Focus on the Story International Photo Festival 2020

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TELLING THE STORY OF 2020 This magazine was originally intended to be the catalog for the Focus on the Story International Photo Festival. We were going to kick off the month-long festival at the end of May with our annual Visual Storytelling Summit, three-days of wall-to-wall speakers and panels. Then the pandemic happened. We made the difficult (at the time) decision in March to cancel the in-person summit. That also meant canceling our opening night party at the Swedish Embassy, the wonderful exhibit of Maria Daniel Balcazar’s work at Lost Origins Gallery, and all the in-person workshops we had planned. The festival, however, would go on, virtually. From April 1 through the end of June, we hosted 17 webinars. We brought some of our original programming to an appreciative, world-wide audience. We pivoted quickly to add a panel discussion that addressed the national reckoning on racial justice that occurred after the killing of George Floyd in late May.

international photo festival FOCUS ON THE STORY Board of Directors Joe Newman, President Katie Jett Walls, Vice President Chantale Wong, Treasurer Shelly Han, Secretary Kirth Bobb Jason Hamacher Cheriss May With special thanks to Suzie Bauer, Eric Chang and Thomas Petzwinkler. Publication design by Draft Horse Studio | copyright © 2020 Focus on the Story

And in the early days of the pandemic, we responded to the hopelessness, despair and isolation that many of us were feeling by teaming up with the Iris Photo Collective to launch a new project, “Imagine: Visions of Hope.” (You can learn more about that project on page 38.) Despite moving our summit and festival entirely online, we felt it was important to create something tangible to remind us of the year where everything seemed to go off the rails. In this magazine, you’ll see essays from Reuben Radding and Angela Douglas Ramsey, two photographers who participated in our first show, “Finding Your Creativity in a Time of Isolation.” You’ll also get a chance to see some of the images from Balcazar’s “Kilombo” exhibit that would have opened our festival. When we tell the story of 2020, we will remember the despair and heartbreak but we’ll also remember the hope and resilience. While we’re still trying to decide what our festival will look like in 2021, the one thing we do know is that we’ll be back -- whether it’s in person, online, or a combination of both -- presenting visual storytellers who are making a difference in the world.

Cover photo by Maria Daniel Balcazar

Find recordings of all of our webinars at



A Home for Global Documentary

Photo by Angelos Tzortzinis, honorable mention in ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography, from his exhibit Trapped in Greece.

SDN & ZEKE Magazine SDN Website: A web portal for documentary photographers to create online galleries and make them available to anyone with an internet connection. Since 2008, we have presented more than 3,300 documentary stories from all parts of the world ZEKE Magazine: This bi-annual publication allows us to present visual stories in print form with indepth writing about the themes of the photography projects.


Lori Grinker

Exhibits: SDN has presented exhibitions showcasing the work of more than 100 photographers. We have presented exhibits in the Bronx; Brooklyn; Chicago; Boston; Portland, Maine; and Milan.

Education: SDN has organized and participated in panel discussions, conferences, portfolio reviews, and photography festivals in New York, Houston, Berkeley, Milan, Boston, Baku, and many other cities around the world.



ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography: A new award program juried by a distinguished panel of international media professionals. Award winners are exhibited at Photoville in Brooklyn and featured in ZEKE.

Doc Matters Virtual: A new place for photographers to meet with others involved with or interested in documentary photography and discuss ongoing or completed projects.









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Corona Diary Since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, street photographer Reuben Radding has wandered the New York City streets every day in what feels like an increasingly surreal daydream. TEXT & PHOTOS BY REUBEN RADDING Brooklyn, April 9 - I don’t think of Corona Diary as a “project.” Like Covid-19 itself, it didn’t have a start date and we don’t know when it will end. If I’m honest, I don’t even know what I’m doing, other than making my best attempt to manage my fear and maintain some semblance of mental health through daily practice. Photographing.


