Category Archive: interviews
Over the past two or so weeks of protests in Istanbul surrounding Gezi Park and Taksim Square, we’ve seen a lot of stories and photographs. Some of the first and best pictures I saw though were by my friend Andrei Pungovschi, a photographer based in Bucharest. While he was in Istanbul he was making a series of daily posts on his blog about what he was seeing and photographing in Istanbul. I wanted to share some of his work from the past week and his responses to a few questions I had about how he was covering this difficult and fast moving story.
dvafoto: When did you arrive in Istanbul?
Pungovschi: I arrived in Istanbul on Thursday evening, last week.
Did you go specifically to cover the protests?
When I first saw the protests on TV I thought it was just a local issue in Istanbul about Gezi park and didn’t really think it was something that could get any bigger. However, the brutality of the police intervention on what was a relatively small and peaceful protest triggered a very strong reaction in Istanbul. The movement turned from an ecological issue into a political one. That’s when I decided to go.
How have things changed in the time you’ve been there, what is the atmosphere in the park and the square?
By the time I got to Istanbul the police had backed off to such an extent that you could not spot a policeman anywhere around Taksim Square. Each evening, the square was filled with people and the whole scene looked more like a festival rather than a protest. The park and the square are two different scenes. The square is the place where each day after work people from all over Istanbul come to express their protest, sing, dance, or simply watch from the sidelines. The park is a community of people who want to express their support for their mutual cause by living together in this place in spite of the authorities who want them out of there. Most people I’ve spoken to in Gezi seem determined to stay there until their demands are met.
Tuesday seems like it was the most dramatic day in the last week, what was it like to photograph?
Everything changed on Tuesday morning around 7am when the police decided to clear the square (not the park). They attacked with what seemed like excessive use of gas and water canons. People fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails. These things tend to get chaotic and this was no exception. Photographing under these conditions is not complicated, because there is always something going on. I prefer to get close to people, so I don’t use a telephoto lens. The problem then is that you have more than your frame to worry about. Plus the gas. Unless you have a proper gas mask, there is not much you can do at close range.
How are the police and the protestors treating the media and photographers? Is it difficult to work?
The police ignored us for the most part, which was good. I wish I could say the same about the protesters. They seem to be very discontent with their own media, so they would often throw rocks at groups of photographers and cameramen. Once you get close to them and get a chance to explain who you are and what you do, things get easier. The other problem I encountered was the way the police used the gas. The gas projectiles are supposed to be shot upwards at a 45 angle degree. More often than not, they would shoot horizontally, actually taking aim at protesters. A guy was shot in the face a few meters away from me while trying to throw a rock.
Overall, I can’t say it was particularly difficult to photograph. It’s not war photography. Common sense rules that apply everywhere apply here as well. With a little bit of luck and a lot of caution, you can get your job done.
I met Camille Lepage in South Sudan last September when I arrived in the capital Juba on a two-week assignment. She had already been living there for almost two months, and has been there ever since. She was a huge help in getting our story off of the ground and filling my colleague and I in on how South Sudan works, with all the necessary tips and tricks that help make things happen there. And there are a lot of tips and tricks needed.
At the time she had just finished a stint at a local newspaper, The Citizen, and was starting work as a stringer for AFP. Since I met her, she has traveled all over South Sudan and the border region and begun to produce impressive stories on her own. I wanted to feature her project “The Silent War” from South Kordofan, which was was photographed in October and November last year and published this week in Le Monde. We also wanted to ask her a few questions about what life is like as a freelance photographer in South Sudan.
Dvafoto: When did you arrive in South Sudan?
I arrived in South Sudan in July 2012, just after finishing my degree in journalism at Southampton Solent University in the UK.
What was the main story you wanted to cover when you set out?
The wars at the borders with Sudan really pushed me to come to South Sudan. They are going on in complete silence and I have always wanted to cover underreported (if reported at all) wars or humanitarian crises, so I figured going to South Sudan, which was a new nation under construction, would probably be a good way to start. On top of that, I thought it was very unfair that a one year old country was constantly referred to as doomed or failed so I wanted to see it for myself and perhaps bring some new light on it.
How has the story you’re pursuing changed?
I think I really have two main focuses. The first is the humanitarian crisis in both Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where locals are being bombed by the Sudanese government, where NGOs and journalists are forbidden. Since June 2011, it has led hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced to other countries. I didn’t think I would spend so much time and energy on this, but after having spent 3 weeks in South Kordofan last November, I know I have to go back as often as I can. I also want to make my way to Blue Nile, which is trickier and much more costly too. Also, I can only go to those places during the dry season, when roads are practicable, so from November to May. I also need to finance those trips by working for NGOs at the same time, it’s a little challenging.
