Halloween party you went to in 1997.

Thirdly, it is great to see an award go to a photographer who isn’t just a photographer. For all the intelligent image detournement in her work, Warren is not operating from a fine art ivory tower. Quite the opposite. Central to Warren’s work is constant collaboration with communities. Her main vehicle for making art is the non-profit community arts initiative Whoop Dee Doo.

Whoop Dee Doo works with communities “to create unique and memorable events that challenge the everyday art venue or community event.” Everything from concept to end product is intended to fit the needs of host communities, and all acts are “truly inclusive endeavors that celebrate differences and unabashed self-expression.”

Probably the best and quickest way to get a handle on the art and performances is to view the Whoop Dee Doo Vimeo Channel.

Whoop Dee Doo has worked with youth programs including Caldera Arts (Portland/Sisters, OR), Operation Breakthrough (Kansas City), the Boys & Girls Club (Kansas City), Big Brother/Big Sister (Kansas City), Girls, Inc. (Omaha, NE), Experimental Station’s Blackstone Bicycle youth Program (Chicago, IL), Urgent, Inc. and the Rites of Passage Program (Miami, FL), Muse 360 and 901 arts (Baltimore, MD), as well as college interns at the University of Central Missouri, Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, the University of Chicago, Maryland Institute College of Art, Rockhurst University, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Impressive.

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Jaimie Warren, Self-portrait as Bulls fan in La Jeunesse de Bacchus by William-Adolphe Bouguereau/Michael Jordan basketball painting by dosysod of the Independents, 2012.

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Jaimie Warren, Self-portrait as Nun with some of my Mother’s Favorite Famous People in the Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs of the Fiesole San Domenico Altarpiece by Fra Angelic, 2014.

From looking over the portfolios, I reckon the folky-rainbow-eclecticism of Warren and her collaborators’ work reflects something close to common feeling. What else could there by except fun, wild variance and complexity when the hands of dozens go into making something?

Breaking down stereotypes and barriers between age, gender, culture and sub-culture is one of Whoop Dee Doo‘s main objectives. The group is open to designing performances and workshops “between unlikely pairings of community members that ultimately blossom into exceptional and meaningful interactions.”

A lot of the time, the use and outcomes of awards can be hard to pin down, but I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before Warren is putting the $10,000 to use making more happenings with communities. Because she always has. Let the merriment continue.

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BAUM AWARD

The Baum Award for An Emerging American Photographer is a project established out of the conviction that photography is a powerfully influential medium with the capacity to emotionally connect with audiences in ways that words cannot. This ability to reach people on a visceral level can transform awareness to understanding and lead interest into action – fundamental aspects of a healthy and vital society.

Click here to see previous Baum Award winners.

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Photobook “Best-Of” lists sprout like wild-cakes this time of year. Among selections, we are not always guaranteed variety, but we are guaranteed quantity.

Aperture tends to preempt many of the main runners and riders in the autumn with its shortlists for the Aperture/Paris Photo Book Awards (30 books total). Then the deluge beings.

A deluge that which Photolia has made an inventory. It’s a list of Photobook “Best-Of-2013″ lists; a list of 80+ lists!

Furthermore, QT Luong at Terra Galleria has taken all the individual titles of those 80+ lists, broke down the votes and constructed a meta-list that cumulates each book’s number of votes. Some titles have votes in double figures, and the “winner” Lieko Shiga’s Rasen Kaigan has 22 votes.

By years end, Best-Of lists had been written and checked twice by Wired, American Photo, Time, Mother Jones, New York Times, Dazed DigitalLens Culture, Washington Post, Brain PickingsTom ClaxtonMicrocordEric GundersenConscientiousTim ClarkMonsters & MadonnasValerian and Discipline and Disorder just to name a few.

The Guardian made two lists — one for best indie books and one for offerings by established photobook publishers. Not to mention Alec Soth and Martin Parr‘s eagerly anticipated annual dispatches. Roger May shifted the formula and picked his favorite book purschases . The Artists Book Cooperative maintained their cheeky approach with the year’s worst photobooks.

So what does all this mean? Head to Blake Andrew’s analysis of the best of the “Best-Of photobook lists. Hilarious.

Well, who am I to reject this ubiquity of Photobook “Best-Of” lists? A few weeks ago, I was asked by Photo Eye to name my highlights for the PhotoEye Best Photobooks 2013 feature. I picked seven titles. Here they are. And, below they are.