It’s the only thing I can do that makes sense to me. The first day I used the title “Corona Diary” though was March 14th, 2020, a long day of slow walking and photographing through the city, a hallucinatory, euphoric, 10-mile meander where I never got tired or bored, never wished I could stop, and everything, everything looked inexplicably interesting to me. All my little standards and beliefs I’d evolved over the last few years for the shape of my work seemed dead, irrelevant, or at least temporarily suspended -- uncertain. I suddenly had no idea how to evaluate a moment, let alone a photograph. Almost instantly, I felt this loss of mooring as a freedom rather than a curse. ➤




If there’s no way for me to judge whether the pictures I’m taking are good then there’s no pressure at all to be good. I don’t have to worry about it. I know I have no perspective. It’s incredibly freeing. March 14th was also our friend Meg’s birthday, and five of us met for dinner that evening in her East Village apartment, overlooking Avenue A. The last few restaurants were actually still serving that night, and the bars were full of last-call gatherings, and the eerie sparseness in the street would turn out to merely hint at the coming emptiness, and the anxiety that would soon take hold once the “pause” really began. I’m not sure if that was the beginning, but I have not missed a day of shooting since. Every day I wake up and think maybe I’m done. I’m tired. I’m scared. Maybe this is the day I won’t go out. Then I get online and it’s all noise: advice, statistics, projections, dogmatic arguments, Facebook, Twitter. The feelings creep up and up and up in me like a bubbling cauldron till I know that the only thing that will return me to earth is a return to Earth, the streets that I’ve walked relentlessly for thirty-two years, witness-


In one sense, this continuing nightmare I’m walking through is a street photographer’s dream. Not working in themes or narratives most of the time in my practice, the thing that so often eludes me is a sense of relevance.

ing the organism we call New York morph through decades of change, crisis, death, and rebirth. New York has always been about change. Walking out my door each day feels palpably different than the one before. The differences were clear at first: the incremental appearance of more and more face masks, fewer and fewer people other than dog walkers, the homeless, a few hookers and pimps, scrounging addicts, lines of weary people outside grocery stores and pharmacies geared up for panic shopping, and each day with greater levels of mistrust and avoidance. It makes certain photos only matter to me in a chronology, to see that progression, but today is just shy of a month into this. That month could be merely a chapter in a much longer story. I hope not.

know now will feel astonishing to see again through photographs. But to have meaning in my current time as I do now, to have a sense of contemporary relevance, is invigorating and fills me with resolution that while the documentary photographers I call friends are brilliantly chasing the “story,” I’m chasing the poem, which for all we know might matter just as much. I’ve begun to notice some recurring elements in my Corona Diary pictures, beyond the obvious cloth masks and latex gloves: a continual appearance of American flags, or of pigeons taking flight. These symbols have not yet revealed to me why they’re taking up residence in my frames. They’re like musical phrases waiting for a structure to inhabit. They’ll find their place. There’s time. I pray we all have time.

In one sense, this continuing nightmare I’m walking through is a street photographer’s dream. Not working in themes or narratives most of the time in my practice, the thing that so often eludes me is a sense of relevance. A lot of street photography feels destined to be important only decades later, when the look of the world will have changed and the world we think we

See Reuben Radding’s work at


Art in Isolation After the world shut down, Angela Douglas Ramsey, a Norfolk-based commercial and portrait photographer, began taking a selfportrait a day as a way to find her creativity during a time of social distancing and isolation. text & photos By Angela Douglas Ramsey



“Creative thinking is not about generating something what is already present and combining those bits and

Creativity. For me, it is this abstract word that, for many years, I wasn’t even sure how to define it. I felt people were born with it or not. But I’ve realized that, while some people do come out of the womb singing or dancing naturally, most of us have to choose to nurture creativity. When we do, we can grow into a very creative person. I am one of those people. These are a few lessons I have learned over the years about being a creative person. Practice daily. With my self-portrait series, I challenged myself to take a portrait a day. I do not take self-portraits and I don’t like to be in front of the camera. I am on day 120. I have taken some great portraits, some mediocre portraits and some bad portraits. It is the same way I feel about working out, some days I hate it and it’s hard but the reward is so worth it.


Be inspired. Look at others’ work. Study it. Focus on the Story has been a great inspiration for me over the past few months. LenScratch is one of my favorite websites to find inspiration. Be a serial learner. There are quite a few different ways to integrate learning into your life. Take classes —there are so many excellent resources out there and right now nearly everything is online, meaning you can access teachers you might not have been able to before. ICP and StrudelMedia are just a few of my favorite places to take classes. Try a new lens - you can rent one to play with, or borrow/trade with a friend. Practice alternative methods - cyanotype, Polaroid, collage - there’s a YouTube tutorial for everything! Be curious about everything.

new from a blank slate, but rather about taking pieces in a way that has not been done previously.” —James Clear Letting go of fear and rejections. I struggle with it daily. Practice. Fail. Fail again.