The second story is on the quest for identity of South Sudan and how a country that has been at war for decades can become a united nation. I’m looking the obstacles such as lack of infrastructure, which results in the lack of health care and sparks tribalism around the country but also the way forward, like a youth which wants peace and education.
How are your pictures getting out? Where are they being published?
I started freelancing with AFP when I arrived so through them they are often published in The Guardian, Time Magazine’s Lightbbox, BBC, sometimes on the NYT Lens Blog etc. For my personal projects, I’m pitching them to pictures editors here and there, the South Kordofan story was published in Le Monde, but I’m hoping to have it published in other places soon. The other one isn’t ready at all, so I’ll wait until I feel I have some good material to pitch that too.
In general, what is life like for a photographer like you in South Sudan?
Life isn’t easy, really. Everything is very expensive here, I used to rent a tent at a hotel for 600$ a month. Now I live in a local house far from the town and without electricity, but it’s only 200$ a month. I obviously don’t have AC or a fan, so the temperature can go up to 38 degrees at night. I got used to it though, and now whenever I go to the field, which should normally be more rough, I have more comfort. I always think it’s quite amusing.
At the moment, we are only two photographers in the country so we can quite easily get assignments with NGOs and UN agencies, but I only do so to pay my bills and finance other reportages.
At first, people here are seriously reluctant to be photographed. They get very very aggressive, I even had my life threatened a few times when I wanted to photograph people. I’ve learnt how to approach them, so it’s becoming easier and easier every time. But it takes time!
Are there many other photographers there? Are they staying as long as you?
We were four only a few months ago, now we’re two only. I think just like most foreign correspondants, stringer photographers stay between one and two years. There are also some people who come over for a one week or two on assignment.
What is the benefit to staying longer?
You get a much better understanding of the place. Especially in a country like South Sudan where everything is logistically complicated, you need to know the rules, to understand the ‘un-said’, discover how to approach people, to make them trust you too. After six decades of war, the South Sudanese are very suspicious of spies, and they remain in this ‘war spirit’ when you know at any time things can go wrong if you say something they didn’t want to hear. On top of that, it’s really a fascinating place, they are so many stories to tell, and it takes time to get proper insights of it.
What is one story that you wish you could be covering in South Sudan that you so far have not been able to, due to access or due to resources?
Apart from the Blue Nile story that I previously mentioned, I’ve been meaning to go and spend some time with the Murle tribe in their cattle camp in Jonglei state. Cattle camps are huge areas where armed kids are keeping hundreds of cows (cows show the wealth of a family and often are used for securing a bride). Traditionally the Murle go and raid other camps to steal their cattle either as an initiation into adulthood or to simply increase ther ‘wealth’. They often end up in very violent fights between the tribes unfortunately. The Murle are also said to be sterile, so at the same time they steal children from other tribes; but there is very little documentation on the Murle, so I’d like to see it with my own eyes. I haven’t managed to cover it yet as the UN are forbidding journalists to go to Jonglei state because of security issues, and no NGOs are able to facilitate journalists to go there because the area is too sensitive.
What is your background in photography, where is your home?
I don’t really have any photography background. I studied print journalism, but was more than often interested in the visual part in each story. It clicked about one year ago, what I was really into was photojournalism and I decided to go for it. When I arrived in South Sudan, I introduced myself as a photojournalist, despite my very meagre portfolio at the time. I think people didn’t take me very seriously at first, but I worked hard and still do, so I think they see me a little differently now. and I’m from France!
In 2011 writer Pete Brook took his blog Prison Photography on the road. He used Kickstarter to successfully fund his trip, and produced a number of interviews with photographers, prisoners and activists, gave six lectures and visited three prisons. Last year the project grew in to the exhibition Cruel and Unusual at Nooderlicht in the Netherlands, with a newspaper-style exhibition catalogue and an upcoming Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) book.
After he was safely back in Portland last fall, he and I were discussing some of what he had accomplished and what he was thinking about doing next. Fortunately for us, he agreed to an interview so I can share some of his interesting insights and ideas. It has taken a while for us to find the time to put this together, but I’m excited to share some of Pete’s reflections on PPOTR and how he sees his work as a writer and curator evolving. It is especially relevant for other photographers and bloggers as they think about producing work ‘across platforms’ and offline, and what is possible when engaging and collaborating with our community at large.
dvafoto: I heard through the grapevine that you had an interesting experience right as you hit the road?
Pete Brook: I think you’re referring to my arrest. Before the trip began officially, I was in California. I’d been at a wedding, dancing and drinking in the sun all day. When the after-party began to die down, and being a gent, I offered to walk a couple of ladies home as they were across town and not staying at the hotel. Along the way, I took a piss on a palm tree (not so gentlemanly).
Thirty seconds later, two California Highway Patrol squad cars pulled up. I was pulled aside and told that urinating in public was an offense. I didn’t think a discrete piss on parkland at 5 am would land me in jail so I may not have taken the interaction as seriously as the officer expected.
