Category Archive: Pictures
A few months ago, at a Belgrade photo night called Periskop, I saw Marija Janković present one of her new projects about her time as a patient at a Serbian maternity hospital, which she calls GAK. The first time I saw this work, with Serbian text, I could only really react to the photographs and the audience around me, who were often left gasping. After the event she told me the project would soon be available on her new website with English captions. I found the quotes she paired with the scenes she had photographed to be extremely compelling. They added a fascinating depth to the reportage and made me think of a slew of questions about the project and the hospitals themselves. Janković has generously agreed to publish the complete series GAK here on dvafoto and to answer some questions about her wide-ranging projects.
I’ve long admired Janković’s approach to her work and the novel ways of framing some very serious topics in Serbian history. I’ve known Janković for a few years but we had not had the chance to have an in-depth conversation about her work and what she was accomplishing. It is my pleasure to present this interview with Marija where she elaborates on GAK and some of the other projects she has completed in her career. Visit her website www.marijajankovic.com for these and many more projects.
dvafoto: Where are you from and what is your background? How did you come to be a photographer?
Marija Janković: I grew up in Sombor, a small baroque, multiethnic town in [the Serbian province of] Vojvodina. Before the WWII, four large ethnic groups lived together in this quiet little town. Now there are two, plus the minorities. My father was from Kosovo and this mix was important for my future work.
Visual art is pretty much all I ever wanted to do in my life. I went to a design school, than I studied painting. I quietly painted still-life until the day in 1999 when the bombings of Serbia started [ed: the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia]. It was the first time I experienced fear for my life. The involvement of the media was shocking to me. I thought that the news was supposed to follow the events, not to create them. On one side there was the Milosevic’s manipulated news, on another, the Western manipulated news. From that moment, there was two ways: close your eyes or get involved. I chose the second. I wanted to understand how the media machine looked like from inside. And I also got my first decent camera, so when I had to make my living, working in the newspapers was the solution. And I loved it, at least at the beginning…
Some of the work on your work on your new website is classic reportage, and other projects are very conceptual, featuring dioramas and models. Do you work on both of these sorts of projects simultaneously? Or do they represent different periods of your career?
If there were only two… hahaha. It’s a parallel work, sometimes more conceptual, sometimes more photojournalistic. Sometimes conceptual becomes documentary, and reportage artistic. I had, for years, worked in the press in a more traditional way (and I still do). I noticed that there are some patterns on how to make a good picture for publishing. Once I learned how to do it, I got bored. To me it was more interesting to do things differently. Unfortunately, at least here in Serbia, there is little space for that. But if I am touched by something I’ll do it, published or not. And then I decide about the approach. Not being under pressure of publishing gives you a beautiful freedom. But it also means that you will work on some other creepy, non-creative photo job to support yourself.
What do you see as the difference between these two ways of working, and why do you choose one approach over the other? How did you first come to make set-up scenes for your pictures?
When stock photography became hysterically popular I thought to join the crowd. In my shopping basket for the set I just dropped the bag of cheap plastic soldiers; it was a strong symbol to me. Back in the studio I made a salad spiced with figurines and I was suddenly in the war zone. [ed: see Janković's War Story]. Pictures from the front line followed me from childhood and in 1999 I made collages with pictures I found in newspapers from the war zones around the world. I got a wish to make my war material but I was aware that, despite my wish, I will have little opportunity to go and cover one. So I created my own. That way I could be critical about whatever I wanted. As I said: freedom.
From the series “Bor” by Marija Janković
Did you feel there were limitations in the traditional reportage you practiced before? Are there freedoms that you are able to explore with these studio photographs? Do you consider them documentary? Either if so or if not, is that label important to you?
Two of my stories (Staro Sajmište and GAK) would be impossible to make as a classical reportage but they are based on true stories. Sajmište happened 60 years ago and many people photographed the actual place, or wrote historical essays or books. For me it was important to show the feelings of the victims and not only the political background. This is how I chose testimonies of survivors, to give them a second life. During the process of making every picture, besides double-checking facts, I had to ask to myself “Who am I in this story? Am I a victim, a reporter, a German soldier or a simple citizen?” As a matter of fact, there are only few original pictures from the time of the camp and none from the period when it was the “Judenlager”. But we are aware that the Germans made pictures and movies. In the way I tried to make the missing pictures. Later I found only one single picture of the “Semlin Judenlager” in the archives of the Novi Sad museum.