Recommended Reading The Artist Way by Julia Cameron

Watch Ira Glass’ video on The Creative Process and then watch it again when you feel stuck or defeated.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Creativity is a process. Not everyone makes great photographs every time they press the shutter. I fail daily, but in those fails, I am winning because I am learning and growing as a creative person.

See more of Angela’s work at




A Toxic State Focus on the Story Grant Winner ALESSANDRO CINQUE’s work on the toxic impact of Peru’s mining industry on its indigenous communities. GRANT WINNER, OVERALL

Grimalda De Cuno is in her home with a calf, which was born dead the day before. Because of polluted water containing heavy metals, many animals die for drinking from the river, or are born dead. Livestock has been destroyed over the years, worsening the conditions of farmers and breeders who are already living in poverty. In the last yyears, Grimalda’s family lost 21 cows, and all the sheep and lamas they had.



Avelina Chilo Rios, 53, of Tintaya Marchiri, has cancer, and her husband and two of her five children died because of environmental pollution. The mining company has offered a small amount for her land to make way for expansion but she has turned them down.



ver the past decade, the Peruvian economy has been one of Latin America’s great success stories. The country’s resurgent mining industry — Peru is among the world’s top producers of copper, silver, gold and other valuable minerals — has boosted employment, reduced poverty, and greatly increased the quality of life for many people.

However, there’s also a dark side to the economic success. Peru’s mining industry has had a devastating impact on the country’s indigenous communities. It’s a story that Italian photojournalist Alessandro Cinque has been chronicling in tragic detail since 2017. For his work exposing the effect of pollution on Peru’s Quechua people — from poisoned groundwater to toxic dust that covers crops and livestock — we’re proud to award Cinque our inaugural 2020 Focus on the Story Grant. Cinque will receive $2,000 to help him continue reporting his project. Cinque’s project, “Peru, a Toxic State,” captures the stories, struggles, and suffering of the indigenous communities as a result of the country’s mining operations. Jurors scored Cinque’s project high for both artistic merit and impact. The grant is for a visual storyteller who has recently completed or is in the process of completing a photography project that brings attention to a critical issue, bridges a cultural gap or has the potential to spark social change. Elizabeth Cheng Krist, a former senior photo editor at National Geographic, said that Cinque’s project is an important record of the lethal health impacts of Peru’s mining industry, as well as the contamination of water, crops and livestock. “We see the human side of these injuries and losses in evocative black-and-white images that protect the dignity of residents,” Krist wrote. “But he sees them not only as victims—he also documents their resistance as they protest the development of new mines.”

Avelina Chilo Rios, 53, of Tintaya Marchiri, has cancer, and her husband and two of her five children died because of environmental pollution. The mining company has offered a small amount for her land to make way for expansion but she has turned them down.

See more of Alessandro Cinque’s work at



A son prays at the tomb of his father, Felix. In Espinar in 2012, there was a huge cycle of protests organized by the local population against the mining activity. Police repressed the protest with violence. There were three killed, including Felix who was an 82-year-old pacifist and head of the Alto Huancane ̀ community.


Alberto Huallpa Salcedo, 30, was injured by the mine security force during the protests in 2012. Alberto is still waiting for medical assistance and his due compensation for physical damages.


Roxana, 14, has cerebral paralysis. She is in the Special Educational Center in Espinar, which is home for 29 children born with physical malformations and learning disabilities.



Farmers protesting against the opening of a new mine threw stones in the Cocachacra District of Mollendo. Police responded with tear gas.


Cerro de Pasco is a mining town on the Peruvian Andean Cordillera, situated at 4300 meters above the sea level. It is the highest city in the world. Its 80,000 inhabitants literally live on the edge of a huge open-cast mine. Some houses are only 5 meters from the from the edge the almost 3 kilometers wide chasm. Here health problems associated with heavy metal poisoning are part of life. At least 2,000 children in the Pasco region live with chronic heavy metal poisoning, according to local reports.



The Quechua people have a special connection with the agricultural lands they inhabit and its animals. However, their lands are now being poisoned by the presence of heavy metals.



