hat is the potential of a single object? In the hands of a criminal, a finely sharpened blade can kill. In the hands of a surgeon, the same blade could assist a life-saving procedure. In the hands of a child, a cup might contain some juice or milk. In the hands of a priest, a cup contains the blood of Christ. Purchase an iPod at the Apple Store and the Apple company receives a certain profit. Purchase an iPod from the corner pawn shop and someone fed their kid or supplemented a rent payment… or maybe they got their heroine fix for the day. In what some experts and pundits consider the most materialistic society of all time, our use of objects range from the wasteful to the worshipful. While some parsimoniously cling to their objects, others seem to possess no value for any physical thing and pour their money, earned or unearned, into the rivers of life. I wonder who was the first to say to the stick or rock or animal skin: “You are mine.” Could you imagine the first conversation? “Why are you carrying that?” “Because it is mine!” “What is this ‘mine’ you speak of?” Or perhaps it has always been this way. Other lesser animals collect things, after all. But then one day humans began grieving over the loss of the things they had collected and the Age of the Object was born. This issue of Yolk Magazine seeks to present these objects as what they are: physical things. However, keep in mind, Dear Reader, that the objects within these pages, though they were created by man, have the capability to outlive us. No matter how much we would like to invoke the beliefs of the ancient kings and be buried with our life’s treasures, we cannot depart this world with a single pocket. See these objects for their design, their colour, their use. But, most importantly, see these objects for their potential… …a thing to exchange. …a thing to provide pleasure. …a thing of desperation. …a thing to change fate. …a thing to fulfill a dream. …a thing of survival. …a thing that could make a difference. - Noah Darnell
EDITOR Noah Darnell
ART DIRECTOR & DESIGNER Filippo Carbonari
CREATIVE DIRECTOR Mirjana Nedeva
PHOTO EDITOR Roman Knertser
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTION Counsellor Tracey Sainsbury Ben Roberts Nicolai Gontar Nuten Abbas Omarov The Very Reverend Michael Persson Brother William Henry Benefield Ashel Parsons Dr. Leslie Teague Henry Vladi Letizi Dianne Barnett Michael Lusk Laura Tonelli Khaled Nabil Ahmed Osman Ayesha Alibhai Shree Kutch Satsang Swaminarayan Temple, Kenton St. James Cathedral, George Street, London The Swedish Church of London, York Street Passo di Bocca Serriola, Marche, Italy All Saints Church, Margaret Street The British Museum Special thanks to the models who contributed to the Pawnography story; to Emma for sharing her in vitro fertilization experience, and to Harry Hardie and Ian Denning for their guidance in the process of creation of the magazine.
PUBLISHER PRODUCER Emelie Sahl
SIMPLE OBJECTS SAVE LIVES AND CREATE LIFE
YOLK in vitro fertilization
Objects work through those who wield them. Doctors not only “do no harm” as specified by the Hippocratic Oath, they dedicate their lives to the healing of others. In the business of saving lives, such simple objects know no equal. In the case of Emma in Massachusetts, simple objects saved her life by giving life to another.
fter months of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, our reproductive endocrinologist informed us that natural conception was not possible due to uterine and tubal issues. In vitro fertilization would be our only option. Our first IVF cycle was scheduled and five large boxes of medicine arrive at my door. It was syringes, vials of medicine, and pills. I needed multiple injections per day and some medications had very precise timing. For example, one medicine needed to be taken every 23 hours and 45 minutes. If I missed my dose by 15 minutes, it was possible my eggs would release and our cycle would have to be canceled. I had reminders on my phone, on my desk, on the fridge. I was not going to mess this up. I took all my medicine properly and went to my doctor appointments every other day. All was going well. Twelve days after starting my medication, my doctor retrieved 18 eggs. The embryologist injected each egg with one individ-
ual sperm in a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection. It is fairly common to lose approximately half of the embryos each day. By day three, we had six embryos. We transferred one embryo and froze the remaining five. I was so happy! For the first time ever, I had an embryo in my uterus! We had a chance of actually making a baby. Two weeks later, we went to the doctor for my pregnancy test. Later that day when the nurse called with the results, I expected to hear, “We have great news!” but that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t great news. Our efforts hadn’t paid off and we were back at square one.
Luckily, we had frozen embryos! I was sure that it would work next time. You can’t tell anything from one cycle, right? A few months later, we transferred one frozen embryo. Again, it was a failure. Hopelessness was setting in. My friend’s children are growing up and my arms are still empty. I should have a one year old by now. The only thing that got me through the day was planning my next cycle.