I was on the road, had no permanent address, I was a bit merry, had no ID with me and was generally bemused as to why so much attention had fallen upon me. When asked if I would answer the officer’s questions, I said I didn’t feel compelled to do so. He took my wrist, turned me round, cuffed me and walked me to his patrol car.
The officer said, “We’ll do it your way. You could be in jail for days, weeks, months, even years.” A nonsense statement. He was reacting emotionally to the situation. Not good. He was also proving who had the power. I’m guessing it was late in his shift and he may not have had the patience for an inebriated me. I get that, but his solution, so to speak, was unnecessary and disproportionate.
I was in jail for 9 hours (as quick as they process anyone, I was told). Upon release, I was served with a court date and faced two misdemeanor charges of ‘Disorderly Conduct’ and ‘Willfully Resisting Arrest’. Just ludicrous. The court date was two weeks away, by which time I had scheduled to be in Ohio. I had to juggle my itinerary, bring all my Southern California appointments – that were to be in the last week of PPOTR – forward, and extend my research in the Bay Area.
Two weeks later, at the courthouse, I didn’t even see a judge. Not wanting to waste court time, the District Attorney threw the charges out. Common sense prevailed but not before I’d been inconvenienced.
The arrest nearly jeopardized PPOTR’s main prison visit, to Sing Sing in New York State.
Visitors to prisons must go through a criminal background check and mine flagged the arrest. So, now the New York Dept. of Corrections knew of the interaction, but had no details. I had to explain that no charges were brought and scramble for the paperwork to back up my claim. The workshop I did with the men in Sing Sing was a highlight of the trip and it would have been a sore loss to miss out.
I remain in the system. I am interviewed about the interaction by Customs & Immigration every time I re-enter the U.S. I’ve been told the record cannot be updated to include the info that there was no conviction; I’ll have to go through the same conversation every time I travel from overseas.
The experience was not great, but the irony could not have been greater. If I can get a copy of my mug shot it’ll be my press-photo for life!
Now that you’ve finished the fieldwork for PPOTR, co-curated an international exhibition, and printed a newspaper, do you think that Prison Photography the blog will change at all?
I’d like to say no, but it probably will. Not because of these projects but because more like them are in the pipeline. These emerging projects will take away from my time at the keyboard-helm.
Before I tell you about those new developments, I should say that PPOTR was designed to test the limits of the blog, test my stamina with the issues and test the reception of the public. In some ways, maybe I could or should have had the imagination to take on new formats earlier?
Directly out of PPOTR came the opportunity to co-curate Cruel and Unusual at Noorderlicht and that was a phenomenal privilege. Given how much I enjoyed that there’s no reason to draw back from activities outside the blog.
Cruel and Unusual travelled to the Melkweg Gallery in Amsterdam last April and then to Photoville in New York in June. This year it will show in Ireland and Australia. There’s some logistics involved in making those exhibits happen, and Noorderlicht and Photoville are greasing the wheels with that.
I initially planned to self-publish the Prison Photography photobook for the PPOTR Kickstarter backers, but Silas Finch a non-profit photobook publisher expressed interest and I decided to make it a bigger production … and print run.
We’ve signed on the dotted line and I’m writing the text for it now. The image edit will come in the summer and we hope to release it later this year. It’s wonderful to have, again, institutional support.
A couple of photographers working on the topic of prisons have expressed interest in collaborating on books and that interests me, but it has to be right for them too. That might sound silly, but how many essays would I need to do before I became the guy who writes introductions for prison photography books? Not many! It’d be good bylines for me, but not necessarily for the photographer. As a reader, I generally enjoy photobook essays that are not about the photography per se but about the larger subject and there’s many activists, advocates and academics who can write better on aspects of the prison system than I. Perhaps one or two essays will get done in time.
Furthermore, I just agreed to curate a photography show on the East Coast in January 2014. It’ll be an entirely new collection of works with a new curatorial statement.
This was a very interesting year for me, definitely the busiest since I moved to Belgrade, Serbia in February 2009, filled with lots of travel and some interesting assignments. Notably I had the chance to visit Africa for the first time, on assignment in South Sudan, and received the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Fund Grant for my ongoing project “Only Unity”.
I started the year in England, then was in Sarajevo for a story about the 20th anniversary of the start of the war there. My mother came to visit me in Belgrade in April, but our trip was interrupted by Presidential elections in Serbia, which I covered for the Wall Street Journal. That assignment led to one of the strangest days of my career, when I photographed both Serbian President Boris Tadic and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani hours apart in the same TV studio (see the WSJ article about Giuliani in Belgrade).