A man sits at the table next to his jug of contaminated water. According to a local study and, according to community leaders, there is a high probability that the rivers that flow near the Las Bambas mine have been contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mineral extraction. Local communities have no choice but to use the water from those rivers to drink, cook, wash themselves and their clothes, feed their animals and irrigate their fields.




Anna Boyiazis’ image of women and girls learning to swim in the Zanzibar Archipelago was selected as the Best single Image of our 2020 Focus on the Story Grant submissions



chose Anna Boyiazis’ photo of Kijini Primary School students learning to float in the Indian Ocean off of Muyuni, Zanzibar as the “Best Single” image of the hundreds submitted. Focus on the Story awarded her $500. Boyiazis’ project, “Finding Freedom in the Water,” also finished in a tie for First Runner-up in the overall grant competition. Her project bears witness to women and girls learning to swim in the Zanzibar Archipelago, an ultraconservative region where such an act conflicts with patriarchal, religious norms. If her image looks familiar that may be due to the exposure her work has already received. Her project has been published in National Geographic and a series of her photos from the project won a 2018 World Press Photo award. Images from the project have also exhibited at the Zoom festival in Quebec, Photo Vogue Festival, in Milano, Photoville in Brooklyn, among others. She was also featured in a Women Photograph exhibit at the 2019 Focus on the Story Festival in Washington, D.C. From Boyiazis’ grant application: “Daily life in the Zanzibar Archipelago centers around the sea, yet the majority of girls who inhabit the islands never acquire even the most fundamental swimming skills. Conservative Islamic culture and the absence of modest swimwear have compelled community leaders to discourage girls from swimming. Until now. In recent years, grassroots organizations are making it possible for local women and girls to get into the water, not only teaching them swimming skills, but aquatic safety and drowning prevention techniques. Students are empowered to teach others, creating a sustainable cycle, and are often provided full-length swimsuits, so that they can enter the water without compromising their cultural and religious beliefs. While the wearing of full-length swimsuits may be seen as subjugation, donning one in order to learn a vital life skill, which has long been and would otherwise be forbidden, is an important first step toward emancipation. Education — whether it be in or out of the water — serves as a springboard providing women and girls the empowerment and tools with which to claim their rights and challenge existing barriers.”

See more of Anna Boyiazis work at




An old bracero, Pedro Martinez, 54, waits in the Customs House near the USMexico border in Calexico, CA after meeting the requirements to be admitted under a special agricultural workers program. (Š Richard Street)



Introducing ‘Imagine: Visions of Hope,’ a visual catalog of images of resilience, perserverance and hope.

Carla Gonzalez, 5, like many of the children in her Guatemalan village suffers from chronic malnutrition, but still finds the joy in life. (Š Carl Juste)



Focus on the Story has teamed up with the Iris Photo Collective to launch “Imagine: Visions of Hope,” a search for images from around the world that remind us what hope looks like. While hope means different things to different people, we think it is embodied in images of resilience, perseverance and determination. The project is the brainchild of Miami Herald photojournalist Carl Juste who said in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, there’s an overwhelming need to help people remember hope. Several well-known documentary photographers, including David Alan Harvey, Maggie Steber, Carol Guzy and Colin Finlay have contributed images to the campaign. For now, the images make up an online gallery but there are plans to eventually launch a global, traveling exhibit. “This project intends to influence our imagination, reinforcing the infectiousness of hope with each additional image.,” Juste said. “Its purpose is to embrace the concept of using balanced, inspirational photography to supplant the constant barrage of stark photographic reporting.” Juste and his curatorial team of documentary photographer Maria Daniel Balcazar, Focus on the Story Executive Director Joe Newman, photojournalist C.W. Griffin and Indira Williams Babic, most recently Director of Photography at the Newseum, are in search of images and the stories behind them that remind people what hope looks like. Photographers are encouraged to submit up to five images that best portray hope. All submissions must adhere to the principles of photojournalism; images should be truthful in depiction and context. If the image is selected, then it will be part of this online photo gallery and will later be considered for a global exhibition. There is no fee to submit.