We go in for another frozen embryo transfer. This time only one embryo survives the thaw. The embryo isn’t great quality, but we transferred it anyway. I had no hope that this cycle would work, and it didn’t. I started blaming my doctor. I decided that I wanted to see a specific doctor, who in my opinion, was the best in the country. I had a phone consultation and started planning a cross-country IVF cycle. A few months later, I packed my medication in a lunch box with an ice pack, had a neighbor watch my cats, and I flew across the country with my husband to make a baby. It was a two week trip of daily injection and multiple doctor appointments. At the end of our trip, we transferred one embryo and flew back home to await the pregnancy test results. The wait was torture. The wait is always torture. I went to a local lab that tested my blood for pregnancy hormones and faxed the results to my doctor. I got the call, “Sorry, but it isn’t good news.” My heart sank. I had been putting my all into this process, but I was not getting anywhere. I had to do something. I needed to fly back. I needed to get my frozen embryos! I flew back for a week-long trip with my mom by my side. Only two of the four embryos survived the thaw. After this frozen
cycle, we would be out of embryos. If it doesn’t work, I am done with this doctor, too. Medical tourism is a lot of work, and I was no longer interested. I had almost no hope left. I was destined to be one of the few people who try and try but it never works. I was in a small group that no one wants to be in. I couldn’t get pregnant even with the help of IVF. I was 26 years old. I was supposed to be an easy case. No one could explain to me why I was not getting pregnant. We decide if this frozen cycle doesn’t work, we are done with IVF. The phone rang. It was my nurse with the pregnancy test results. My legs were shaking. This was my last chance to have a biological child. “I’m sorry. I don’t have good news for you.” I grieved the loss of my baby that would never be - the cute little boy with his daddy’s dimples and his momma’s green eyes. He may have never existed, but I still miss him. I started considering adoption. My husband seemed to be done with the entire process. He wouldn’t even discuss adoption. He was tired, and I was too, but I needed a plan. I can’t get through the day if I don’t have a plan. I was researching adoption every day. I was dreaming about babies most nights. I even dreamt that I had a positive pregnancy test. I woke up so excited until the realization came that a positive pregnancy test was never going to happen for me. It was only a dream. I was devastated. I refused to attend baby showers. I blocked all friends with
children on social media. I built an indestructible wall around myself. It only took a few months before I started thinking about another IVF cycle. Would I regret it if I didn’t do another cycle? Would I regret it if I did another IVF that failed? The answer was obvious. I had the time, and money is not as important as fulfilling a lifelong dream so we went for it.
More injections, more appoinments, more money. By this time, IVF was commonplace for us. The routine wasn’t stressful anymore. I was a seasoned pro. The only part I never got accustomed to was the failure and heartbreak. At this point, even the doctor thought we should stop trying, but we try one more cycle. Negative. Another failure. All of our hard work, all of our time has just been a waste. I have been to over 100 doctor appointments. We had been working on this for 3 years now. I always thought that hard work paid off. If you work for it, you will get it. I realized that is not the case. I had no control over this. My heart was broken. Any mother who sees her child broken would try to help. My mom had been offering to carry our baby for years. After our sixth failed cycle, she offered again. This time I accepted her
offer. What did I have to lose? Clearly, I am not capable of getting pregnant. The doctors were apprehensive about my mom carrying our baby. She is 50 years old and hasn’t been pregnant in 28 years. The doctors wanted an EKG, a mammogram, uterine ultrasounds, blood tests, and more. Everything came back great! My mom is in wonderful health, and the doctors approved her as our gestational carrier! We needed a contract and a psychological evaluation, but we were on our way. Once the legalities were settled, we transferred our only two frozen embryos to her uterus and we waited. I was more hopeful than I had been in a very long time. I finally got the call that I have been waiting for. “We have great news for you! You are going to have a baby!” I was on cloud nine. I can’t believe it worked. Driving to the baby clothing store, I was thinking, “This is the first time I have ever driven as a mom, and this is the first time I have heard this song as mom.” Everything was different. My whole world was bright and beautiful. It didn’t last. My mom started bleeding and we lost the baby. The call from the doctor telling me that my baby was dead is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I thought not getting pregnant hurt, but this was on another level. I had dreams of taking my baby to their first day of kindergarten, cheering for them in sports, and showing them the animals at the zoo. That was all over. I was not a mom anymore. The world was dull, and I could barely get out of bed. I was so close to being a mom, and I needed my baby. We started the process of another fresh IVF cycle. My eggs were retrieved and fertilized with my husband’s sperm. We got two embryos and transferred both to my mom. We wait. The longest two weeks of my life. I got another wonderful phone call! “You are having a baby!” I was so excited and so nervous. How could I trust that this would work when all I know is disappointment? Weeks go by and everything is still going great! Months go by and my baby is still alive! I had a baby shower because I am actually going to have a baby. We are currently 32 weeks pregnant, and everything is going great! I know when I see my son’s beautiful face, all of the heartache, hard work, and tears will have been worth it.
