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Medecins Sans Frontieres photoblog is a poke in the eye to remind us of the urgent humanitarian needs beyond the front pages of our daily news-web-papers.

WILLIAM DANIELS

Today William Daniels‘ photograph reminded us of ongoing medical efforts against Extremely-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB) in the Kyrgyzstan and the former Soviet Union, particularly in prison colonies.

Prisoners of the colonies in the former USSR received treatment under the Soviet regime, but when the Russian empire collapsed, drug treatment was abandoned and even more severe strains of TB developed.*

I highly recommend Daniel’s Faded Tulips project.

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Which reminds me …

CAROLYN DRAKE

It seems to me that generally the central Asia territories are simply unknown to many in the West. Carolyn Drake supports this notion with her commentary about environmental and river politics in the five provinces established after the fall of the U.S.S.R. (Orion Magazine)

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* I have talked about James Nachtwey‘s work in Siberian prison colonies previously on Prison Photography.

[Author’s Note: This is the first in a three part series on prisons in Africa. Through the lens of three different photojournalists, we will see the conditions and lives within prisons of Guinea, Burundi and Sierra Leone.]

© Julie Remy. Inscriptions by young prisoners.

Julie Remy has photographed stories in Rwanda, Mali, Zambia, Malawi, and for her series on prisoners – Guinea.

In September 2008, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began an emergency intervention in the civilian prison of Guéckédou in southeastern Republic of Guinea. Remy’s documented the food and medical aid effort.

“We have problems with food and illness here. There are no medications. There is no doctor. Since 2007, 30 people have died here and the doctor didn’t come.” Inmate, 19 months in prison

Guéckédou was over-crowded, unhygienic and without proper ventilation. As a result, some inmates were malnourished, most dehydrated and many with respiratory and skin diseases. It was recorded that prisoners with tuberculosis shared cells with the general population. Incubation of disease was a major concern.

I have no idea how the prison conditions of Guéckédou compare fifteen months on.

© Julie Remy. At the Guéckédou Civilian Prison, inmates wash only with water on a non regular basis. This prisoner shows the photographer his scabies. Due to poor sanitation prisoners suffer various skin diseases.

Remy worked in dark surroundings. As MSF vouched, “The scene that meets the eye upon entering the chambre noire “dark room” is beyond belief. Some 26 prisoners, crammed into a space of about three by four meters, can only be made out by squinting.” These images are part of a specific, urgent campaign, so it would be offensive of me to pay them any aesthetic critique. The awareness is what matters here.

MSF made good use of Remy’s photographs to produce a short video explaining the situation and dire need for intervention.

I’d like to emphasise that Remy (as a photographer) and MSF were in Guéckédou because of extreme circumstances at the national level. The poor conditions in the prison can be attributed to a number of larger structural instabilities. The men in these photos are one constituency suffering from a regional crisis. MSF explains; “The failure to ensure basic minimum standards in Guinea’s prisons can be linked to the country’s generally poor human and economic development. Ongoing instability and conflict in neighboring countries have long impacted on Guinea, while strikes and civil unrest have emerged in-country over the past few years. The ongoing international increase in food prices, especially in 2008, has exacerbated Guineans’ already precarious living standards and food insecurity.”

© Julie Remy. Malnourished prisoners received plumpy nut provided by MSF at the Guéckédou civil prison.

© Julie Remy. Malnourished prisoners received plumpy nut provided by MSF at the Guéckédou civil prison.

© Julie Remy. A prisoner tells us that he is innocent. That he has done nothing and still has not been judged. He says he does not know why he is held here in the  “Chambre noire” where a dozen prisoners are tied to a bar and held with another dozen in a barely lit cell. Guéckédou civil prison.

© Julie Remy

© Julie Remy

When the opportunity arises, I think it is important for audiences to view images like those two above within each others context. The first image is a dank, alienating environment in which the oppressive shadows and walls dominate. Whereas the second image (probably taken within a matter of seconds) is a well lit portrait centred on the gaze and associated emotions of the man; the prison environment is not stated. Precisely because MSF and Remy were present due to the physical effects of this environment on these men, both are valid photographic approaches.