RIGHT, TOP: After the cease fire in Sarajevo, children close to the front lines play jump rope with an old piece of telephone wire. (© Colin Finlay) RIGHT, BOTTOM: The birth of Farrah Razi, who months earlier was thought to have been miscarried. Minutes before the “miscarried” fetus was to be removed, her parents demanded a final ultrasound, a move that saved Farrah’s life when shocked doctors discovered a healthy heartbeat. (© Kirsten Lewis)

Learn more about the project at



A man stands with outstretched arms on a cliff in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Š Maria Daniel Balcazar)




Marjorie Conklin cools off in a tub of water filled with a hose, surrounded by what’s left of her South Dade home several days after Hurricane Andrew struck. (Š C.W. Griffin)


The Lost Exhibit of 2020: Kilombo Documents Rich AfroBrazilian Traditions & Culture

While the pandemic forced us to move much of our festival programming to Zoom, one thing that did not get moved online was our featured exhibit, Maria Daniel Balcazar’s lyrical exploration of Afro-Brazilian culture. Balcazar’s “Kilombo” exhibit was scheduled to open our festival at Lost Origins Gallery in DC and would have included talks that month in conjunction with the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. We’re proud to present some of Balcazar’s images here with the hope that we can bring the full exhibit to the 2021 festival. ➤

TOP: The Day of the Dead is also practiced by devotees of Umbanda and Candomblé. RIGHT, TOP: In the Umbanda religion, Exus are spirits that due to their closeness to material energy act as messengers between the spiritual and earthly worlds. RIGHT, BOTTOM: In the African matrix, the peacock represents orixa Oxóssi, the god of hunting and abundance. NEXT PAGE: The snake represents a deity that surrounds the Earth and sky and guarantees the unity and renovation of the universe. All photos, Rio de Janeiro, 2017.







The work documents the Afro-Brazilian heritage of the Quilombo community, which was founded by runaway slaves. The title of this exhibit and accompanying book was chosen to honor its Bantu origin, while also highlighting its meaning as a haven from injustice and violence. It is a symbol of dignity and freedom with emphasis on the resistance and transcendence of the African diaspora, generation after generation. During the Atlantic slave trade, approximately 4.8 million Africans from various regions of the continent were forcefully brought to Brazil, bringing only their customs and religious practices. Through nurturing their roots despite the imposition of new beliefs, these customs continue to be celebrated by many. The vitality of the African legacy, within the richness of the Brazilian syncretism, and its resilient presence in everyday life, attracted the Balcazar to Afro-Brazilian culture. Most of the photographs were taken in territories of struggle and violence, yet they capture the hope and joy that is palpable in the smiles, dances, and rituals of the people who reinforce the richness of Afro-Brazilian culture and identity. Balcazar is a Bolivian-American documentary and fine art photographer. Most of her projects focus on the universality of traditions and symbols while emphasizing the beauty and extraordinary moments in daily life. Her work has been exhibited in galleries, museums and universities in Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and the United States.


She is currently working on two books she hopes to finish in 2021. The Heirs of Dawn illustrates traditions and practices from pre-colonial times to the present, adapted through the experience of colonialism, legends, history, and popular social commentary that come together as the most important festivity in Bolivia, its Carnaval de Oruro. Her other book, Invisible Custodians, will document the cultural patrimony from twelve communities from the Amazon River and La Plata River basins. The exhibit was curated by Carl Juste, an award-winning photojournalist, educator and gallery owner in South Florida. Juste, who was part of a Miami Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for photography, was the chairman of the 2019 Focus on the Story International Photo Festival. PREVIOUS PAGE: Devotees set up a huge carpet of petals and sawdust on the path towards the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men before the procession passes. (Minas Gerais, 2016). ABOVE: On the way to the slave graveyard, where Mrs. Santos honors her ancestors, lay the ruins of the master’s house of this old plantation. She is a devotee of Candomblé of the nation Ketu, a branch descending from the nagôs (Yoruba). (Rio de Janeiro, 2017). RIGHT: Various samba schools of Rio de Janeiro have parades with themes linked to Africa, including characters linked to religion. (Rio de Janeiro, 2014)

See more of Balcazar’s work at Signed copies of her book, Kilombo, can be purchased at


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A portrait of Kimberly Stevens by Nina Berman


Nina Berman on making something ‘beautiful and meaningful’ By Mike Lee


ina Berman, who Mother Jones once described as “one of the smartest documentary photographers of our time,” has spent her career examining the fringes of American politics, militarism, environmental contamination and post violence trauma.

Her work is an exploration of resilience — from the

and Arles book prizes. The work stands out in the

poignant portraits and interviews with wounded

way Berman is inextricably part of the story.