Bumbata, Cosmin Bumbuţ (Punctum)

bumbutBeyond the prison subject matter which is, of course, very appealing to me, Cosmin Bumbuţ’s book is the best of design with beautiful binding, a punctured front cover, and thoughtful essay. Those elements compliment pictures that are, frankly, some of the closest, least judgmental I have seen of incarcerated peoples. Bumbuţ spent 3 years visiting a single prison. The portrait he paints is of a closed but relatively stable environment with equal representation. Staff and prisoners feature in similar amounts. The variety and color is something beyond that of most American prison photographers. Here is a documentarian who has worked hard to form an understanding with his subjects.

In December, I spoke at length with Bumbuţ about his project and the book.

Tales From The City Of Gold, Jason Larkin (Kehrer Verlag)

larkinIt is astonishing that with such a distinct and consistent approach to image-making that this is Jason Larkin’s first monograph. His work seems so familiar. Once more, the Englishman Larkin has entered (with his 4×5) a peculiar faraway place with peculiar and depressing social and environmental history. Johannesburg is one of the world’s most successful mining cities but waste dumps litter the landscape. South Africans have built communities in the mines’ hinterlands. The price of gold is spiking and the lives of people who live and work in the region is tied to our global commodities market. Larkin casts a curious but not a judgmental eye over our priorities at the dusty and noisy point at which commerce and daily life intersect.

Photojournalists On War, Mike Kamber (University of Texas Press)

kamberEnd of year lists often prioritize photo books with fancy design elements; books that are small run, hand-sewn delicate things. But what about those books about photography that are a bit bigger? What about books put out by a large press, such as UT Press, say? And what about books with more text than image? Photojournalists On War is a brick of a book. Mike Kamber interviewed 89 photographers who covered the War on Iraq. If we are to understand the nature of that flawed conflict then we should pay attention to the journalists whose activities were meant to makes sense of it at the time; make sense of it for us. But, what sense do they make of it now? By virtue of the breadth of opinion and depth of questions, Photojournalists On War is THE reference book for any discussion of the War on Iraq and photography. In much the same way as Photographs Not Taken in 2012 delivered us personal reflections and new entry points to photographic thinking, so Photojournalists On War in 2013 surprises and delights with the first-hand and imperfect narratives. Truth is not usually found in a photograph, but perhaps it can be found in a photographer’s words?

Swell, Mateusz Sarello (Instytut Kultury Wizualnej)

sareeloSea foam smells, threatening birds, big clouds. Swell is a rough experience. As was Mateusz Sarello’s break-up. This book is in two halves. Each half is a visit to the Baltic Sea — the first with his girlfriend, and the second without as part of some therapeutic turn. So different are the images and mood of the images it’s effectively two books in one. Both books’ exposed spines reflect the vulnerability Sarello has embraced in creating a book about his crushed love-life. 88 pages of fragile hand-made loveliness. Handle with care. Given the proliferation of east-of-Western-Europe sea photography projects (think Petrut Calinescu, Rafal Milach, Mila Teshaeiva, Mikhail Mordasov and even Rob Hornstra), it’s tricky to do something novel in this sub-sub-genre, but Sarello pulls it off with focus on the hyperpersonal. And he’s not afraid to use Instax Fujifilm either. I was skeptical at first, but later blown over by the earnestness of the well-edited and understated grouping of images.

Rasen Kaigan, Lieko Shiga (AKAAKA)

shigaBetween 2006 and 2012, Lieko Shiga lived and worked in the region of northeast Japan worst hit by the 2011 Tsunami. Shiga is part photographer and part conceptual artist, so it makes sense that these images (many of which abandon formal photographic considerations) look nothing like the photojournalism we saw in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Darkness, hard-flash, plants, flowers, sweaters, sand and minerals. It’s all very earthy … and strange. But then again, that region is a geography and a collective psychology transformed. Despite Shiga’s camera experiments, we are still presented images of Japanese communities on the mend, making do, building up, tilling the land and doing the simple things that they must. Big disasters are met with small victories. Shiga’s volatile approach is a reminder that the uncomplicated things she photographs only exist because of massive tectonic force.

What might be otherwise read as an assault on the senses is a celebration of the senses — a celebration of life and of living.

Control Order House, Edmund Clark (HERE Press)

clarkThe images are boring; but the concept is exhilarating — which is exactly the point. Edmund Clark photographed the interior of a “home” inhabited by a UK terror suspect under house arrest. A dull suburban 3-bed semi in no-name Britain. Clark worked within pre-agreed, tightly controlled parameters set out by the UK Home Office. Clark and HERE Press include scans of his contracts and official correspondence. The act and the access is more important than the images; the images are only evidence that Clark made a sortie into this never photographed territory before. (In April, I wrote about Control Order House for Wired.)

