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Welcome to the 20th issue of EI8HT! In the stories of this issue photographers and writers tackle and explore the concept of “Home”, both physically and emotionally. From our cover story, charged with feelings of loss and uncertainty to the abandoned houses in Ireland, standing as physical monuments to those that have left to start new lives elsewhere. This edition contains a broad collection of stories, histories and personal tales that all sit comfortably under one roof. It is somewhat fitting that the theme of this issue is “Home”. A home is what we at Foto8 have tried to create with the magazine – a home for photography and storytelling that otherwise doesn’t have one. Yes, our home came into being to fill the void left by many other magazines and newspapers, as they turned away serious reportage in favour of lifestyle and celebrity subjects. But our home is now its own place, not just an alternative or a reaction to other places. I hope you will agree that EI8HT magazine has been able to connect the finest in storytelling with the most discerning of readers, bridging a gap between a box of prints under a photographer’s bed and an eager reader wanting to see and read more about the world in which we live. As EI8HT reaches a new milestone I am also reminded of how our home has grown. Not just the 100 pages you see before you, but also with the establishment of HOST Gallery, at our Honduras Street offices in London. So far this year we have hosted a talk, a screening and an opening of a new exhibition, bringing over 350 people together to share and celebrate the best of photojournalism. To bring some of the gallery into the magazine we have created a new section, Off the Wall, where we showcase some of the recent work from the walls of HOST in the pages of EI8HT. I hope you will enjoy your copy of EI8HT and also hope that you will enjoy our hospitality at HOST over the coming year. Now that we have established a home for photojournalism, in every sense of the word, I look forward to Foto8 continuing its vital role, in print, on the walls and on the web. JL Editor’s Letter
Contributors Julio Bittencourt www.juliobittencourt.com Carlos Cazalis www.cazalis.org David Creedon www.davidcreedon.com Bruno Fert www.brunofert.com Steve Forrest/Amaya Roman Represented by Insight-Visual. www.iv-photo.com Paul Fusco Represented by Magnum Photos. www.magnumphotos.com Stuart Griffiths email@example.com Paolo Pellegrin Represented by Magnum Photos. www.magnumphotos.com Boris Svartzman www.svartzman.com Simon Thorpe www.simonthorpeimages.com
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Contents Vol.5 No.4 Spring 2007 06
>Moments >14 Room with a View Portraits of the residents of the infamous Prestes Maia building in São Paulo captured by Julio Bittencourt >42 Living in the Vortex Luke Wolagiewicz looks down into the depths of the world’s tallest residential building >50 Faire le Camping Bruno Fert contrasts tents for the homeless with the iconic architecture of Parisian streets >Features >06 Downtown Rising Carlos Cazalis finds an impoverished community in São Paulo staking a claim to prime property in the heart of the city >16 Aftershock Six months after the devastating earthquake in Kashmir, Paolo Pellegrin meets the children amidst the ruins >24 Sand Trap In Murcia, Spain, Steve Forrest and Amaya Roman witness new golf resorts emerging from the parched land >28 The Emperor’s New Clothes As China embarks on a much heralded building boom, Boris Svartzman documents the destruction of traditional neighbourhoods and a way of life >36 Home Thoughts from Abroad Caroline de Vries visits Modibo in Paris and his family back home in Mali >46 This England Stuart Griffiths walks the deserted streets of Sunderland in search of signs of a better life >60 Not Wanted on Voyage David Creedon uncovers a time capsule hidden for more than 40 years in the abandoned homes of Ireland >Off the Wall – Exhibitions from the walls of HOST Gallery >54 The Saharawi Simon Thorpe reports from the Sahara on a people denied a homeland >58 Funeral Train Mourners line the tracks as Robert F Kennedy’s funeral procession passes through, as witnessed by Paul Fusco >Columns >27 Sand Trap John Vidal >45 The Need to Survive David Pratt >48 This England Tim Minogue >65 Silence, Exile and Cunning John O’Farrell
>Inside >68 Zoé Whitely, curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new exhibition on slavery, Uncomfortable Truths, talks to EI8HT >Reviews >72 Children of Abraham, Beijing: Theatre of the People, Le Mal d’Afrique, Rice is Life, Heroines and Heroes, Figure and Ground, Twilight, Le Fleuve Mure, Thin, The Black Panthers, Photo Truveé, Villa Mona, Naked Punch, Forgotten War >86 The Magazine Review by Jeremy Leslie >Listings >88 Picture agencies, media associations, professional resources >On My Shelf >98 Jefferson Hack, Group Editorial Director, Dazed and Confused >Cover © Paolo Pellegrin 5