American soldiers to her 25-year collaboration with a survivor of childhood sexual violence.

Berman was originally scheduled to give a keynote talk about her book at the Focus on the Story

One of her colleagues once said of Berman: “What

International Photo Festival in Washington, D.C.

I love about Nina’s work is while she focuses on

With the cancellation of the in-person festival, she

political and social injustice — and those humans

delivered her talk online.

that are often the victims of it — she ascribes agency in how she represents them.”

Along with An Autobiography of Miss Wish, she is also the author of Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq,

While that description was in a story about

(2004) portraits and interviews with wounded

Berman’s work documenting the victims of

American veterans, and Homeland, (2008) a look at

environmental pollution, it could also be easily

the militarization in post September 11 America. She

applied to her work on An Autobiography of Miss

is a member of the photography and film collective

Wish, a book that follows the life of Kimberly

NOOR images and is a professor at Columbia

Stevens through trauma, addiction and recovery.

University Graduate School of Journalism where

The book was critically acclaimed upon its release

she directs the photography program. She lives in

in 2017 and was shortlisted for both the Aperture

her hometown of New York City.


I didn’t grow up wanting to become a photographer. I grew up wanting to be a writer … Maybe it’s taken (This is an excerpt of a longer interview that appears on

all my life to figure out how to

combine those two in a place where

Mike Lee : The first question is the beginning. As far as I

the world could accept it, because

know it and my familiarity with your work, I hold your writing and your photography equally.

there had been—at least in the

Nina Berman : Thank you for that. I appreciate that. I

media industry—a demarcation line

didn’t grow up wanting to become a photographer. I grew up wanting to be a writer … Maybe it’s taken all my life to figure out how to combine those two in a place where the world could accept it, because there had been—at least in the media industry—a demarcation line between those who take pictures and those who write with little space for someone who wanted to

between those who take pictures and those who write with little space for someone who wanted to do both.

do both. But I tried to work in both mediums since the beginning of my career as a photojournalist, which was in Chicago where I went to college and both wrote and photographed for independent

Once I began photographing professionally, I would look at the

newspapers and a radical arts and politics journal I started with

magazine/agency photographers who were getting published. So,


there were the Turnley brothers, Alan Tannenbaum at Sygma,

What I came to learn as I started to work for more mainstream media publications was a feeling that I couldn’t be as free in my writing. I couldn’t say things that I wanted to say and get away with them. I had to maintain this journalistic neutrality, and

there was a few others at Sipa. Jeff Jacobson was definitely an influence, with his use of flash. I came to know Richard Sandler who is one of the greatest street photographers of all time, along with being an excellent filmmaker.

I felt a little frustrated by it at times. Also, with photography,

Lee : There’s one series that really hit me for various reasons–

it insists that you are out there in the world, and I needed that

Miss Wish.

whereas writers can do a lot of work by the phone or from home.

Lee : So, what were your influences in photography? Berman : So, the first photo book I ever saw was the Diane Arbus monograph as a teenager. I think that gave me a sense of the potential of photography. I loved how the so-called freaks and non-conformists seem so nice, affectionate and inviting while the straight characters, the conformists, appeared terrifying. At least that’s how the adolescent in me viewed the work at the time. Another early influence was Susan Meiselas’s Nicaragua book. I had a roommate in college who was an anthropologist and he was studying Latin American history and he showed it to me. What else? I really liked Bill Brandt. There are some painters that I just really appreciated early on, like Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko. I still feel sometimes that I take pictures that respond to their use of color and darkness.


Berman : That’s what I was going to talk about at the Focus on the Story event. I met Kim Stevens, the central character, by chance in London 30 years ago. It’s a complicated story. Our story together is a complicated story. Basically she was used and abused and tried to continually speak out for herself and find a way to move forward despite a host of injustices and violence. She’s brilliant woman, kind and generous, and an artist in her own right. And she just became a central person in my life and I’m a central person in her life. The details are too intense and complicated to talk about here but you can co on my website and there is also a film we made.

Lee : I’m glad you’re staying in contact with her. Berman : Oh yeah. She’s like family. And we did some events with the book together, which was really special. Maybe she’d want to come on for the Focus on the Story. I don’t know.