Also GAK wouldn’t have been possible as a classical reportage. No woman would tell these things with a camera or a microphone pointed at them. Because I was a patient, without camera, in the intimate atmosphere, women shared to each other their life stories. Gynecological hospital is like a micro extract of our society.
Now we see all the fantastic work from photographers reporting from Kiev. I must admit that I would like to be there, I love the adrenalin of the protests and teargas. I did cover protests in Serbia, but we all know how classic photojournalism can also be manipulative.
Labeling… I couldn’t care less. If somebody needs labels they have all the freedom to attach some to my work but I don’t start my project by giving them this kind of definition. I begin with the problem.
Your work takes on some very complicated and occasionally sensitive topics, such as concentration camps, the destruction of a mining town and loss of the German community in Vojvodina. What motivates you to photograph these stories?
In Serbian society many historical topics are either forbidden or rewritten and people tend to go with the mainstream flow. Nobody ever told me what happened with the Germans after WWII. First, it was dangerous to speak. Then people forgot that thousands of German women and children were kept prisoners by the Partisans in camps in ghost villages in Vojvodina. Thousands died from hunger, cold and diseases. That story was challenging. Many of these German men, husbands and fathers, committed crimes, but we tend to generalize. Women and children were not guilty. It can sound naïve, but I’m often driven by the simple feeling of “justice for everyone”. Some of this motivation comes from the feeling of guilt for the crimes that the Serbs committed, against the will of many Serbian citizens.
Across the body of your work I feel there is a very thoughtful and determined confrontation with certain areas of Serbia’s history that I don’t see many other artists or photographers tackling. Do you in any way see all of the series you’ve published as part of a single, larger narrative? And why do you focus on Serbian stories rather than regional or global issues?
I don’t see Serbia as a very happy or healthy place. It’s country with a constant problem of finding its place and direction. For example, you can’t be a patriot and in the same time say that your people committed crimes. I think opposite: first as a citizen, and then as a photographer. But no matter how much I’m stressed about many things in Serbia, it’s my country and my people and I wish them well. I would like that the Serbs know their history better and that Serbian women (and all other women in the world, for that matter) have better conditions, more human rights, more jobs and better work conditions. I traveled around the region and in Europe and made some good pictures, but there are still a lot of topics to be covered in Serbia. I’m sure that the female stories are similar in the whole world but I think we should start with what we know the best. And experiment.
Are there other artists, from Belgrade or the region, that you look to for inspiration or camaraderie?
Ten years ago I was more inspired by my colleagues work than nowadays. Many of them are good friends and I love to see their work, but at this point I have the feeling that I walk alone. Working with dolls is not my invention. Dolls are a universal symbol and inspiration to many artists. There is always something traumatic about these replicas of humans. However my recent work is more appreciated by my colleagues abroad. I don’t inspire myself just with photographs. Books, fine art, music, daily life and news, global news… All this make us who we are.
I see your latest series GAK and your photograph “Original and 52 notarized photocopies, 2012″ as a direct and logical continuation of the investigations that you completed in your earlier work. But it is much more personal. How has your work lead up to these projects? Do you feel better prepared now to document your own life and the people around you?
In the past few years I went through some difficult personal times. It’s not accepted today to complain, or to be weak. We should be up to every mission all the time, but we witness many complications due to unresolved personal problems. Domestic crime is very common in Serbia. I love the stories that nobody else talks about. I did it in my name and the name of other troubled women. Putting yourself out there is much more difficult than photographing hooligans (this is my artistic side). “Original and 52 notarized photocopies” was very popular in the Serbian media; it became a symbol of bureaucracy. It’s my baby on the picture and my documents, but the problem is universal, and concerns the whole region. During pregnancy, instead of working, I had to spend time collecting useless documents. If I had found that story and those documents somewhere else I would have used it. But one day I just realized that I am the story and the reporter in the same time. Hahaha.