The consequent written report from this aid intervention released in February 2009 continued with a call for systemic reform:

“Although the sub-standard conditions in Guinean prisons can be attributed partly to poverty and the country’s limited resources, these factors alone do not explain the absence of response to recurring malnutrition and the unacceptable living conditions in Guéckédou and other prisons. Guinean national authorities bear the ultimate responsibility to uphold the fundamental human rights of its inhabitants, including its incarcerated population.”

I, like many others invested in the photojournalism/documentary community, want to see less images of suffering in Africa and more images of the uneventful days; the boring normal times, perhaps some quiet smiles and tears. Add to that some local African photographers and we’re on the right track. (See recent commentary by Paul Melcher, Daniel Cuthbert and Ben Chesterton for more on this).

© Julie Remy

In closing I’d like to offer a caveat for the three part ‘Prisons in Africa’ series.

African prisons – that is, sites of incarceration across a land mass the size of Western Europe, Argentina, China, India and the USA combined – are each unique. Generally, conditions will be poorer than in prisons of developed nations, but every prison has its own culture, rules and circumstance. In Africa, as in the rest of the world, prisons usually exhibit the worst of a nation; retribution and anger, neglect and apathy.

Photographers are compelled to visit prisons known to them through local knowledge or national notoriety; we must expect there is a story to be told. The prisons I will feature in this three-part series will not be pleasant, but I think the three featured photographers are sincere and the stories are important.

While the men in these images may deserve pity, Africa as a continent does not. Africa deserves our respect and our time.

Nations in Africa, as with all places featured in the photojournalism we consume, should be places we think about visiting. I seriously encourage anyone and everyone to make an extended visit. Opportunities to dilute the media images of places and people with first hand interaction with those places and people will only have positive results. If only we had the opportunities, good reason and resources to visit and live in new places frequently.

(Disclosure: I lived in East Africa for five months. That time made more complex and less harried my perspective of the world. The largest culture shock was returning to the UK.)

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Official Bio: Julie Remy is an award winning documentary photographer specializing in human rights, health, travel and the environment. What she captures through her viewfinder and what she tells in written word she believes will contribute to bringing hope and respect and perhaps assist in gaining access to the care and knowledge they deserve.

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

debate

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.

Photo: Misha Galustov. Apartment in a destroyed building in the Staropromislovsky district of Grozny. Chechnya - August 2008

Photo: Misha Galustov. Apartment in a destroyed building in the Staropromislovsky district of Grozny. Chechnya - August 2008

This week, I began my Monday Convergence project. Each week I’ll post two images side-by-side. It’s a bastardisation of Lawrence Wechsler’s art historical method which begins with compositionally similar images and extracts hidden mirrored narratives. It can be reduced to whimsy but it can as easily concoct entirely novel appreciations. Anyways, I felt this one couldn’t wait till Monday.

I was rifling through my Google Reader and the latest entries from the MSF Photoblog and Flak Photo came up in rapid succession.

Untitled (Man on Ledge with Baby), Nebraska, 2009. Photo © Bradley Peters

Untitled (Man on Ledge with Baby), Nebraska, 2009. Photo © Bradley Peters

The first image is by Mikhael (Misha) Galustov. The second by Bradley Peters. Both these images are panic inducing, but for very different reasons.

It’s a comparison of dank darkness vs. hard flash illumination; of a grasping baby vs. a grasping adult; of an infant’s unknown target vs. ‘Get baby at all cost’; of sinister solitude for an infant vs. the intervening presence of an adult; of forsakeness vs. salvation.

Both images have me wondering what the involvement of the photographer is/was before, during and after. Through the frozen action of the scene one feels compelled to intervene. We can’t, but the photographer can … could … did he?

Permanent URLs: Peters at Flak & Galustov at MSF

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