So many projects these days comment on control from the outside, but here we see images from from within, and according to, control.

Two Rivers, Carolyn Drake (Self-published)

tworiversCarolyn Drake’s photography has long impressed me, so I’m not surprised her first book is a triumph. Dutch book-designer Sybren Kuiper brought considerable style to Two Rivers. Apparently, it was Kuiper who proposed starting the book’s sequence at where the two rivers appear to end versus Drake’s original idea to begin where the rivers originate high in the mountains. Drake has visited the vast expanse of central Asia that lies between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers 15 or more times in recent years. Judging by the images, it remains a region that beguiles Drake. Two Rivers abandons traditional documentary sequencing and reveals the creators own feelings, uncertainties, awe and brief encounters. One slimmer book is words and notes for the chapters in the other larger book containing pictures of fuzzy narrative, refused objectivity and love. The wrap of images around the Japanese style bound pages is stunning.

Carlos Javier Ortiz has been documenting the effects of gun violence on young people in Chicago for over seven years on a project called Too Young To Die. He is currently crowdfunding support to bookend, literally, the work.

We All We Got will be a photography book that brings seven years of Ortiz’ images together with interviews from parents and students from across Chicago and texts by Alex Kotlowitz (producer of the The Interrupters), Luke Anderson (teacher, North Lawndale College Prep) and Miles Harvey (assistant professor, DePaul University) among others.

Ortiz isn’t a flashy guy; he just gets the job done. He’s not only photographed for an extended period in the community but he’s also got involved directly with local organisations. It’s something he’s done for a long time. He’s thinking about solutions to gun violence among youth, which is one of the toughest issues in America.

The project deserves support. I think it’ll get the funds. I hope it does. Spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, Instah.

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We All We Got has already had deserved coverage on NPRNew York Times LensCBS Evening NewsChicago Ideas WeekMuseum of Contemporary PhotographyLeica BlogPulitzer Center On Crisis ReportingCNN blog; and CBC radio

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Sisters Faisa Farole, 33, left, and Jamila Farole, 28, are among women trying to preserve female-only swim times at the Tukwila Pool. Photo: Erika Schultz / Seattle Times

I’m a week late on sharing this. But it is important. Fox News made unauthorised use of Erika Schultz‘s Seattle Times double portrait. Fox News did so to push a disgusting Islamophobic story about “the rise” of Sharia Law in America. Schultz made her image in the suburbs of Seattle. Fox were commenting on events in Minnesota.

On the Seattle Times website, Schultz made this classy response:

Using my photo to illustrate a story on a swimming program in Minnesota, under the title “Sharia Law: Swim Class for Somali Muslim Girls,” is unfair to the young women in the photo and misleads viewers.

For years, photographers on our staff have worked to develop contacts, trust and story ideas within this region’s many communities—including the East African community. Photographs can be extremely sensitive, but I’ve seen access increase over the years due to positive response to our stories and photo projects.

An incident like this has the power to intrude into those relationships and our future coverage. People may not want to work with media outlets for fear of being portrayed inaccurately.

This out-of-context and misleading use of this image reaffirms the importance of ethical, contextual journalism.

I appreciate the Farole sisters for the courage to stand up for their beliefs, and their willingness to share their story with the larger community to which they belong.

Erika is one of the most responsible journalists I know (we’ve worked together here, herehere and here). Erika works, with sensitivity, on her relationships with subjects over long periods. Fox News is an arrogant and racist idiot-giant that crushes anything that is nuanced or beautiful.

This is a sad turn of events for any photojournalist and for his or her subjects, but it’s particularly frustrating for a professional as diligent as Erika.

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From ‘Assisted Self-Portraits’ (2002-2005) by Anthony Luvera.

PHOTOGRAPHY’S NOT JUST DEPICTION!

There’s a fascinating discussion to be had at Aperture Gallery this Saturday December 7th. Collaboration – Revisiting the History of Photography curated by Ariella Azoulay, Wendy Ewald, and Susan Meiselas is an effort to draft the first ever timeline of collaborative photographic projects. Items on the timeline have been submitted either by members of the public or uncovered during research by Azoulay, Ewald, Meiselas and grad students from Brown University and RISD.