Soon after I was documenting the destruction of the Belville Roma settlement. My friend Darko Stanimirović and I handed out disposable cameras to residents of the camp so that they could document the eviction themselves. We published a multimedia piece at Newsmotion.org with these community pictures alongside Stanimirović’s audio recordings, a text by Alan Chin and some of my pictures as “The Sound of Barking Dogs: The Eviction of the Roma from Belville”.
In September I was in South Sudan reporting a story about the future of the Jonglei Canal and the issues of water rights for the youngest country on the planet. The project was commissioned by Austrian magazine 2012, an interesting one-year-only magazine published by Red Bull Media House. I have included a few images from the project here, but for now the only other pictures online are the tearsheets from ’2012′ which you can see on the clips section of mattlutton.com.
I also spent a total of four months in the United States, and was able to finally visit the area of the former Republic of Serbian Krajina in Croatia to document the remnants of Serbian life there. I was invited to be on the jury of the Organ Vida international photography festival in Zagreb, and was a speaker and juror at the “Foton” Makarska Photo Days Festival.
The biggest news of the year for me though was the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Fund Grant, which I received in June for my project “Only Unity”: Serbia In The Aftermath of Yugoslavia.
The response to the project has been very exciting, and I’m eager to finish the work this year. If you would like to know more, have a look at one of the interviews I did last year following the announcement: “Award-Winning Project Documents a Fractured Serbia” with Pete Brook at Wired’s Raw File blog, “Picture Story: Holding up a Mirror to Serbian Nationalism” in PDN Magazine (subscribers only unfortunately, see what it looked like in print here), and my chat with fellow EPF-finalist and friend Ian Willms on “BOREAL Spotlight: Matt Lutton, “Only Unity””.
Thanks again everyone for continuing to follow Dvafoto and supporting all of the photographers we feature here. I wish you all a fun and successful 2013!
Prasiit Sthapit is a photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was introduced to his work by Sohrab Hura recently as he wanted to share some of the work of photographers he had met and tutored at a workshop in Kathmandu last fall. Sthapit’s project “Change of Course”, presented as an multimedia piece, immediately impressed me. Striking pictures mixed well with gorgeous music and documentary audio; it is evocative storytelling for such a hard to illustrate political and climate change story.
The story is also presented simply as photographs and text on his website, and you can get a chance to admire the quiet, intimate photographs themselves. Sthapit also describes the project as a work in progress, and that we will see more family photographs and found objects along with the photos of the place.
Change of Course
“We fought a lot for Susta, we suffered a lot in Susta. We didn’t know when we would be killed. Even after all that, we survived. But in the end, Gangaji swept us away,” Rajkumari Rana (Muwa), reminisces. I met Muwa, 79 years old and blind, at her house in Keulani,Triveni. She was one of the first settlers of Susta. Having come here from Kathmandu with her daughter and a small bag of belongings in 1967, she worked as a schoolteacher, headmistress, local leader and also as night patrol. She remembers times when even women had to patrol at night, with sticks in hand as protection against dacoits from Bihar. There had been numerous clashes in the past, which had wounded many and killed some.
Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, which has long been considered the border between Nepal and India. But with the river changing course, and cutting persistently into Nepali territory, the village today finds itself on the east of the Narayani. India maintains the new course of the river as the boundary while Nepal disagrees, making Susta a small, contested portion of Nepal within India, surrounded on three sides by Indian land, and on the fourth by the Narayani. The original settlers now express anger at the fact that they have been sidelined by both India and Nepal.
The flood of 1980 shifted the land to the east, displacing the whole village in the process. Muwa was among the displaced. The government gave each family a small plot of land in nearby villages of Triveni Susta VDC for temporary settlement, but this generosity was limited to those with Nepali citizenship. There were quite a few who were originally from India, and others needing a place to hide.
After the floodwaters receded, the people who were not given land parcels started returning to Susta, although it was now nothing but sand and rocks. They worked in these barren conditions, trying to get whatever little they could out of the land. Meanwhile, the Border Security Force of India was gradually preparing to encroach on Susta. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have been appropriated through Indian encroachment thus far.
Dva: How did you come to produce “Change of Course”?
Sthapit: This project was first conceived for an exchange programme between Oslo University College, Norway, Pathshala, Bangladesh, Drik India and photo.circle, Nepal. I had already thought of it as a long term project and later on while the project was ongoing, Sohrab was also very much involved with the editing and the look of the project. (we had a workshop with Sohrab on September, 2012). He also gave me a lot of insights on how to continue the project further. By the end of the workshop with Sohrab we had to come up with somesort of a presentation and he suggested I do a projection.
How did you decide on the format of this video, with sound and audio and stills-as-motion? Are you showing it any other way, such as an exhibition of single photographs or some other medium?