“Original and 52 notarized photocopies” by Marija Janković
As a man – therefore not a patient – and as a foreigner who does not speak Serbian well, I cannot conceive of having any access to the stories of these women in a gynecological hospital if it was not for your reporting. The anecdotes and quotes struck me because of their very distinct and uncomfortable voice, I suppose because they are phrased in such a frank and unguarded way, overheard and not polished for quotation. This, coupled with your photographs of a dirty model of a hospital filled with ghoulish nurses, makes an interesting approach to reportage.
How did you come to conceive of this way of telling this story? Did you consider other more traditional approaches? What advantage (as I was asking above) did you see in telling the story with models and quotations? Do you see any disadvantages with presenting this story in this way?
As I mentioned above, I didn’t set out to make “GAK”. It wasn’t a situation where I made a decision and strategy, like we do for the stories. I was kept [in the hospital] in a t-shirt, with a dying mobile phone, and one notebook. During the next 5 days I was surrounded by sensitive women talking about their deepest secrets and fears. Two weeks after I found the notebook, it clicked together. I was just open to see it. Now, finding a text for this kind of work is difficult. Also, if I imagine the same text with the portraits of those women, it would be less strong. It’s like a painting of a shoe by Van Gogh; it’s much more exciting than a pair of real shoes.
I have my “test audience”, my closest friends and colleagues and I send them the projects to get some feedback before I publish more sensitive things. Most women replied “I can donate you a story!”, and men: “I didn’t know, I feel sick, great work but I can’t look at this twice”…
From time to time we read reports about hospitals and what is noticeable is that people react more to some dodgy pictures that patients made themselves with their mobile phone. You need to be extremely upset to take things in your own hands. 99% of these women accept with resignation these conditions, saying “What can I do?”
How would you like this project to be received? Is there any advocacy present in this project, for example to challenge for better conditions at your hospital?
Once I got the same question (referring to Original and 52 notarized photocopies). My answer then was “Yes, it would be nice to see somebody change something”. Today I am more realistic. I don’t think somebody will see those pictures and say “She is right, we don’t need form 227/b. II” or “We should order nurses to be nicer to patients”. But it can always serve as a support on the level of “woman to woman”, or help in reaching a critical mass of complaints where things need to be changed. It’s a job for all of us to make some pressure.
Are you continuing to photograph your family? Does this project mark any turning point in your work?
Becoming a mother is a turning point, now all I do is photographing family. I’m less prepared to deal with heavy and dark stories, or to run towards burning buildings to get more dramatic shots. At least at this moment. On another hand, I want a better environment for my child, so I will continue to challenge this absurd but well established social structure.
Thank you Marija.
Australian photographer Chloe Bartram wrote in a couple weeks ago about her projects Sparkle, baby I and Sparkle, baby II, which look at children’s beauty pageants. I’ve seen projects on this subject before, but what really strikes me about Bartram’s work is the still-lifes of all of the equipment, for lack of a better term, that goes into turning a young girl into a beauty pageant contestant. I suppose I sub-consciously realized that all of these accouterments must exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of the context of a pageant. Seeing the fake eyelashes and tanning solution and wigs presented in such an isolated way in Sparkle, baby II reinforces the surrealism of these contests of traditional notions of beauty and femininity. The girls are being constructed into an ideal as the sum of these constituent parts. Bartram also documents the pageants themselves, in Sparkle, Baby I, focusing on vulnerable moments behind the scenes and during the competition. You can see images from both parts of the project above and more on Bartram’s website. This work is also a finalist in the Sony World Photography Awards Professional Arts and Culture category.
“The hanging wig without a head is out of place and unnatural. It is also away to explore the amount of detail that is placed upon such a small human being.” -Chloe Bartram
I asked Chloe to talk a little about what drew her to this subject and why she approached it in these two separate ways. Here’s what she had to say:
“One day I was searching YouTube for no real reason and somehow I landed on a story on child beauty pageants in America. I knew about the culture in the United States but it sparked my curiosity to know whether or not the events existed in Australia and if so to what extent. I tend to look at issues that involve self or ones where I can compare my own personal experiences and thoughts. For me, this makes the project more personal and relatable. Growing up I wasn’t a beauty queen and had quite low self esteem so I wanted to discover what it was like for a girl growing up now and in a privileged society. I wanted to know if those that competed in the pageants were disadvantaged when it came to conforming to the idealised view of girlhood or do the girls see it as a celebration of self. Did it increase the pressures they face or did it actually help them with self esteem and confidence?