“The timeline includes close to 100 projects assembled in different clusters,” says the press release. “Each of these projects address a different aspect of collaboration: 1. the intimate “face to face” encounter between photographer and photographed person; 2. collaborations recognized over time; 3. collaboration as the production of alternative and common histories; 4. as a means of creating new potentialities in given political regimes of violence; 5. as a framework for collecting, preserving and studying existing images as a basis for establishing civil archives for unrecognized, endangered or oppressed communities; 6. as a vantage point to reflect on relations of co-laboring that are hidden, denied, compelled, imagined or fake.

Within the gallery space, Ewald and co. will discuss the projects and move images, quotes and archival documents belonging to the projects about the wall “as a large modular desktop.”

The day will create the first iteration of the timeline which will continue to be added to.

“In this project we seek to reconstruct the material, practical and political conditions of collaboration through photography — and of photography — through collaboration,” continues the press release. “We seek ways to foreground – and create – the tension between the collaborative process and the photographic product by reconstructing the participation of others, usually the more *silent* participants. We try to do this through the presentation of a large repertoire of types of collaborations, those which take place at the moment when a photograph is taken, or others that are understood as collaboration only later, when a photograph is reproduced and disseminated, juxtaposed to another, read by others, investigated, explored, preserved, and accumulated in an archive to create a new database.”

I applaud this revisioning of photo-practice; I only wish I was in NYC to join the discussion.

As you know, I celebrate photographers and activists who involve prisoners in the design and production of work. And I’m generally interested in photographers who have long-form discussions with their subjects … to the extent that they are no longer subjects but collaborators instead.

Photographic artists Mark Menjivar, Eliza GregoryGemma-Rose Turnbull and Mark Strandquist are just a few socially engaged practitioners/artists who are keen on making connections with people through image-making. They’ve also included me in their recent discussions about community engagement across the medium. I feel there’s a lot of thought currently going into finding practical responses to the old (and boring) dismissals of detached documentary photography, and into finding new methodologies for creating images.

At this point, this post is not much more than a “watch-this-space-post” so just to say, over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see the first results from the lab. If you’re free Saturday, and in New York, this is a schedule you should pay attention to:

1:00-2:00 – Visit the open-lab + short presentations by Azoulay, Ewald and Meiselas.
2:00-2:45 – Discussion groups, one on each cluster with the participation of one of the research assistant.
2:45-4:00 – Groups’ presenting their thoughts on each grouping.
4:00-4:30 – Coffee!
4:30-6:00 – Open discussion.
6:00 – Reception.

If any of you make it down there and have the chance, please let me know what you think and thought of the day.

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Brandon Tauszik moved to Oakland from San Diego three years ago. He’s got a day job. Some of his images are a little raw — check his Instagram feed @BE_DIZZLE. Tauszik was for a while assistant to the legendary Jim Goldberg. He’s also a big fan of TBW Books the small publisher just down the road run by Paul Schiek. I haven’t asked Tauszik but I reckon he’s probably a fan of the Hamburger Eyes folks too.

Tauszik is making the Bay Area his home and the aesthetic of his work makes obvious sense amid the prevalent scratched-up, banged-up, gritty, kids-street-realism typical of California. Less obvious though are the motives, goals and choices within Tauszik’s latest body of work White Wax

White Wax is a year-long visual document of memorials to homicide victims on the streets of Oakland. Tauszik says in his artist statement that his photos are to serve as a medium for self-examination. He thinks America is in the middle of a collective re-examination of its criminal justice policy, gun culture and post-racial credo.

White Wax is also,I suspect, a means by which Tauszik can remain connected to the place he lives. Unfortunately, for most people, murders are pretty easy to ignore; they just have to stay off the wrong streets. Some Oaklanders don’t have that luxury though.

“Why has the ecology of the American inner city long enabled it’s own self-destruction?” asks Tauszik. “Is it possible to shift our tired narrative of another young black man memorialized with white wax?”

SCROLL DOWN FOR OUR Q&A

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Q&A

Prison Photography (PP):  Why take on this project?

Brandon Tauszik (BT): Oakland is a violent city, but America is a violent country. Its inner cities particularly so. There is already a great deal of photography approaching this subject with a kind of coarse imagery. We’ve all seen it over and over. I asked myself, ‘How can I photograph gun violence without showing any guns? How can I create an emotional project without showing victims or mourners? How can I approach a politically charged subject, yet leave cops and politicians out of it?’ I hope that with these images I am able to communicate something beyond just melted wax on the sidewalk.