While I was out photographing the place, I didn’t have anything concrete in my mind (I wanted the experience there to guide me along the way) so I collected everything that caught my interest. I recorded interviews with the people because even though I try to share my own experiences with the people there, I want them to speak for themselves. Sound is also a very important element in the whole story, if not the most important one. The family photographs also do the same. Photographs in the villages are prized possessions, they cherish these pictures. This is the way they want to be portrayed. The story is currently being exhibited as a print exhibition in Kathmandu International Art Festival, Kathmandu which also includes sound installation. The sound used in this is different than the one in the video.
Can you tell me about the music you chose?
The song that goes as the background is by a Nepali neo-folk band called ‘Night’. The song talks about the flood that waged havoc in Nepal in the river Koshi a few years back. I thought it would be appropriate for the piece and the music felt just right. As it doesn’t over power the piece with overwhelming sadness. I felt the sounds, the voice and the music gave a sense of community, a village.
Prasiit Sthapit is a Kathmandu-based visual storyteller whose work deals with societies at the borderline, both literally and figuratively. Through photography, he chooses to show the experiences he has shared with the people he has met, and what they mean to him. He graduated from Manipal Institute of Communication, India with a Bachelors in Arts (Journalism and Communication) and was the recipient of the Dr. TMA Pai Gold Medal for Best Outgoing Student, 2010. He is associated with Photo.Circle, an organization working towards building a strong community of visual storytellers in Nepal, and Fuzz Factory Productions, a multimedia collective.
At that extreme distance [44miles] vision itself collapses. Literally you can look as hard and with the most powerful equipment you can and there is nothing to see. Because at those distances there is so much heat and so much haze and so much turbulence in the atmosphere that the photons that make up light are literally coming apart from each other. Color is literally coming apart.
Now it turns out that it is harder to take a picture of something on the ground that is 30 or 40 miles away than it is to take a picture of Jupiter, for example, that is hundreds of millions of miles away.
You come up against the physical limit of vision. That is really what you see in the photograph, is you see vision falling apart. Now at the same time it is a photograph of this weapons range, but it is also a photograph of the impossibility of trying to see this weapons range in a certain way.
We have previously written about Trevor Paglen’s groundbreaking photography projects about military patches, spy satellites, CIA Black Sites and Limit-Telephotography but I just came across this video interview with him explaining the physical limits of light and photography that his work about “black sites” is confronting. An interesting thought.
Kamerades is a new collective of photojournalists based in Belgrade who have come together to help develop independent photography in Serbia and to work on group projects documenting contemporary stories. They are currently working together to photograph the Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections, which will take place on Sunday May 6, 2012. These six photographers are contributing their own hard-edged and sardonic vision of the Serbian electoral process and how it reflects Serbian society. They call the project “Dirty Season”.
I think it is an important step for this group and Serbian photography in general to work on such collective projects, with financial support, and to have a community of like-minded photographers working together to get photographs published in their own voice. It is not easy, especially not here, but I admire their energy and efforts. With this in mind I had a few questions for the Kamerades crew about their formation and backgrounds. Given the timeliness of their new project with the elections this week, I chose not to show a portfolio of their work but this current electoral group project which I am so excited about. It is an incredible portrait of Serbia during this election cycle.
Kamerades is Saša Čolić, Nemanja Jovanović, Milovan Milenković, Nemanja Pančić, Marko Risović and Marko Rupena. As a group they regularly post to the Kamerades Blog including updates to the Election story, which they present without captions or credits.
So how did this group of photographers come together? Where did you meet?
Jovanovic: Marko Risovic, Milovan Milenkovic and I participated in a photography lecture supported by World Press Photo back in 2009. That was the first time that we showed some of our work to a group of people larger than three. I was swept by Marko [Risovic]’s Legionnaire story for example and one thing led to another. Milovan suggested that we meet and talk about doing “something” for Serbian photography, even if it means taking only baby steps. After two years of meeting in various pubs and places that would be too generous to call restaurants, speaking and inviting over 20 people to join us, this is what came out of it.
Pancic: Milovan Milenkovic and Nemanja Jovanovic initiated the idea that after our work when we have free time, we can meet at the pub and discuss our work. At first point it brought together a large number of photographers, but over the time there were six of us remained and those were the most persistent ones. During this period, which lasted some two years, we have become a collective. It’s started to affect in a positive way to all of us as photographers, but we also became close friends. In the end we decided to launch a website that allowed us to show our work to the public.
What backgrounds as photographers do you have? Freelance, agencies, newspapers?
Jovanovic: Probably every possible background you can think of! In Serbia, you don’t get a paycheck doing and specializing in only one kind of photography.
Risovic: All of the guys in Kamerades collective were working for Media outlets at some point. At the moment few of us are trying to freelance. In Serbia. Can you imagine?
Pancic: Some of us are working in the agencies, some try to be freelancers, and some in the press.
Was there a moment when this group came together and decided that it was time to work collectively? What was it? What gave you guys the idea to work together?