“Beauty pageants for the young are a controversial issue and it is because of this that I went into the project unbiased and completely open to the situation. I wanted to allow the girls a chance to tell their own story. This project became a collaboration and I was able to photograph a more intimate documentary series. Regardless of political standpoint it was important for me to remember people matter much more than images. I was able to get to know the girls and the families outside of the pageants and photographed them within the home environment. These images did not make into the final edit but the process was essential to my research and establishing relationships and the story.
“I chose to take the pageant paraphernalia into the studio to separate the girls from the objects and to show the full extent of what goes into competing in such an event. Pageants are very busy; there is an overwhelming amount of colour, glitter and hairspray. By taking the objects away from the situation they become plastic and static. The hanging wig without a head is out of place and unnatural. It is also away to explore the amount of detail that is placed upon such a small human being.”
By the way, Bartram just launched a kickstarter campaign this week to, in part, continue her work on sexuality.
A week or so ago I posted this photo from Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on dvafoto.tumblr.com, but in retrospect we wanted to feature it on the main blog as well. It is an important demonstration of what press freedom and access to power is all about and the inherent hazards in allowing government entities (or any other group) to provide their own coverage. The images may emerge from a democratic government, but they really won’t look much different than the propaganda released from a dictatorship.
This is the essence of a debate that has been raging since the Fall about access to President Obama’s White House (and before that, honestly: Scott wrote about issues of photography in the White House days after Obama took office). Ron Fourniner’s article in The National Journal titled “Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You” has a thorough account of a meeting that took place on October 29 in the office of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. At that meeting New York Times photographer Doug Mills laid out the complaints of the White House Press Corp about access to the President’s activities, and likened the White House’s activities to the Soviet Union’s state-run news agency TASS, whose successor ITAR-TASS, and fellow state-run media RIA-Novosti, is more recently known for supplying famously heroic images of Vladimir Putin to the international media.
Doug Mills’ meeting with Jay Carney was followed up by a letter hand delivered to the White House on November 21st (PDF), signed by a number of prominent media and media advocacy organizations, including the National Press Photographers Association, The New York Times, The White House News Photographers Association, ABC, CNN, NBC, Getty Images and the Associated Press. The AP also issued their own statement about this issue. Santiago Lyon, AP Vice President and Director of Photography, answered questions on the AP’s own blog:
The photos on that page [The White House official Flickr page] are visual press releases and are carefully vetted by administration employees before distribution. Such images are increasingly offered to the media by the White House in lieu of real journalistic access and we and other media organizations find this unacceptable. Media organizations generally do not reproduce written press releases verbatim, so why should we settle for these official images?
Santiago Lyon also penned an op-ed for The New York Times on December 11, 2013: “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control”. If you are interested in this topic, it is a critical piece to read. He reiterates his point above:
The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you’d expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.
And he ends with strong and wise words:
Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.
Part of this issue is the distinction between public and private events. Some editors and photographers are arguing that when the White House releases its own images from events on social media – such as Presidents Obama and Bush meeting on Air Force One en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, which was off-limits to the press corp pool also onboard the aircraft – they are demonstrating that the events are not private and are indeed newsworthy. BagNews’ discussion “As Press Battles WH Over Photo Access, Did Media Cross its Own Line Publishing Obama/Bush Mandela Trip Pictures?” provides many good examples of the difference between White House coverage of events and that of the free press, including the Obama/Bush pictures on Air Force One. Another post at BagNews, “Photo Ops and Staging: Beyond White House Access, the Larger Issue is What We Have Access To” by David Campbell, has more examples of the exclusive framing of events that the White House photographers have that they deny members of the press access to.
For more context, photographer David Hume Kennerly talks about his time in the White House in an interview with James Estrin of the New York Times’ Lens Blog. Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog also published an article by former White House photo editor Mike Davis: “The Backstory: Why Photographers Need More Access In The White House”.