Fertility Counsellor London Women’s Clinic
he biggest miracle that I am really grateful for in IVF is the stubbornness, determination, and absolute diligence of Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe when they invented IVF. Because it would’ve been so much easier to give it up. Also, it is a miracle when an embryo starts to grow inside a mum once the battery turns on and it starts to develop a life on its own. Cases that impacted me most were the ones I found difficult to put down at the end of the day. They are often the ones where there has been a significant loss: somebody is coming into treatment recovering from a miscarriage or a still birth. There is often an assumption that you should be able to put down previous loss and be positive and stress-free and ignore the fact that any loss you have is going to be re-triggered and re-traumatized as you are going through treatment. You cannot control whether the treatment is going to be successful. The greater awareness you have of a loss, the more you give yourself more permission to cope with it. The regulatory framework in the UK—to my mind—sometimes doesn’t go far enough. I know for lot of people, it goes too far. As a counselor, I do wish that counseling is mandatory. But, specifically regards to removal of anonymity back in 2005, I think that was totally the right thing to do: not just for the children born through donor conception, but also for the donors and the parents as well. We know, historically, from research to adoption as well as donor conception, it is when people find things worse than they expect that it causes a greater impact on your emotional stability or physiological health and well-being. What counselling has done is make parents and donor recipients really think about the implications of their decisions. And what is really important is that parents have an understanding of what it means that the donor hasn’t agreed to have a relationship, the donor hasn’t agreed to take them down to the pub, or to take them for afternoon tea or go shopping or whatever. The donor has agreed for their identifying information to be available, which is their full name, their date of birth, and their last known
address. They may also have left a pen portrait, and goodwill message that can be shared with the child once they reach 18 with identifiable information included. That might include the town where they were born, the place they studied, more information that might help to track them down, if a child wanted to. This recognises that the sperm donor didn’t pick a harem of ten women.
When you use donor conception, the way I work, is to be very realistic, so I don’t want the parents to see the egg donor, or the sperm donor as a genetic mother or a biological dad, a genetic parent, the donor hasn’t signed up to be any sort of parent. And that’s really important. And if your child has been brought up knowing that, then, they are not looking for a parent, but they might want to know more information about the donor. The biggest success stories that challenge a lots of myths is a number of single women I’ve worked with whom
found an ideal partner either during treatment or during pregnancy. One lady shared that she changed her online dating profile to say no longer looking for sperm on legs, but open to potential soul mates because she didn’t want to close the chapter on having a relationship just because she opened a Pathway to Parenthood book and met somebody. And then Dad can claim being Dad because it certainly wasn’t another Father. The donor wasn’t intending to be a Father of any sort; he was just donating to enable somebody else to parent. Sadly, a lot of the feedback that we don’t get is the majority of people who are unsuccessful. I always make sure that the people I work with are aware of all the other options that are available, not just adoption, but also fostering, mentoring, or buddying. These are not just resources for support on a conscious level, but also to help manage the emotional and subconscious stuff that accompanies unsuccessful treatment as well.
n the 25th of June, 2001, I asked the travel agency in Moscow—the one I normally use to book my domestic flights in Russia—to buy a ticket to Irkutsk for the 4th of July. I had previously met the CEO of a company based in Irkutsk who was interested in buying some of our machinery, and I needed to meet him in order to make the deal. It was a very strange period of my life: I was traveling extensively throughout Russia to meet potential clients and I was exhausted. I am normally very professional and I always attend a business meeting if I have given my word, but that day something different happened. A hidden strength within myself pushed me to rebel against my life at the time. In fact, I didn’t have [a life]: the conditions in which I was existing were so miserable that I had to do something to stop it. I was spending most of my time in airports and on planes, and I could not handle it anymore. I was considering the idea of not going to Siberia that day but, deep in my soul, I knew I was going to go in the end. I would have felt terribly guilty if I missed that appointment.
But I received a very unusual phone call from my mother which made me change my mind. I had a mobile phone with a Russian sim card at the time but she had never called me before using that number. I normally spoke to her once a month and always because I was phoning her back home [in Italy]. She would never call me because she knew I was always busy and did not want to disturb me.