Jovanovic: Yes. The idea was not so clear in the beginning, but it was there all along. From start we were determined to “push each other forward” and to try to do what we like for no other reason. No money, no awards, fame or glory were important, only escaping our everyday routine which included participating in the inevitable decline of journalism, photojournalism and photography in Serbia. The collective came as a logical solution.
Risovic: Being colleagues, working next to each other for years, we were silent witnesses of degradation of photojournalism in Serbia. We realized that sitting and despairing doesn’t lead us anywhere. So, we decided to pursue some action, and besides hanging around, talking and drinking in the pubs, we tried to be constructive. As Nemanja said before, it was a process, but it was clear from the very beginning that we all have common goal.
How did the website come together? What are you hoping to accomplish with the website (that is, to sell work? to share pictures? promoting yourselves, promoting Serbia, just looking bad-ass, etc.)? Where did the design and logo come from?
Jovanovic: It took some time. We are not experienced in that kind of stuff, so we were learning the basics, step by step. We were lucky enough to be 6 people with completely different interests, knowledge, personalities, approach in photography, but we somehow clicked perfectly together, and it resulted in the fact everybody got their part of job. Mostly Sasha who whipped and pissed off rest of us (or, took the piss out of the rest of us), and Milovan who did logo and design details after approximately nine million e-mails and discussions about the same issue. Also, we had a lot of help from friends, like our colleague Darko Stanimirovic who did the website. A lot of people gave different advices, Matt Lutton among them [ed: happy to help guys!], Donald Weber from VII agency and our friends photographers, designers and editors from Serbia and abroad.
Selling our work is every photographer’s job of course, but with this portfolio we mostly seek attention and hope to sell something in the future, maybe to get some assignments that would suit our style/wishes. And looking cool is one of the goals, of course! We are pretty much terrible musicians and we couldn’t be rock stars, so we took cameras. Chicks love it!
Pancic: As I said before, the website has come as a result of our meetings during the past two years. One idea that keeps us together is that we want to show our work to world around us, we believe that as a collective we have a better chance to get more publicity and through joint actions provide us new projects. Logo design came from a smart push by Milovan Milenkovic, multitalented and good looking guy.
Risovic: Basic thing that bothered us from the beginning was the fact that when you simply google documentary photography and Serbia together, you don’t get any of the serious websites with representative work. There are great documentary photographers and photojournalists in Serbia. Believe us! We hope to change this with our website. And to look badass, it goes well with the fame.
Read on »
I’m not sure what first got me to look at Laura El-Tantawy‘s I’ll Die For You, but I’m glad I did. It’s an ambitious attempt to photograph and tell the story of farmer suicides in India. The situation is staggering. From El-Tantawy’s statement about the project:
Over the past 15 years, more than 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. Many had borrowed money through government lending schemes or private lenders to plant more efficient crops, but could not pay off their debts. Because of the extremely fast transition has undergone — from a rural to an industrial, urban economy with an open market — farmers have been confronted by immense social and economic problems.
To tell this story, El-Tantawy uses archival materials, strong portraiture of the women left behind, and a visual examination of the land and place. It’s a refreshing approach to something so difficult to photograph, and it’s a departure from much of her other work (which you should check out while you’re at it). I thought I’d ask her a few questions about the project and her approach. Our conversation is below:
What got you started on the project? What drew you to the issue? How did you begin work for the project (such as identifying potential subjects, approaching subjects for the piece)?
The start of the project coincided with me taking part in the prestigious Reflexions Masterclass. It’s a two-year photography seminar directed by Italian photographer Giorgia Fiorio and French Curator Gabrial Bauret. The workshop is based around developing a photographer’s visual language and story-telling capabilities by assigning a series of themes that participants use as inspiration to build on a new body of work or continue to develop an ongoing series. At the time the theme assigned was “faces”. I really struggled with this because all my immediate ideas were centered around portraiture, which I always considered as an area of weakness for me. I felt a strong portrait should convey an emotion and lend some insight into the subject’s character, frame of mind or emotional state – this I had never accomplished well. Meanwhile, as I am thinking about this, I come across an article about farmers committing suicide in India. Everything seemed to come together at that moment for me, in a way that I can honestly say I never reacted to anything else, subject or story. There was something different about this work from the start. So from the moment of its initiation, this project was very unique for me.
I went to India with nothing but the intention to meet the families and photograph their faces. This was my main motivation. I wanted to understand why they were committing suicide, such a brutal act and one with finite consequences. Having been in India before, I always saw India as a country where people really work hard to live in order to avert death. It was the country of vibrant colors, crowded streets – a country where life is seen at its best and sometimes worst, but life and living dominate. Death was not associated with India in my mind, which is why I believe I reacted so instinctively and vigorously to the suicide of farmers, which ultimately led me to think about my own grandfather, who was a farmer all his life. Perhaps you can see there were just too many elements here that led me to pursue this story as passionately and seriously as I did.