São Paulo’s population is rocketing towards the dizzying 20 million figure. So many workers come into the city each day; so many more are undocumented “illegals” from the rural north-east; it is possible the magic number has already been surpassed. Either way, its status as a megacity, like that of Mexico City, Dhaka, Mumbai, Lagos – and others – is assured. The vast urban sprawl is creeping steadily south, as far as the water marshes, resulting in a periphery of slum dwellings, as appears to be the standard model. It is predicted that at some not-too-distant future date, the once distinct cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will merge into some kind of futuristicsounding metacity. If this happens, the living conditions will be far from what we might have once envisaged as futuristic. Today, in downtown São Paulo, photographer Carlos Cazalis is documenting this population explosion as it expands in an alternate direction: skywards. The Prestes Maia 911 building is officially described as “abandoned” by city officials, yet it is home to anywhere between 250 families (according to the latest census) or 468, as reported in the local press. The building was indeed abandoned for 15 years, but in 2002, it was occupied by the Movimento Sem Teto do Centro (MSTC), an organisation which campaigns for the right to dignified living. Families moved in to each floor of the 22-storey building, and cleared 300 trucks full of rubbish and sewage. They reinstated the water and the electricity, kicked out the prostitutes and the drug dealers and made it their home. Most of the inhabitants made the pilgrimage from the north-eastern states, where poor tenant farmers are often exploited by latifundio, (feudal landlords), to follow the Brazilian version of the American Dream. Although it is increasingly difficult to find anywhere to live, and there are no jobs, bar the bico occupations of selling DVDs, cigarettes or cheap clothes on the street, the misery back home is worse than the misery here, so the story goes. The rent may be startlingly low – this is prime downtown real estate – at 20 reals ($10) per month, but it’s a lot to find when the money’s gone. Of the residents we see pictured, much attention is focused on Samara. She is the pregnant woman fainting during a demonstration against eviction (a regular threat). She is also the woman who sits holding her swollen jaw, unable to eat as her partner Mauricio has beaten her so badly. She has suffered worse. Her daughter, Sara, born before she met Mauricio, was conceived as the result of rape when she was homeless in Rio. It is Sara we see sitting on her bed, praying before she goes to sleep. She is said to be wise beyond her years, yet her daily reality is witnessing the arguments that fly between her mother and Mauricio; Sara often gets caught in the crossfire. Mauricio works as a delivery man for a local fast food joint. He makes his deliveries by bicycle, and has to pay for half the order should he be late. His salary is by no means guaranteed. The MSTC alone, of course, cannot begin to solve the social problems of dire poverty, but they can build a community. They have turned the basement of the building into a museum, and they have created a library with a stock of 15,000 books, as well as a toy library. Jo Marina is co-ordinator of Prestes Maia 911 – she is pictured with her whole family who live on the 11th floor – and she helps arrange reading and writing lessons for the residents. Artists perform regularly in the building, often part of politically motivated exhibitions, like the Dignidade show, pictured. It is not known whether the man pictured on the 22nd floor was part of an art installation, or whether there simply wasn’t any more space for him in this congested, chaotic vertical slum 8 Max Houghton
Downtown Rising Carlos Cazalis
Residents of Prestes Maia (top), walk by a protest sign demanding dignidade â€“ dignity
Expanding skywards (previous page): The Prestes Maia 911 building in downtown SĂŁo Paulo, Brazil Residents and members of the MSTC (bottom) vote during an assembly meeting to evict residents they consider have betrayed the movement in attempting to reach an independent agreement with City Hall Samara Pereira de Carvalho (above centre), eight months pregnant, is carried away by her husband and other residents, as her daughter Sara looks on. Samara fainted during an early morning demonstration, demanding a solution to their housing problem and protesting the 15 February eviction threat â€“ the fifth such threat in recent times
The Jo Marina family (top left) pose for a family portrait in the hall of the 11th floor which houses several family members, including sisters, daughters, nieces and cousins of the building coordinator Jo Marina, fourth from right. She is one of the leaders of the MSTC who occupied the building in 2003 Twenty-nine year old Samara Pereira de Carvalho, (centre) holds her mouth in pain, unable to eat two days after husband Mauricio beat her in an act of jealousy. Samara is the mother of two children, the youngest just four months old. This is the third time she is has been beaten by Mauricio. She is afraid to press charges, in fear of losing her children. Three days after the beating, Mauricio, who is accused of having a lover, left his family, returning days later. Samara has lived with her family for almost three years in a 12x12 foot room in Prestes Maia. Domestic violence is common in this building where many families have to live in close quarters without intimacy, a loss of dignity and with vast unemployment Five-year-old Carlos Marcelo Araujo (bottom) plays in the courtyard separating the two adjacent buildings that compose the occupied Prestes Maia Seven-year-old Sara (above) prays in her bed before going to sleep. She is the product of the fourmonth abduction and rape of her mother Samara. Sara attends a school for talented children supported by a journalist and a therapist but, due to economic strains in the family, has difficulty attending regularly. Mauricio frequently physically abuses her in an attempt to control and â€˜educateâ€™ her. Samara accuses Mauricio of going with another woman and not providing for the family