I was seated in my office in Moscow still uncertain about my trip to Siberia when she called. She did not know anything about my plans and she said she had just phoned me because she wanted to know how I was. She asked me if I was all right and she told me that I sounded tired. She said that she missed me—I hadn’t seen her for over six months—and that even if work was an important part of my life, I didn’t have
to let it compromise my physical and mental well-being. I hung up the phone and cried. That phone call made me feel worse than before. Now the idea of traveling all the way to Siberia for a stupid business meeting made me feel even more sad, and I decided not to go. I called the person I was supposed to meet and told him I was too sick to travel and that I needed to reschedule the meeting. Only on 6 July—two days later—I read in the newspaper that the Vladivostokavia flight that I was supposed to catch, and for which I had a ticket, had crashed twenty miles away from its destination in Irkutsk killing all 143 people on board. I was shocked. I could not eat nor speak for days. I felt horrible. I kept thinking about those people. I kept thinking about the fact that I was supposed to be one of them but, for some reason, I wasn’t. This episode revolutionized my way of thinking about life. Now I firmly believe that we are free to choose our destiny. We are the only ones who can unfold the path of our lives, if we make the right choices in life we will be fine and we will live a decent existence. I don’t believe in God, therefore I don’t believe God saved me from death. How can a merciful God let 143 people die just like that? What I believe is that we need to listen to our inner voice and act accordingly to our feelings. I make mistakes everyday, but I understood that if I maintain my level of perception of the outside world, clean from the contaminations and from the materialistic interests which control it, I can feel the dangers and act accordingly.
common misunderstanding of photography is that, by photographing various objects or people performing religious acts, somehow belief is being recorded. On the contrary belief is, by nature, an invisible and intangible thing, much akin to photographing people being sad or those ravaged by a disease: the photograph is documenting the result of the thing and not the thing itself. Therefore, an attempt to portray belief by photographing a priest swinging a thurible is akin to the attempt to portray gravity by photographing a stone rolling down a hill. We can only hope to understand these things by their visible attributesâ€” mosques and cathedrals, the prayer shawl and the rosaryâ€”and see the effect of parishioners on the outside world. So who, other then those who believe, is qualified to speak about these objects and give substance to the unobservable? These are the words of the believers. And these images are of the physical objects present when they approach the unseen. They come from widely different backgrounds, but they speak from their hearts as well as their minds. See these objects and accompanying testimonies as a study in the nature of belief and an exploration into some of lifeâ€™s big questions. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? And how does it change your life?
anging on my wall is a crucifix that recalls a childhood visit to Oberammergau*. As a professed Religious, I trace the cross upon my body like Christians have done for centuries during the traditional set times of prayer that mark my day. Every Good Friday, I observe ancient Christian rituals by genuflecting to a cross and placing my lips upon it. I’m reminded of what the late Henri Nouwen wrote about the cross: It is the sacred place where all that was, is, and ever shall be is held in unity. There all suffering has been suffered, all anguish lived, all loneliness endured, all abandonment felt and all agony cried out. There, human and divine love have kissed, and there God and all men and women of history are reconciled. All the tears of the human race have been cried there, all pain understood and all despair touched. Having been buried with Christ in the lustral water of Baptism, I proclaim that the story doesn’t end there. Turning from West to East like baptismal candidates did in the Early Church, I, with them, renounce Evil and also proclaim Jesus is my Lord. One of my favorite icons is the Easter Icon. This ancient icon depicts not an empty tomb, or a bursting, glowing Jesus, but a military-like invasion to the departed dead with a defiant Christ holding his victorious cross. Christ stands before the tombs of my mythical first parents, Adam and Eve. He reaches out and grabs their wrists. They are quite passive and Christ does all the work. Out of love, he drags them out of the tomb
of death without even their consent. There is an ancient homily that is read on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. It describes this wonderful scene of my humanity being restored: And grasping his hand Christ raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.’ At Eucharist I am reminded of this life, death, and resurrection. I am reminded of my restored humanity made present again as smoke from the incense thurible rises with my prayers from the burning charcoal. This smoke surrounds me like a mysterious cloak. Its sweet fragrance engulfs my nostrils and transports me through my primal olfactory sense to a place of mystery deep within myself. The words I hear, chant or say and the bodily gestures I offer during the liturgy are ancient. I connect with them. They become a part of me as I am joined by others down through the ages that have done the same. Death no longer separates us. Words spoken by this Jesus are said over bread and wine in the present moment. Time is suspended. Bread and wine mystically transform and become the Risen Jesus. The Risen Jesus becomes bread and wine. I too am mystically transformed standing around God’s altar. “The Gifts of God for the People of God” is the invitation I hear. This Risen Jesus, who Christians have proclaimed to be the human incarnation of a Loving God, enters my world yet again. He grabs me by my wrist, sometimes even without my consent, and yanks me from my tomb.