In India I landed with ideas, but I had nothing in hand that could translate my ideas into reality. I wanted to shoot the work on film (which I had never done before). I bought the film from a friend of mine living in India and borrowed his Mamiya. He also offered to send his studio assistant with me to meet the families and she became my team-mate at that stage in the project, doing what I consider half the work: translation.
When we left Mumbai we had nothing but the determination to meet these families and hear their story. Once we arrived in the village we had identified as the starting point, we just asked around and things started to work out.
We approached the families with total honesty explaining I had come from London and wanted to hear their story. At that moment the work as I had visualized it only centered around documenting the female survivors and making an archive of photographs of the men who died. The idea of “Man and Land” came later and after much searching for a visual approach to show the strong bond between the people and the land they inhabit, which I believed was ultimately the cause of these suicides.
What was your strategy for telling this story visually? I imagine it was a difficult piece to develop, photographically–the events happened well in the past and the causes of these suicides are abstract economic and psychological notions that don’t present themselves in a straightforward visual way.
Intimacy – all I could think about was intimacy. Given the sensitivity of the issue in and of itself and the delicate nature of addressing issues related to life and death, I felt that I had to move slowly, but somehow give a sense of intimacy. It was imperative to me to attach a face to the suicides and not follow a conventional approach that would deprive the story of emotion or developing a relationship with the women survivors and the men who died. I wanted to focus on the faces to make the suicides real to myself and to viewers and not just portray this as something abstract that could happen anywhere to anyone. I felt the urge and the responsibility to anchor this in reality, or at least what I perceived as reality (we all have our different realities or interpretations of it). For me a more photojournalistic approach would not have told this story the way I felt it and instinctively reacted to it: the deep emotion, sorrow and absolute sense of anguish and deprivation these men must have felt at the time of the suicides, all feelings that were carried onto the women now surviving them. People died – thousands of them – and I chose to tell this story. I was responsible for what people would think and feel when they see the pictures. This was always at the back of my head.
The suicides are continuing to happen, so this is not an old story, but very much an ongoing one. In the past 15 years, more than 250 thousand farmers have committed suicide and the numbers are still rising.
How did you get the women to be part of the project? In parts of India I’ve visited, women tend to be hidden from the public and I imagine they initially did not want to be photographed. What about the issue of suicide? In some societies, suicide is a very shameful act. Was there a societal or cultural stigma that you had to overcome in order to get people to even talk about the suicides? How did you approach that issue with your subjects?
A few things could account for me being able to gain access to the families. Perhaps the fact that I was a woman myself allowed the women to gain some sense of comfort around me, but I think ultimately the main reason I was able to talk to them is because they wanted someone to talk to – they wanted to be heard and in all cases helped (which I shamefully explained I was not in a position to do). They wanted their struggle to be acknowledged and the fact I had come from an entirely different country to meet them and understand their plight probably made them feel some sort of respect and seriousness towards me.
Yes, there is a huge stigma attached to suicide. You must remember India is a predominantly Hindu country and suicide is not accepted within the Hindu belief. Surprisingly, this was not an issue that took much of the conversation I had with any of the families I met. It was about survival and for the men who had committed suicide, living had become an impossibility. Tradition among the conservative and modest farming communities dictates men are the main providers. Girls get married because their fathers can pay their dowry and are of a good reputation in the village, so once a man starts to sink below the expected status in the community, he starts to be overcome by shame. Status and community standing play a big role in the decision to commit suicide in these villages and I think they would in any village in the world. Farmers are a unique breed and their work and lifestyle are about modesty, pride and survival under the harshest of conditions. But I think if any of these elements start to shake, their whole existence comes into question.
Read on »
Edoardo Pasero wrote to us recently and shared his new project Doll Flesh. I was immediately taken by the depth and sincerity of the reportage, and the unique woman at the heart of the story. We’re excited to share this work with you alongside a few questions we had for Pasero.
Vittoria is a transsexual of German origins born forty-eight years ago in Brazil and now living in Milan, Italy. More than 20 years ago she went through about 300 injections of liquid silicone to shape her body into that of a woman; tragically, she suddenly discovered she was intolerant.
After so many years now of intoxication and cortisone treatments her body is consumed. She still works as a prostitute along a highway near Milan, but she never gets undressed with her clients because she doesn’t want them to be aware of her condition.
In her spare time she custom builds Barbie dolls. Her talent is really appreciated in the world of the “custom Barbie making”.
- Note: there are no captions except for the last image, which is a translation of this page of Vittoria’s diary.
How did you meet Vittoria? What inspired you to photograph her story?