Furthering their terrific studies of these issues, BagNews announced this week that the subject of their next salon would be The Debate over White House Photo Access. It will take place on February 9, 2014. I also want to thank Michael Shaw, Publisher of BagNews, for providing me with resources and his insight on this topic.
BagNews argues, rightly, that, “One thing we need are images that address the construction of the image, including pictures showing photographers in the photo, the set-up of the photo-op, or using particular visual strategies such as different angles, depth of field, and framing.” One important function of the press is to create transparency about how the political machine works. Being able to have an independent look at how events are set up and designed is critical in understanding what exactly the events mean.
Time magazine points this out in other ways too with another of Phil Bicker’s great edits of handout photos in a post called “Public Service or Propaganda? Top Handout Photos of 2013″. Bicker posts often on Time Lightbox under the title “Man on the Wire”, and we wrote about one of his post’s last year: “Déjà Vu in 2012″. In this post he shows off all manner of official photographs that have been published in the press.
Besides the White House, Kremlin and the North Korean official news agencies, other notable sources for handout photos include the NTSB (for photos of the crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco and a train crash in New York), NASA (for photos of space research, manned space flight and an unfortunate picture of a flying frog during rocket launch), the Government Communication and Information System of South Africa for pictures of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the U.S. Army for a photograph of Chelsea Manning.
I’ll finish this roundup with two examples of images that cross more obviously in to the sphere of possible-propaganda, images that look like they could be news photographs but are in fact handed out by political organizations: a photo of bodies of victims that Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta and a photograph that the Kenyan Government provided from the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi showing the collapsed roof of a parking garage.
BagNews also provides startling examples of powerful official imagery that has, in one way or another, been made available to the press. “Ready, Aim, Backfire: Police Photographer’s “Rolling Stone Retribution” Photos” examines the photographs of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaked by a Massachusetts State Police official photographer. This is an interesting example of how official photographs might actually undermine the official narrative; see BagNews for more on this argument. Another post, from January 6, 2014, “Even if the Police Report Wasn’t Buried by the Holiday, What Photo Would Make Us Understand Sandy Hook?” is a powerful anonymous essay about the police report and evidence photos taken by Connecticut State Police from their investigation into the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. This post looks closely at the photographs, ponders their meaning (or lack thereof), and asks why they were buried in the Holiday news cycle and rarely published.
The prevalence of handout photos being published in news sources demonstrates the success organizations are having in shaping the narrative they prefer by controlling the photographs that are available of an event. This is something that we should all be aware of, and wary of. There are times and places – for example, the President’s private family dinners and on the launch pad during a rocket ignition – where restrictions on access are acceptable and logical. But so many other times, as clearly laid out in the photos and articles above, this power is being abused. And we the media and the people are right to resist this.
Last year, I never got to publishing my 2012 year in pictures. Looking at the draft post that’s still waiting, I had a couple embargoed images that I’d hoped to include. I’m disappointed I never got around to it, because 2012 was the year of my return to Russia. You can see a few of the pieces from that trip on my website: Inside Russia’s Newsrooms, the Reinvention of Bashkortostan, Dinamo Gymnastics. That year, I also drove to the Everglades, covered the Republican Primary in New Hampshire, and went behind the scenes on Scott Brown’s unsuccessful Senate campaign. Here are my year-end-roundups from 2011, 2010, and 2009.
2013 was a busy year. I continued work with my usual clients in the US, primarily around New England for the Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, Education Week, and MIT, and I worked for the first time with some exciting publications: Wired, Polka, American Public Media, International Business Times, and others. My photos appeared in publications in about ten different countries (not including international distribution of publications) on four continents and was exhibited in Europe. And much of the assignment work focused on longer-term stories about deeper issues than the usual quick-hit portraiture that defines a lot of assignment work. I hope to continue that trend.
I traveled to Russia again to take part in the Bilateral Presidential Commission Mass Media Sub-Working Group meeting, traveled to Montana a couple of times (including for my younger sister’s wedding), and spent the holidays in England, all the while adding to little personal projects I’ve been photographing over the years.
The selection above might not be my best or most widely published images from the year, but they’re some of my favorites. Some have personal meaning, some represent a risk I took in my approach, and some feel like I’ve come close to hitting the mark. I’m never content with my work, but as with every year, I’m happy to see a little growth in what I’m doing.