*a town in Bavaria famous for its production of a city-wide Passion Play performed every ten years.
uten. That’s my name. I am very passionate about religion. It helps me in everyday life like stress; there is so much stress in the world. You look on the Internet to find information, but I get my information from the Almighty. I only live around the corner, so I come every morning and every evening. The Almighty is so inspirational. Computer knowledge is limited, but spiritual knowledge is unlimited. He comes to your aid whatever your problems are. Even when you are not well, he helps in so many ways. Even for small things like a headache, he looks after you, he talks to you, he gets your best friend to call you out of nowhere, just asking: ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ And it’s like he has asked a friend to call you. I have had so many wonderful experiences. Without you knowing he doesn’t let the problem go so far, and you don’t even realize that his hand is in it. You know, I would rather go without some things to ensure an appointment with him every day. We only have one God,
but just as you enter [the temple], is God Ganesha. I bow down to him. Then there are all different ones— I pray to all of them, but I know that at the end of the day they are all one. I just want to look at them. [The main idol in the Temple] was very small before. I was told that. It’s grown and every day, I see it, and I just get different powerful vibrations. This morning, I came in and did mandirshem*, now I do mandirshem, and it is a completely different experience. In the morning you come in and ask for advice; then, you come in and ask for help, and now you come back and see him and it’s just a different. I can’t explain it. It is just so lovely seeing him. It is like he is happy to see you. He knows everything that is going on, but it is still happy to see you.It’s just so wonderful. Some people are addicted to things; I am addicted to the temple. I couldn’t live without it. It just wakes me up. You can see that in me, can’t you?
*the common daily prayers performed specifically at a Hindu temple.
follow Islam and I believe that God is all-merciful and I don’t think this world is the main one. The more important one is the one we have after we die. Today there are so many people who are arrogant, selfish, and ignorant and don’t treat each other very well. People are only caring about themselves. I still feel a strong connection to Christianity because in Islam the name of Mother Mary is ‘Mariam.’ That is also her original name in Hebrew. Also, the 19th chapter of the Koran is named Mariam. Mary is the holiest of women. She is even more holy then the wife of Mohammed or the mother of Moses. She is the only woman to give birth to a child as a virgin. When I went to learn more about Judaism, I heard someone say, “Yeah, f*** Jesus!” It completely turned me off. Even if I was not a religious person, I would never talk negatively or insult another religion. I would never say something bad about Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Atheism. Everyone has to respect that we all have our beliefs and that we cannot place judgment on something that you would only understand if you were that person. Most of the time people don’t use their conscience and they forget that death is coming. It doesn’t matter what they do, it will come. I cannot say with a 100% certainty that I will pass my exams or that I will achieve this or that; I can study and work as hard as I can, but the future is uncertain… with the exception of death. Death will come to everyone. It is the only thing that everyone can agree on. Unfortunately people don’t use their conscience and that
is the problem with humanity right now. If you use your conscience, you will always help your neighbor. If you use your conscience, you will never become so greedy and materialistic that you will demand back a pound you lent someone weeks ago. If people listened more to their conscience, they wouldn’t hit their children or steal or kill. I believe everyone is born with a conscience, but some people decide not to listen to the voice in their head saying “this is wrong” or “this is right.” People today are too busy finding excuses for everything. People have to slow down, look at the world around them, and realize that all the things we take for granted don’t just happen—the beautiful flowers and beautiful Earth around us—there is someone up there looking down on us. The Earth swings around the sun like there is someone high above controlling it. I personally prefer to pray at home alone because I feel that prayer is something that is very personal between you and God. I don’t like going to mosques in England: I prefer to go to church. If I go to the mosque, I prefer the ones in my home country Azerbaijan or in Turkey. Also, I pay every month to different charities—some of which are religious. If you can afford to help people, I feel like you should. I also practice patience to help me not get angry or irritated as easily as I used to. Right now I am working especially on being more forgiving and not to judge people the way I have been judged by others. Aside from that, I fast during Ramadan and, in general, I’m just working on being a good
person. If you want respect you have to treat others with respect. Sometimes people have to go through a hard time to learn from their mistakes. I had to go through my hard times to become a better person. When I first came to this country, it was very hard and different from my home. In Azerbaijan, people are a lot friendlier and when it is your home country, you know how the people think. When I started boarding school in Cambridge, I was only 15 years old. I was very naïve, too trusting and generous. That led me to be friends with the wrong kind of people. I became friends with the kind of people that smile to your face, but they would spread lies and gossip. This hurt a lot, especially if you have really committed to the friendship and just get it thrown in your face. I had friends that I would lend money to, but I would later find out that they did have money or just wanted money for drugs. When you go through something like this you need someone to talk to, someone you can open up to. Otherwise you will feel completely alone and just think everything and everyone is out to get you and that you can’t trust anyone. I wouldn’t have believed that the people and things around me would get better if I had not turned to God. I turn to God when I needed someone to listen, to give me true advice, and when I feel like I need more hope in life. If I had not turned to God I would not have known which friends to trust and keep and which friends weren’t really my friends. I have learned to respect all, love some and trust a few.