Lee : Let’s talk about you as an educator. Berman : I taught at ICP on and off, for many years, the seminar class for their full-time students, until 2009. I had some great students. I hope I motivated them to get out there and discover the world and find out who they are at the same time. And then in 2012, I was asked to apply for a full-time tenured job at Columbia and I decided to go for it. Since then I’ve been trying to build the photography program there, which is a really nice circle for me because when I was a student there, I was taught by John Shearer, a former Life But maybe what’s interesting for our audience now is this started

magazine photographer and an adjunct Daniel Cohen, who

as a photographic story and then became just our lives and in

was a delightful person who tragically died in the AIDS crisis

between I stopped photographing her for a long time. Instead I

back then. I’m grateful to go back to that institution after all

was her friend and archivist. And for lots of different reasons,

these years and do my best to make photography an essential

many, many years later, we decided to do a book together. I was

component to the curriculum.

inspired by the creativity that was happening in the photo book industry, and I thought, maybe Kim and I can make something beautiful and meaningful out of what is essentially a very dark story. I hired a designer Teun van der Heijden that had been recommended to me by my colleague, Stanley Greene. Teun and Kim met a couple times. He was completely committed to helping us work through all the varied elements of texts, documents, pictures, interviews, and the different voices. It was about a two-year editing process. And then we made a film with the help of artist Elyse Blennerhassett, which you can see on my

Lee : What do you emphasize when working with your students?

Berman : Photography is an art form, which necessarily means that it is also about who you are and your feelings and how you use your own experiences to see the world. But it’s also journalism and so the picture is also contingent upon research, reporting and investigation. So that’s what I stress and beyond that, I encourage them always to look at how stereotypes have been created over time and what their role in as new photographers in dismantling those stereotypes.

website. It’s a multichannel video in several parts.

Lee : That’s wonderful. Berman : Yeah. She’s having a hard time right now in this New York lockdown. As just everybody with any kind of addiction or mental illness. It’s very hard. See more of Nina Berman’s work at Mike Lee is a photographer, labor editor, journalist and writer based in New York.


A man paints dolls black in preparation for a Santería ritual. Š Ernesto Bazan


25 de


While many photographers have documented Cuban life, few have captured its essence quite like Italian-born photojournalist Ernesto Bazan, who lived on the island for 14 years before leaving with his family on July 4, 2006. Bazan, who had been teaching photography workshops that the Cuban government considered “journalism,” was told he could no longer do the workshops. So, Bazan moved his family to Mexico. The 14 years he spent on the island are beautifully enshrined in his famous self-published trilogy — Bazan Cuba, Al Campo, and Isla. The books garnered him critical acclaim. Bazan joined us for an online talk about his fourth book about Cuba, 25 de Noviembre, which he completed after returning to the island after a 14-year exile.

See more of Ernesto Bazan’s work at



What’s up, buttercup?

Cinematic photographer Jonathan Thorpe created this whimsical portrait during a live photo shoot and editing session he did during the festival. Jonathan, who is a Tamron image master, teaches and lectures around the world.

See more of his work and learn about his workshops at




y its nature, street photography is often a lonely art. That’s one reason Ryan

Madison says he decided to form the DC Street Photography Collective, also known as DC SPC, in 2018. Having a cohort to offer inspiration and support is one of the greatest strengths of working collectively, Madison says.

One thing is for sure, the collective is quickly establishing itself. One of its members, Chris Suspect, was already wellknown in the international street photography community and another, Sofia Sebastian, has been making a name for herself over the past year. Their other members include Kanayo Adibe, Thomas Mullins, Robert Trejo Jr. and Ashley Tillery. While a lot of collectives, will often publish or exhibit together, the DC SPC is also committed to creating a vibrant community of street photographers in the nation’s capital. They regularly host guest speakers, critique sessions and photo walks.


FOCUS ON THE STORY: Tell us why you decided to form the DC Street Photography Collective.