I’ve also completely redone my website. It took a bit of effort (not least because I had to re-edit pictures to a larger size), but I’m glad with what I ended up with. I wanted a more visual design that focused on the pictures (there are a few new projects featured, as well), and also a design that would work well on most devices and browsers. It took a lot of work wrangling bootstrap and wordpress together to do it…
2013 was an interesting year for me, full of travel and new experiences. I was able to see a couple of stories I’ve been trying to produce for years turn into full pieces in major magazines. I was also thrilled to join Boreal Collective, where I will be collaborating with fantastic photographers and good friends of mine. We have a lot of exciting plans for 2014, and you can follow us on twitter or facebook. Another high moment from last year was exhibiting my work “Only Unity” in Belgrade, Serbia in November. It was the first complete solo exhibition of the project I’ve been working on for the last seven years.
It has been a year to take stock and think about how to present the work that I’ve completed in my time living in Serbia and start to plan what comes next.
Today, weeks late as is my tradition here on dvafoto, I present 25 of my favorite images from the last year, presented chronologically. Now I can’t wait to get started on new projects and new endeavors in 2014.
You can follow my work more regularly through my tumblr: onlyunity.tumblr.com and on instagram: @mattlutton. Here are some of the other major happenings in my life and work last year, some of which showed up in my slideshow above:
I completed a story that I’ve been looking in to for the last year about segregation in Roma communities in Slovakia, which sometimes takes the form of construction of barrier walls separating Roma communities from Slovak neighborhoods. The project was commissioned by Vice Magazine and published in April as “The New Roma Ghettos: Slovakia’s Ongoing Segregation Nightmare” alongside an incredible story written by Aaron Lake Smith. More of the project can be seen on my website.
In April I attended the first New York Photo Review organized by the New York Times and James Estrin of the NYTimes’ Lens Blog.
I spent June traveling around Croatia and Serbia for the Dutch travel magazine Columbus. It was great to get off my normal beat in the Balkans and see some beautiful sights and eat very well, especially in Central Serbia near Uvac Canyon. The photographs from Croatia are now available in my archive.
While photographing for Burn I visited Istanbul, Turkey for a friend’s birthday and promptly found myself photographing street skirmishes relating to the Taksim Square / Gezi Park protests we wrote about in mid-June. It was my first real experience with tear gas and rubber bullets, giving me a new perspective on the work all of our colleagues who work in these situations regularly. It is not easy.
In August and October I was reporting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina for the Chronicle of Higher Education for a piece that was published as “The Science of Hatred”. My pictures and work was published alongside Tarik Samarah’s photographs from Srebrenica.
My exhibition at the ArtGet Gallery, part of the Belgrade Cultural Center, was a part of Raw Season organized by the collective Belgrade Raw, who I interviewed on dvafoto in 2009. The series of exhibitions this year included shows by very talented friends of mine, including Donald Weber (who was showing his project “Interrogations”) and Pete Brook (who exhibited ‘Seen But Not Heard’: Photos from US Juvenile Prisons.). It was tremendous fun to show them around Belgrade when they were in town for their openings.
The year concluded with an opportunity to see through another story I’ve been interested in for years, and to do it alongside my friend and fellow Belgrade foreign correspondent Andrew MacDowall. The Financial Times commissioned us to produce a audio-visual slideshow in Bosnia and Hercegovina about the unique relationship between a iron ore mine in the Republika Srpska village of Omarska and a smelter in the Federation city of Zenica. The piece which was published online as “Zenica partnership helps banish ghosts of Omarska” as part of their annual Connected Europe magazine. More images from this piece are also available on my archive.
See some of the presentations of these stories in print and pictures from my exhibition on the published work section of my website.
Thanks everyone, and see you around dvafoto this year!
Nina White’s Stay is a personal story of a woman coming to terms with the realities of aging grandparents with ailing health. It is quiet and simply presented and we wanted to know more about the project and the photographer. Nina White kindly answered a few questions about her work. You can see a larger edit of this work, and other nice projects, on White’s website. “Stay” is also available as a hand-made book and is White’s preferred way of sharing these pictures, she illuminates why in the interview.