unday the 8th of September 2013, we had an appointment to meet at 8am at the petrol station in Fossombrone like we do every Sunday morning if the weather is good. I got there before everybody else and I was checking my tires before everybody else arrived. Turi, Giacomo and Emanuele got there a few minutes after 8 o’clock and, after we had our espressos, we took off for “Passo di Bocca Serriola,” a magnificent road across the Appennines which, every weekend, becomes a racing track for motorbike enthusiasts like ourselves. The road links Piobbico in the Marche region to Città di Castello in Tuscany, 39km of beautiful corners and panoramas that make you feel alive. It’s my drug, my addiction, my weakness. I can’t stay away from that road for too long. Every time I drive it I feel incredibly alive. As soon as we took off, we started racing. It was a spectacular day and I felt great. Turi was first–as usual–on his Honda CBR 1000cc and I was chasing him up the hills. He is an unbelievable rider and I tried my hardest not to loose sight of him. Just before approaching “Il
Curvone” I was so close to his number plate that I could almost touch it. Just then, I came across a bunch of rocks in the road. I lost the front tire and I found myself sliding on the ground. My bike was chasing me. My biggest concern was to avoid the 176 kilograms of my Honda. I knew it would have killed me if it hit me. Luckily for me, my bike went past, but I hit the guardrail hard. Very hard.
Later at the hospital, I discovered that I had dislocated my shoulder, broke my hip, broke my right elbow, and had 36 stitches in my right arm. All this was caused by the impact with the guardrail. It was bad, but I was alive. Every person I talk to about my accident implores me to sell my bike and think about my family. How can people
ask such things? I think about my family every second of my life and I am fully aware that every time I jump on my bike and go to the “Passo” I might die. Many people have lost their lives up there in the last ten years and many will die in the future. But we will never stop doing it. Riding as fast as you can represents something which is impossible to understand for many people. The cops have tried to stop us by installing speed cameras and stuff, but it didn’t work: all you need to do is cover your number plate with mud and don’t stop if you see a police officer. I am pretty positive they won’t be able to catch me with their FIAT Punto. You know, some people were born to go to church on Sunday morning, I was born to ride my bike on the “Passo.” Nothing can change that.
YOLK any given sunday
YOLK any given sunday
hen I was growing up in the American South, I thought nothing of the pawn shops that graced a few nearby strip malls and isolated stretches along the highways. I did not grow up in an overly rural area, but rural is never far away in Alabama. It struck me as odd, even as a kid, that clustered around almost any town large enough to have a stoplight, there would be—along with a single-pump gas station that only took cash—a pawn shop. I was not ignorant to the pawn shop world within those four concrete walls and tin roof. Everyone in the south seems to have at least one cousin or relative in every industry and I was no different: my cousin (second cousin, actually) ran one of the major pawn shops in the area. There were hundreds of guns of every kind spread against the walls (it was the American south, remember), more lawn mowers and power tools of more variety than most hardware stores, endless cases of jewelry, and all the odds and ends that would enchant a little kid. It was a fascinating place to visit as a kid; even more fascinating to see the darker “back rooms” and bank-style vault that looked like a movie set where the really
lucrative stuff was stored. It was years before I would understand what these objects were and what the whole business represented. After all, my family bought what we needed at the regular store and, when we were done with it, we threw it out or put it in the attic. I did not fully understand where money came from, but I knew that I never had to give up my Nintendo for any reason, let alone as collateral for a loan to buy anything else.
Pawn shops work by giving the client a loan, sold at varied interest, with the object given as collateral. It is not fancy math: typically, objects are appraised on the spot for the current market resell value, and then the pawn shop fronts the client a loan for around half that amount. If the person never repays the loan, the object is sold to recoup the lost loan, usually still at a gain. Many pawn
shops, however, report that regular clients actually return and repay the loan and retrieve their objects. As many as 72% of clients pay back the loan plus interest within a few months. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pawn brokers do not receive many clients who just have too much stuff and want to turn their junk into quick cash: more often than not, brokers are face to face with someone with an actual need. And rarely is a client not a repeat customer: for whatever reason, they are in a cycle of having too little money. This lifestyle is sometimes passed down generation to generation and pawn brokers who spend decades in the business will see children grow up while their parents get loans in order to pay for the child’s school supplies or for gas money to drive to a youth league tournament. It is not uncommon to see these same serial-pawners’ children come in as young adults. The perpetual cycle continues because it epitomizes a particular lifestyle. And lifestyles are always difficult to understand from the outside. Other repeat clients might bring the same high-dollar item to the pawn shop many times. Some pawn brokers see
the same guitar or heirloom rifle come through the door as the owner’s pseudo-insurance policy. The client returns the loan after a few months, retrieves the item, and immediately begins the process again. The place where math meets logic is blurry indeed. Proprietors of pawn shops around the world tell similar stories of their clients and pawned objects. Clients come to pawn objects in order to get cash advances before their pay day so they can pay overdue utility bills, court fees and fines, and to supplement rent. Other pawn brokers report social needs: someone needs a little extra cash for an expensive lunch so they quickly stop by the pawn shop to get a collateral loan on a seasonal object like a lawn mower or expensive fur coat. Some pawn shops are even notorious for being as secure as banks and clients from high-crime areas will pawn some objects just to store valuables while out of town on holiday. The objects found in a pawn shop are a cross-section of consumerism and many are common to anywhere in the world: high-end game systems sit beside toaster ovens. On the other hand, pawn shop managers often report boxes or bags with forgotten illegal drugs or bales of cash. Misplaced sex toys are surprisingly common. Other objects surprise even the jaded pawn broker: one man came in to a pawn shop in the American south intending to pawn his blue jeans. The problem was not with the difficulty of valuation, the problem was that he was still wearing them. “How do you expect to get home?” asked the broker.