: So, a little bit about the DC Street Photography Collective: We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating in the District of Columbia. We are made up of photographers in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area who are devoted to producing, sharing, and creatively capturing the human condition. By working as a collective, we are able to foster growth for each other’s work as artists and encourage each other to take creative risks, as well as raise the profile of photography as a form of social expression. We also support each other’s businesses—through best practices, networking, and referrals. I founded the group in May 2018 specifically as a collective to ensure all members see it as a collaborative. It’s about all of us, not any single photographer. The catalyst for starting the group was simple. The need all photographers have for connection. Street photography is inherently a lonely endeavor as I discovered after walking the streets of almost every major city in the United States and Canada as a freelance photographer during my lunch breaks and after work. It’s easier to photograph the streets alone, but after graduating college I realized I missed the personal growth that was available to me when people got together to share, collaborate, and constructively critique each other’s work. I was definitely inspired by the New York City Street Photography Collective as well. I was blown away by the community and their willingness to educate, share experiences, and boost the careers of those around them. I was hoping that someone would come along and create something similar to what I had seen in NYC. On May 18th 2018, two years later, I realized I was tired of waiting. DC has a unique story to tell, and I knew there were talented street photographers that shared my passion and devotion to tell it—they just needed the framework to do so.

FOCUS ON THE STORY: Who out there today is doing street photography “right,” and what about their work inspires you?

MADISON: That’s a difficult question. I definitely have photographers in mind who have inspired me, but I don’t know if there is one right way to create street photography. The work that most inspires me most though are the images that confront the viewer or bring them into another world, a place that seems inaccessible to the common man. As far as doing it right; stay true to yourself as a photographer and as a human being. Study the history, learn everything you can about past photographers, concentrate on the photographers that resonate with you, then aim to create images that are honest, and reflect your own voice and unique creative instincts.

Š Thomas Mullins



© Kanayo Adibe


© Sofia Sebastian

FOCUS ON THE STORY: If someone reading this is thinking about trying to start a collective, or joining one, what is the best advice that you could give them?

MADISON: Actually, that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about—how to help inspire and guide others to establish collectives in their own communities. There are clearly things we’ve learned from the DC SPC, and I’d like to share those learnings with others. So, that’s something I think you’ll be hearing more about from us. Building a collective is similar to having a second job and it should not be done lightly without thought. When you represent artists, present their works, and create a platform for people to participate and learn—it’s important you do it right and make sure it continues to grow for the benefit of all its members and non-members alike. I have given everything to make sure that


this continues to happen in the most respectful way possible. It is also important to respect and cultivate both the art and the business aspect of photography. Photographers are artists first, but we also need to make sure we have the foundation to continue to fuel our creative energies— and that means we also need to be able to earn a living. Through the DC Street Photography Collective, we can help each other in our respective careers while not losing the artistic spirit that drives us forward. Surrounding yourself with talented photographers who care about each other and are committed to helping others improve is invaluable, and this opportunity if available to anyone who’s interested. Join us for our monthly meet-ups and use the hashtag #dc_spc on instagram with your best street photography so we can see your work

(we check the hashtag daily.) Other than that, keep producing and fine tuning your creative muscles. That’s the best way to learn, grow, and get noticed for the work you do—while at the same time helping others see the world from different perspectives.

© Ashley Tillery

Learn more about the DCSPC at

© Chris Suspect

© Ryan Madison



SLAM! Members of the award-winning DC Street Photography Collective served as the jury for our first online Street Slam, critiquing images submitted in advance by the Focus on the Story community. They chose an image submitted by Joseph Barretto (above) of two girls playing on a street, while an older boy sits nearby seemingly bored, as their top choice. “I think this is an excellent photo,” Kanayo Adibe said. “I love the texture.” Eric Davidove (facing page, top) took second place, while Chuck Fletcher (facing page, middle), Paul Kessel (facing page, bottom right), Gaston Torres tied for third. The winners received prizes from Lume Cube, Lens Flipper and Fujifilm.


On the streets at the DC Women’s March 74

Aprita Upadhyaya is no stranger to shooting protests and marches in DC — she was part of the team that produced our photo book, UnPresidented, which documented the protests and riots during the Trump inauguration.

We caught up with Arpita after the Women’s March in DC in January. In particular, we wanted to see how she was liking the Fujifilm X-T30 that she won for taking first place at the live shootout at the 2019 Focus on the Story festival. (All the photos here were taken with her X-T30)

“Yesterday had really hard conditions to shoot in with the cold and the rain. But the camera is small and light and unobtrusive … While I’ve often stuck my DSLR’s 24-70mm into people’s faces and shot, it felt easier do that with the X-T30. I had to take super quick shots, often without time to set the focal point carefully, but I was impressed at how often the focus was tack on,” she said.

“I’m still getting used to the camera settings and this was the first time I did this kind of photography with it — I really liked it.”

See more of her work at


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