Pasero: I knew her thanks to ALA, a nonprofit organization based in Milan. They work on subjects like drugs, prostitution, transsexualism and so on. I have a personal obsession with everything concerned with the body and it was immediately clear to me that I had to work with her. She has a really extreme case of silicone intoxication and when I heard her story I was astonished. I was completely fascinated by her hobby working with dolls; to me it is like she did the first, primal doll experiment on herself, and now she is replicating it doing new dolls. Once, she told me she wanted to be like the unicorn she tattooed on her back.
What, if anything, was she interested in communicating when she agreed to be part of your story?
Vittoria was in denial about her condition for a long time and just lately she reconciled with it. Just think to the fact that she works with the clothes on and that, according to her words, I’m the first man seeing her naked in ten years. So, to work with me was her way to say: “pay attention to what you do, silicone can be dangerous”. She never wanted to see the pictures, she’s ok with the project but it’s still too much for her to see her naked body in a picture.
Would you consider this project a collaboration with Vittoria? Does she help select the drawings or dolls you’ve included in this series? What is her reaction to these photographs and the way you’ve edited them together?
It was a collaboration in the sense that she let me to do what I wanted, everything except for the moments when she is with her clients. To let a photographer with his camera in to your life and in the place you live is the most collaborative act of all. I simply took pictures of her and her environment. Clearly I spent a lot of time with her, that’s for sure. I spent time with her without a camera too, doing things like going to the hospital, shopping, dinners etc. There is one picture in the sequence, a blurry one, where you can see two arms taking away old band-aids from her bottom, to put on the new ones. One arm is clearly Vittoria, the other one is my girlfriend, during that period they became friends, and we still are.
The selection was a pain, it took months. I love to edit and I think it is half of the work. Additionally I live in the same city where I have my agency (Prospekt) and I really live in the office. So it was a collaborative effort to make this edit, and I have to thank a lot all of the people there at Prospekt. But, by the other side, it was a sort of “controversial” process; it was like every person looking at it for the first time had a different idea than the one before and so on, much more than the other works I edited before. So I had to put a stop at one point.
Does this story fit in to any larger body of work you are working on?
It was originally intended as part of a bigger project to be done with the ALA organization about transgendered people in the city of Milan, but at the moment nothing is going on so I think it will stay as a work on it’s own. I’ve got no plans. I’d like to see it published somewhere as I’d like to expose this subject, but I understand it’s not simple.
Where do you come from? What is your background as a photographer?
I’ve done workshops with Lorenzo Castore, Antoine D’Agata and Anders Petersen, and except for that I’m self-taught. My father was a really good photographer in his youth and taught me how to use a camera and some darkroom techniques but I learned looking at books of photographers I liked. My parents have both a degree in philosophy and I studied philosophy too; photography became a practical way to apply it in life.
When I was going back through your project I saw one particular image – the picture of Vittoria with an umbrella by the side of the road – which immediately reminded me of Mishka Henner’s project No Man’s Land.
It caused a stir amongst photographers and critics I know, about evenly split on positive or negative, with some of the debate focused on the use of Street View and others on his treatment of the subject itself. I think your project could be considered a much more personal and journalistic response to the scenes and individuals involved in Henner’s distant photographs. Do you have any thoughts about that project or how your work relates?
About “No Man’s Land”, it is interesting how the 70% of the work is done with images “taken” in Italy, hah. Anyway, I have nothing against this kind of work, but I think it would be correct to present it as a research work based on archive material. It’s a conceptual work. This kind of approach is really used in contemporary art. For example, my friend Diego Marcon works mainly in this way. He takes family tape archives and he re-organizes it in to something new: Marcon’s SPOOL project.
So, to be clear, I don’t think Mishka Henner’s work is photography, it is something else, really interesting and worth a look but not photography, it’s 90% project idea and 10% framing on a computer screen using someone else pictures.
To me photography still requires just one simple condition, to be present at the moment of the click.
What has the response been to Doll Flesh, have you been able to publish this project?
Heh, I started to share it in October 2011 and here on dvafoto is the first publication. I think it’s a difficult project to place, reactions vary a lot from one person to another and I understand perfectly that some pictures are a bit harsh. Anyway, it was a great experience for me and that’s what matters.
Thanks to Jonathon Worth for writing in to tell us about this short interview with World Press Photo 2012 juror Steve Pyke (embedded above). Pyke served as chair of judging for portraiture. The discussion offers an interesting perspective of the judging process from Pyke’s own perspective, especially focusing on the discussions between jury members during the process and the influence that each jury member’s own specialty and expertise plays in picking the winners. Particularly interesting, Pyke says (at about 5:45) that the winners in the Portrait category weren’t entered into the category originally. Jurors pulled images from other categories into the Portrait category and chose those as the winners.
There’s also an earlier short interview with Pyke that covers the chore of looking through 8,000 entries.
The awards will be announced tomorrow, Feb. 10.