Still, for most people in the world— those that have never set foot in a pawn shop—our personal objects only leave our possession when they are no longer of any use. Some objects find their way into the landfill, into the charity bin, or are simply given away or put on eBay, Gumtree, or CraigsList. And some objects we store in closets or in storage bins under the bed. Those objects that are deemed “important,” though, only leave our grasp with great reluctance or upon our demise. For those who go into hock and grow increasingly desperate
for cash for whatever reason, their situation invites questions like: what did they chose to pawn first? Or what would they chose to pawn last? THE PAWN SHOP LANDSCAPE With each boom and bust, the economic landscapes change. Since the most recent recession struck, the number of pawn shops in urban areas have
grown sharply and once coveted objects are being put up for ransom to fulfill greater needs. According to a Guardian article last year, in a short five years (2007 to 2012) the pawn shop business in London alone grew from £296 million to £851 million, an almost three-fold jump. Most of these pawn shops are located in London’s East End. Similar situations are being reported all over the world, from Moscow to Brisbane to
Brooklyn. And, heightened by the recession, this is where the trend begins to emerge: pawn shops are not random in their selection. Shops such as these tend to be centered around areas of gentrification. Or rather, the areas that are “next in line” for gentrification. For example, long-time residents of New York City have seen formerly dark parts of the city booming along with meteoric housing prices. Brook-
lyn, Hell’s Kitchen, and parts of Harlem have become the cool place to be for younger generations looking for the least expensive places with good access to the downtown. On the other side of the world, cities like Melbourne are seeing their previously “slummy” neighborhoods (such as Fitzroy and Carlton) are being rejuvenated as moneyed hipsters move into the area. The trend can be seen repeated in dozens of cities around
the world from Chicago to Berlin. A simple search in Google Maps for “pawn shops” in these specific areas serve as a simple illustration: pawn shops follow areas that are in the process of gentrifying. A possible explanation may be that when life becomes too expensive for the earlier inhabitants (those typically on the margins of the gentrification) they resist being pushed out. This resistance often takes the
form of trying to adapt and make life livable. With rent increases at each lease signing, formerly affordable flats swallow more and more of their income. In stubbornness and nostalgia, they turn to the things they purchased in the years of plenty in order to survive the lean years. In the case of gentrification, the lean years for the marginalized rarely wane. When the prices get high and going gets tough, the tough don’t get going until there are no other options. The new era of pawn shops and money changers is increasing those options and their numbers swell in the affected area. Does the pawn shop option work or does it delay the inevitable? It is a fair question to ask but one that is nearly impossible to answer. This position that gentrification increases pawning is further supported by the fact that some rural pawn shops barely saw any fluctuations in their business—for better or worse—during the last recession. These rural areas of the American South were indeed hit by a credit crunch just like everywhere else, but for those who were regulars at the local pawn shop, all the credit they needed was in their jewelry box or gun cabinet. On the other hand, in a major metropolitan area like London, the recession and the subsequent recovery has yielded a gradual increase in rent (or property prices in general), council taxes, and utility bills. Even some of the affluent are resorting to pawn shops geared to moneyed customers where they can hock their £150,000 Mercedes Benz or £15,000 Patek Philippe watch.