Where are you from? How did you come to be a photographer?
I am from Brisbane, Australia. I live in a rural area called Ocean View, on a mountain, which is about an hour away from Brisbane city. My initial interest in photography was actually sparked by my grandparents and some of their close friends. My grandfather always had a camera, which I constantly ‘borrowed’ whenever I got the opportunity. One holiday when I was about 8 years old some of their friends dropped off a huge stash of back issues of National Geographic to keep me out of trouble. It is terribly corny, but Nat Geo was the reason I got my first camera.
Did you grow up nearby to your grandparents?
Yes, my mother and I actually lived in the same house as my grandparents in Brisbane city until I was 6. We moved to the Ocean View property and into our ‘shed’ whilst my grandparents built a house just up the hill, on the same property. My entire life they have never been far away.
One of your other projects, Prodigious, also deals with the idea of family. Is this common in your work? Why?
Yes, I suppose family is a common thread within my work. The concept of a family unit, and the various different forms and functionalities that can be encompassed by the term ‘family’ has always fascinated me. Coming from a non-conventional family myself, I am interested by peoples usually private interactions within familial environments. Prodigious was actually driven by my absolute awe of the Duncan family, who I photographed for the project. I have known them for most of my life and find their lifestyle and bonds extraordinary. More so possibly because they an example of the polar opposite family structure to my personal experience.
When and where did Stay begin?
I began actively making Stay in July 2012. My grandfather was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus and we had began investigating the possibility of surgery for him. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is fluid on the brain – the cerebral fluid doesn’t flow and drain or regulate itself properly and slowly swamps the brain, reducing its overall functionality, it presents symptoms similar to dementia and so is often misdiagnosed in the elderly. Less than a week later my grandmother’s artificial hip broke through her pelvis, and she was hospitalised for emergency surgery. This was the beginning of 8 months of hospitalisation, surgery and rehabilitation for them both. The project really began at home, and ended at home.
Can you tell me more about the title?
It is a selfish plea really, from me to my grandparents.
And can you tell me more about the book you’ve made and why you chose that as your medium for showing the work?
I chose to present this work in a book format for a number of reasons. All my life I have seen books as an ‘escape’. In my experience they have the ability to engage a reader in a very different way to other forms of media. With such a personal work, I felt it was important that it was experienced one on one with the viewer, and was small and tender enough to hold in your hands. Another benefit of book format is the ability to control the narrative and rhythm of the work through the organisation of layouts and design. The book itself was entirely hand made by me and is completely unique. It was hand printed on photo-rag-matte double sided paper and the cover is cotton. The text within the book is all written in my handwriting, scanned and then reprinted. Hand-making the work was important to me, as it was really a labour of love, and I wanted to create a soft, tactile object a viewer could interact with, rather than just observe.
If you were following dvafoto on twitter yesterday, you would have seen our retweet of Jon Levy’s photo of a Libération spread without photos. The British Journal of Photography has a bit more information about the stunt: the French newspaper published an entire issue without photos in concert with the opening of Paris Photo. It’s intended as a show of support for photographers. A note about the special on the front page reads, “Libération vows an eternal gratitude to photography, whether produced by photojournalists, fashion photographers, portraitists, or conceptual artists. Our passion for photography has never been questioned – not because it’s used to beautify, shock or illustrate, but because photography takes the pulse of our world.” This is the first time since the newspaper (wiki) was founded in 1973 that it published an issue without photos.
As you can see above and at the BJP’s coverage, the pages seem empty without photos. Just as when Russian media blacked out photos in protest of the imprisonment of photographer Denis Sinyakov, this Libération issue serves as a stark reminder about photography does for the understanding and communication of news and ideas. Bravo!
Alan Chin is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for his new project Toishan, China: Another Home 8,000 Miles Away. Chin’s project will take him back to his family’s home in the Toishan region of China, an area that is undergoing rapid development since his first visit in 1989. The fundraising campaign will run until October 28th but we are happy to report that Chin has already exceeded his initial goal. Congratulations to him, but the project is still worthy of support and we hope that with further fundraising he will have more time and flexibility with the project, something every photographer would dream of.
