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My end of year resolution was to avoid best of lists. My new years resolution is to write more letters on paper to actual people. Here’s 8-minutes of writing I made for the LensCulture 2017 Best Photobooks list.

I nominated three books, but only Jim Mortam’s was included in LC’s published rundown best of. By comparison, my selections look not very arty and quite concerned with real life.

Rob Stothard and Silvia Mollicchi




Impeccably researched, quietly shot, and brilliantly designed to mimic a UK Home Office report, Removal takes stock of the immigration real estate *portfolio* in Britain. Safely photographed from distance, Stothard’s unfrequented images remind us that we see virtually nothing of the insides of these sites. The extent to which private firms contract, own and operate these facilities is shocking.

Jim Mortram

Small Town Inertia


A long time coming (in the best way), Small Town Inertia proves that you needn’t chase the big smoke, the big names or the big bangs to make important work that speaks universally. From the town of Dereham and the surrounds, Mortram has made work that should remind us of our deep connection to, and responsibility for, our neighbours.

Jeffrey Stockbridge

Kensington Blues



A comprehensive, difficult and generous portrait of Philadelphians in some very challenged parts of the city. Stockbridge lived among his subjects and was a fixture on the blocks; that’s important to know because he has exposed some subjects while they’re engaged in risky behaviours. Subjects stand in the light, adopt body shapes and fix their stares right down the lens. Some scenes in Kensington Blues aren’t pretty but, then again, you’re not pretty. Most of the characters and their strength of character just take your breath away.




Marco Baroncini‘s photographs of a Guatemalan prison, Persons No More, are close and disorientating*.

Baroncini explains,

“Sololà, little town on the west side of Guatemala, not far from Atitlan Lake, is not a proper prison; It is an anomalous preventive detention cell: many prisoners, in fact, will never be transferred to a bigger and more equipped jail, but they will remain in the same cell to undergo all the terms of punishment.

“Those condemned for murder may remain for 50 years. The murderer, the drugdealer, the little robber are all crowded together in the same cell of 70 square meters. There is no difference between the crimes committed: they are heaped up together sharing the same situation which doesn’t give any chance to get better or improve.

They live as they were rats behind the bars, with an only one toilet and shower for all of them, which don’t work properly either, with broken drain pipes. Living in these conditions, it is very easy to became infected, especially on summer time thanks to shoddy food they eat too.

“Beds are not enough for all of them: they often sleep in two or more in the same bed, or some others put the beds together to sleep in four or five, or on the floor. There is not space enough for all of them, inside and in outside the prison, even a tiny space to spend their air time to which everyone should be entitled.

It is difficult to speak about human rights with regard to Solalà. It is the example of total negation of every sort of right. This inhuman situation of living drove some of the prisoners to write a letter addressed to “Cooperaitalia” “Human Rights” and “Derechos Humanos” reporting the cruel condition of life they are obliged to live in.”

[My bolding]

Baroncini is based in Rome and boasts an impressive portfolio.

*American-English uses disorienting, English-English uses disorientating. How we differ.

Two things today. First an important debate. Second my own reflections and housekeeping.


Ben Chesterton at DuckRabbit has had ongoing discussions with MSF / Medicin Sans Frontier / Doctors Without Borders for many months (years?) about the use of media and the fine line between MSF’s promotion of aid work and fair representation of the peoples they work with. Duck has opened a worthwhile debate with Pete Masters of MSF on the duckrabbitblog with regard this new MSF advertisement.

Feel free to add your comments over on Duck’s blog. I know Ben will appreciate and we should all benefit, right?

house keeping

In absolutely no way related – AND, I encourage you not to presume the fictional scene in the MSF ad as one set in Africa – I’d like to return to an image I featured on Prison Photography in December.

McKulka Tim - Sudanese Detention Facility. UNMIS

The image is by Tim McKulka. The caption reads: The container which serves as a detention facility as human rights and protection officers make an inspection of the capacity of police and prison service.  UNMOs from Torit team site were engaged in a long range patrol to Chukudum along with various civilian sections of UNMIS in order to assess the security and social conditions of the area.

Last night, I had the great privilege of attending a YPIN World Affairs Council presentation by Tim McKulka and his partner Anyieth D’Awol about Human Rights in Sudan. There were a few thing that I took from the talk:

1. The problems in Darfur are very serious, but Darfur is not the only conflict in Sudan
2. Things are better now than they were one, two or three years ago – if you measure better by fewer deaths.
3. The predominant source of unrest in the Sudan always stems from the growth of the capital, Khartoum, at the expense of the periphery.
4. Since independence from the British in 1955, Southern Sudan has never known stable or benevolent governance (Civil wars raged from 1956 – 1975; and then from 1982 – 2005). The first war was settled with the drawing of a new boundary between North and South and newly provided autonomy. The second war began because rich reserves of oil were found within the territory of South Sudan and consequently Khartoum and the North reneged on the agreement, grasped for the wealth and resorted to aggression.
5. There exists to this day tribal conflicts in the central areas of contested lands, particularly Aybei where much of the oil reserves lie.

Needless to say the talk was humbling – Tim and Anyieth successfully gave a summary of culture and politics across the entire country, covering the last 60odd years. No small achievement!

I wanted to finally pin down some background to the image and so I asked Tim, “What is that container assemblage exactly?” His response,

It was in a place called Chukudum in southern Sudan, East Equatoria State and it shows that there is no other place to put prisoners. There are crimes being committed but there is no justice, no security; no security sector. The police don’t have guns, or cars, or transportation. They don’t have communications. So the container is what people are left to use when they have prisoners. What else can you do with them?

Tim has followed much of the peacekeeping and reconstruction work in Sudan. This has involved shadowing the training of new prison officers and the establishment of new institutions for juvenile justice. I hope to follow up on this with more involved comments from Anyieth as she, as a human rights lawyer, has far more knowledge in the area … and Tim deferred to her experience.

Here’s Tim’s portfolio Faces of Sudan.

Tim McKulka has been working as the senior photographer for the United Nations Mission in Sudan since September 2006. Prior to that, he was based in New York covering national and international news as a freelance photojournalist for Polaris Images. He graduated with a fine arts degree in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work has been featured in numerous national and international publications including The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Italian Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine.

Anyieth D’Awol LLB, LLM is an independent researcher working in Southern Sudan. She has worked for the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) as a Human Rights Officer. She also worked for the Joint Donor Office as a Policy Officer. Anyieth was a Senior Researcher for the Presidential Advisor on Gender and Human Rights with the Government of Southern Sudan, focusing primarily on sexual violence and human rights issues and the military. She is the founder of a civil society organization providing underprivileged women and girls opportunities for sustainable income through arts and crafts while creating opportunities for capacity development in literacy and numeracy, and providing information on HIV, gender and human rights issues.


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