What seems more of a symptom of recession may symbolize an area in flux. The historical growth of urban areas vs rural areas has always been at odds. So when gentrification hits an area like Walthamstow in eastern London just as the whole area recovers from a recession, it should be no surprise that pawn shops spring up to meet it as the cost of living spikes. The same recession and recovery occurred to less urban areas found only a short distance outside of London. In a town with fairly consistent demographics and population—in
a town like Bath, for instance—you’ll be able to count the amount of pawn shops in the entire town on one hand. OBJECTS OF DESIRE The sort of arbitrary array of obsolete objects found in pawn shops betray another subtle truth: objects fulfill needs. Money fulfills needs, of course, but “money” (itself an object) is often too obscure a concept to grasp. Furthermore, at its most basic, money is simply a means to acquire things. Physical possessions fill a gap in our world: vehicles fulfill a need to go somewhere fast and with style; jewelry fulfills the need to be pretty or perhaps to look affluent; game systems fulfill the need to be entertained. But what happens when there is a more vital need than efficient transportation, physical attractiveness, or entertainment? Taken to this level, the pawn shop is a catalog of objects that were given up in order to fulfill other—apparently more primal— needs. These mere “things” represent a trade of one now-lesser need for another now-greater need. Perhaps they even represent a certain level of desperation. Imagine a man’s words across the dinner table to his wife: “Honey, we need to sell the television to make the rent payment this month.” Is this met with resignation and a sigh? Imagine the conversation that provokes a man to sell his wedding ring or a woman to part with a family heirloom. How does a person even begin? The photographs in this article represent a survey of real objects found in pawn shops around the world. Their owners were stripped of other options and, swallowing their pride, they made the trek to the local pawn shop. You might think that these objects are too simple: everybody has them! And you would be correct in that assumption. But remember, these were objects taken to the pawn shops in order to fulfill a need, a desire, or an obligation. Consider these objects the currency to purchase other things. See them as the things that passed from the hole in the bottom of the bucket, the last thing that slipped out before enough money plugged the hole. But in some cases it never does. Do not be surprised if you feel oddly unsettled by viewing these images. Realize that you were not unsettled by the stripped nakedness of stranger’s bodies, but by the simple things they were deprived of in order to endure.
n 15 October 2011, the protestors of the Occupy Movement occupied the space in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Central London. They used tents for shelter and to live. Ten days after the protestors had settled, the British press announced that only one in ten protestors were actually staying overnight: everyone else was going home at night, leaving their tents unoccupied. In order to document what was really happening, the photographer Ben Roberts undertook a personal assignment: he set out to photograph the interior of around 30 protestors’ tents. From these images, the book Occupied Spaces was published. What could have been a obvious portrait-based project as many other photographers were doing at the time, Ben Roberts chose to document life of the Occupy London tents in a more indirect way. Instead of photographing portraits of people inside or outside the tents to validate their presence, he photographed only objects in the interior space of the tents. Using this approach, Roberts depicts life much better than if there was human presence in them. The photographs show life moments after the protestors left the tents. And by looking at the objects left behind in the tents, we learn more about the people living there than if we actually saw them. The photographs were first posted on Ben Roberts’ website. He said that he used his web site because he thought that the British press would not be interested in publishing the photographs. However, the project attracted a great deal of attention and was regarded as a testimonial of what was really happening in the tents. The book Occupied Spaces presents 25 well-composed photographs, all in color. Roberts used flash when he took the photographs, and to some extend, that causes them to look a bit flat. This makes perfect sense if the intention was not to emphasize anything. In this case, it seems that Roberts was consciously documenting what he found
in the tents without their inhabitants. The captions that accompany the photographs are simple, revealing only information of the country and residence of the tent’s ‘owner(s).’ The messiness of the tents resembles camping: there are sleeping bags, boxes, cans of food, dishes, clothes and shoes, chairs, electrical appliances… as well as some unusual objects such as a piano, a religious statue/idol, and theatrical masks. The photographs clearly show the vivid life that was taking place in the tents. By choosing this approach to retell a story, Roberts gave a voice to the objects and allowed them alone to tell the story. What works well in this book is its concept and design. The design is simple, but effective. The pages at the beginning and at the end are of the protestors’ residency tents, and the pages in the middle show the tents of the ‘organizational units’ (like for example, the first aid tent). This layout reflects the actual structure of the camp in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral: in concentric circles as in the real space. The only writing, including the captions, is found at the center of the book. Binding the book is a single red elastic band and the pages are not attached to one another. Conceptually, it works be-
cause the book, itself, is constructed much like a tent. It is a book in which the photographs stand for themselves and allow us to see a hidden world. However, it should be noted that this is very much an ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ based project. If we had only one photograph from the project, it might be difficult to understand what it is actually about. To remedy this, Roberts consciously attempts to include images that contain objects specific to the ‘Occupy Movement, but it is not always obvious. As a book, though, with all the images viewed together, the concept works well. ‘Here Press’ published the book in 2012 in an edition of 250 copies that sold quickly. It was reprinted as a second edition of 100 copies in 2014. A third of the profits of the sale will be donated to support the future community and outreach initiatives by Occupy London campaigners.
KIEV, UKRAINE March 2014 Revolutions are never fought with feists alone. Pitchforks, torches, rifles and Molotov Cocktails blaze the way forward as the status quo is challenge. Protesters in the Ukraine used objects such as these in order to combat the Police forces.