Chin answered a few of our questions about the new work, and I also encourage you to have a look at Chin’s Kickstarter video below and his fundraising page for more information about his plans for this project.
Tell me something about the region of China that your family comes from? How many times have you visited the area?
Toishan (or Taishan in official Mandarin Pinyin romanization), is about a hundred miles from Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Two-thirds of all Overseas Chinese immigrants to the United States came from the greater Toishan area, until the 1960s. Today, Chinese-Americans hail from diverse regions in China, especially from Fujian, but for a hundred years that was Toishan.
I first visited in 1989, when I was eighteen years old. I was there again in 1997 and then many times in 2008 and 2009.
Do you still have family in Toishan that you are in contact with?
My last close relative was a great-aunt who died in 2009 after I saw her for the last time in 2008; I still have more distant cousins that live in the village.
What is the relationship between this area and Chinese-American communities, particularly in New York? Is immigration from this region still prominent?
Starting in 1965 with LBJ’s immigration reform to reunify families (as important a piece of landmark legislation as Medicare or the Civil Rights laws), the Chinese-American community expanded tremendously. And as the Cold War ended, commercial and diplomatic relations improved between China and the US. Individuals began to travel to-and-fro with much greater ease and frequency. Toishanese continue to emigrate abroad, but now are one of many Chinese clusters rather than the majority. The old part of New York’s Chinatown in Manhattan, dating from the late 19th century, was originally Toishanese and remains predominantly Cantonese. (Toishan is part of Guangdong, the Cantonese province.)
Are you going to be documenting Toishanese communities from both countries with your book?
Yes, but the emphasis is on China, on where we come from.
How do you plan to use your family’s photographs in this project? What are some of your favorite photographs in this collection that will help tell the story?
I will use some of my family photographs to track our specific history, which is typical of so many families. The oldest photograph we have is of my great-uncle, Sing Chin, who emigrated to Cuba in 1927 and then the US in 1935. The photo is a formal studio portrait from his time in Cuba. It shows him in a tropical suit, and he was younger then than I am now. I think it will help show just how transformative the 20th century was in its global impact of revolutionary change.
My favorite photographs? That’s too hard a question to answer!
Click image above to start Chin’s video about the project
New York Times staff photographer Tyler Hicks was nearby to the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday when he heard about gunmen opening fire inside the popular shopping center. He immediately went to the site of the attack and entered the building, photographing as security forces and police attempted to find the gunmen and rescue hostages. He was interviewed by James Estrin of the New York Times’ Lens Blog about what he saw and they published a gallery of the terrific and harrowing photographs that Hicks took inside of the Westgate mall yesterday.
We managed to find an entrance where people who were hiding inside the mall were coming out. We ran into that service entrance and we hooked up with some police who let us stay with them as they did security sweeps clearing different stores — very much like what you see when the military enters a village. Shop to shop and aisle to aisle, looking for the shooters who were still inside. – Tyler Hicks on the New York Times Lens Blog
As of the time of posting the siege at the mall is ongoing and the New York Times is reporting that 59 people have been killed in the attack and more than 175 wounded, including family of the President of Kenya. Foreign Policy Magazine’s Passport blog is also covering the story with analysis about the attackers and the broader situation in Kenya.
Update (9/23): Scott pointed out this gallery of images on Buzzfeed about the attack a few minutes after I published this post. It shows the work of other photographers from inside the Westgate mall and the scene outside. They are also harrowing and gruesome, and also notable for their quality. It is interesting to note that so many professional conflict photographers, like Reuters’ Goran Tomasevic, were present when this breaking news happened. More on that later.
Also worth reading is BagNewsNotes’ analysis of the images in Michael Shaw’s post “Things to be Concerned About in the Mall Attack Photos from Nairobi”, which as usual is thought provoking.
So far, we’ve seen iconic photos recreated with Lego (comparisons), children, more children, Instagram (analysis), Star Wars figures, the elderly, and with their subjects removed. I’m sure there are more…
Now, a new tumblr showcases photographs recreated in Play-Doh. The site’s barely a week old, and there’s no information about the creator on the tumblr, but here’s hoping the project continues.
(via James Estrin)
UPDATE (27 Aug 2013): Just found the creator of the blog. Eleanor Macnair is behind the playdoh creations.