PP:  I used to live in San Francisco and there was a bizarre media obsession about the annual homicide rate, as if people were waiting for it to meet or surpass the previous year’s figure. Oakland was always the depressing counterpoint to SF figures as it suffered 2 to 3 times the number of murders. Briefly, can you describe your experience of information, conversation, attitudes about murder? Surely, beyond figures there’s talk of interventions and solutions? Basically, what should Oaklanders do?

BT: That’s a loaded question! There is a lot of social inequality in the Bay Area and particularly here in Oakland. Having been largely de-industrialized over the past few decades, Oakland is currently in the midst of a strong wave of gentrification. Despite this new influx of higher income residents, the crime rate has barely shifted in the past decade. It’s currently the most dangerous city on the west coast and has the highest robbery rate in the whole country. People blame this on the understaffed police department, the economy, the gangs, the guns, whatever.

It’s uncomfortable to address, but ultimately this isn’t about “What should Oakland do?” but instead “What should America do?” In New York City, Memphis, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles (the list goes on and on) young men of color kill and are killed more than any other demographic. We’ve ignored violence in our country because the victims don’t look like us. As one African American mother told me at a memorial, “We have been living a daily Sandy Hook and it’s time for the nation to know.”

There are some very strong local organizations (SAVEKhadafy FoundationRJOY) that do amazingly important work, but ultimately this is about a flawed national mindset in regards to prisons, guns and race relations.

SCROLL DOWN TO CONTINUE Q&A

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PP:  Is White Wax a memorial? A study of vernacular action? Other? Both?

BT: It’s more a study in the unique and visually distinct way that my neighbors mourn the loss of their loved ones. Or in your words, a study of vernacular action.

PP:  Was it important to commit to this for one year?

BT: Every big city has their yearly homicide count which is obsessed over and analyzed as strictly data. I wanted to see what that data would look like in context of the shrines, which are a direct result of that count.

PP:  White Wax images are taken at night. Was this a deliberate choice? If so, why?

BT: I wanted to capture these scenes as naturalistically as possible. The majority of these murders take place under the cover of darkness, so while this makes my work more difficult and dangerous, nighttime is one of the threads I use to tie the images together.

PP: I know you use Shine In Peace, Google Alerts and word of mouth to discover homicides. Do you fear White Wax has omitted some homicides just as the local news often misses/overlooks these murders? If you have missed some what does that mean?

BT: I’ve definitely missed some, due to a few reasons:

1. These memorials are, by nature, ephemeral and are displayed for anywhere from one day to many weeks. Sometimes I find a site I’ve missed where there are still traces of wax, but the shrine has been removed.

2. The given victim’s family and friends sometimes don’t erect a shrine. If the murder took place in a particular neighborhood where the victim was not welcome, that will usually apply to the victim’s family and acquaintances as well.

3. Many of these murders get little to no media exposure. For example, here is an example of a web-only murder story from last year. I rely on Oakland’s news outlets to report on (or at least tweet on) each murder. However there is low motivation to do so due to the very limited readership on these stories.

There are usually a few murders a week here, so unfortunately it can be hard for me to keep up.

SCROLL DOWN TO CONTINUE Q&A

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PP:  What about captions? Is there a need (from you or audience) to include information about the homicide?

BT: I have the name/age/race/sex/location information for most of these murders. However, captions have a didactic manner of reducing a photograph down to data and information, which is what I am trying to avoid. A recent study showed that Americans assume black people feel less pain than white people. This is deeply frightening. I want the viewer to ponder these images and wonder, ‘Was this person someone who looked like me?’

PP: What’s been the reaction from folks in Oakland to White Wax?

BT: I have been sitting on this project until very recently. I wanted to give it time to fill in and for the thesis to take shape. The local people I’ve showed it to so far seem to think it’s strong and thoughtful. I would love to arrange an exhibition towards the end of the year in Oakland.

PP: Which photographers are working in ways that you admire and value?

BT: When I first moved to the Bay Area, I assisted Jim Goldberg for a while. That was a pivotal time for me which pulled me away from strict photojournalism toward longer, in-depth projects. Lately though I’ve been into Harry GriffinYoshi Kametani, and Viviane Sassen.

PP:  What’s the purpose of photography? What should we be trying to do?

BT: We have ears to hear, but also eyes to see. The spoken word can only accomplish so much. You can sometimes say so much without using your mouth … a gesture, a glance.

For me, photography acts as a medium to illuminate ideas and questions on all aspects life.

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Biography

Brandon Tauszik is a photographer and filmmaker based in Oakland, California. He creates visual media at Sprinkle Lab while pursuing personal photography projects.

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prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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