A sculptured figure marks a wall on the 22nd floor of the Prestes Maia building
>Moments Room with a View (Downtown Rising II) Julio Bittencourt
And from a different perspective … here is the Prestes Maia 911 building in São Paulo, photographed from the outside. In contrast to Carlos Cazalis’ gritty reportage (on previous pages), here Julio Bittencourt’s portrait of a building permits a colourful vignette of who lives inside the downtown highrise 8
After the earthquake, the destruction, the fatalities, the casualties, the relief effort, the refugee camps, the statistics, the political point-scoring, the recriminations, the royal visit, the rebuilding of the infrastructures, the global positioning systems: the silence. It was the silence that struck Paolo Pellegrin as he visited Kashmir six months after the earthquake of October 2005. He met and photographed many children who still live in tents in the emergency refugee camps set up in the wake of the disaster, but there was none of the accompanying screaming and laughing and teasing and fighting that usually bounces off children at play. “Most of the children I met had suffered the loss of family members. Each child had a certain aura, the same aura, like they were in a sort of limbo. They seemed lost in themselves as they tried to live with this unprocessed trauma,” says Pellegrin. From out of the silence, Pellegrin photographed each quiet face, and then, in juxtaposition, photographed cracks in the walls of nearby buildings, split asunder by the quake. “It is very difficult to talk about what these children are experiencing. I think photography offers a complex enough language to address an issue like this. How do you describe trauma or loss? Photography has that capacity, to connect to something very subtle, barely even palpable.” 8 Max Houghton Paolo Pellegrin
Sand Trap John Vidal Photographers Steve Forrest Amaya Roman It’s the property developers’ dream. Hundreds of square miles of cheap land, only a few miles from the Mediterranean coast; a government eager to attract footloose global capital; a shiny new airport offering £15 flights from Britain, Germany, Holland and Norway; cheap African labour to mix the concrete and build the roads and drains; and tens of thousands of people beguiled by the idea of spending their retirements or time off in a sunny world far from everyday strife.
Murcia in southern Spain is Europe’s new property capital, billed as the “new Florida”. In this parched, dun-brown land which for centuries grew lemons mainly because it could barely support crops, whole cities of holiday homes are being built. Along one 10-mile stretch, there are plans for more than 100,000 houses as well as a million more hotel beds. One single development has almost as many houses as Shrewsbury, another as Ely. Forests of cranes rise from the hot dry plain that slopes off the cool hills to the warm sea. Hideous, tacky, breezeblock, low rent, lowrise estates sprout everywhere. Dubai attracts the Arab world with the biggest and most ludicrous towers, hotels and malls; Murcia is becoming the global bargain basement. But how do you persuade people to borrow E150,000 to buy your place in the blazingly hot Spanish sun? The developers have hit on the twin middle class, northern European dreams of golf and water, and the brochures show couples lazing by their private pools and hitting balls off emerald green tees towards faraway misty mountains. At the last count more than 30 golf courses were planned for Murcia. Almost every development has one, just as every other house has its own pool. It works. Dutch, Germans, Swedes, but especially the Brits have piled in and there seems no end to the developments. In the last 10 years Spain has built more than 700,000 new homes; and the vast majority have been bought by the British. In the next decade more than 200,000 of us are expected to move there. But there’s a problem. Murcia is bone-dry and baking most of the year, one of the most droughtprone regions of Europe, and it already depends on water being transferred from other regions of Spain. Until 1979 it was one of Spain’s poorest regions but then a canal was dug to bring millions of cubic metres a year from further north. This stimulated one of the greatest explosions ever seen of intensive farming and more than 100,000 hectares of the state are
now under plastic growing most of the melons and lettuces, tomatoes and vegetables sold in British supermarkets. Murcia is now Mr Tesco’s back garden. But there’s nowhere near enough water for the existing population, the farms and the newcomers, and tens of thousands of boreholes have been sunk, mostly illegally. In just a few years, the water table has dropped from 50m deep to 300m and what water there is from below is becoming more and more salty. In short, no one knows how much water is being taken; no one knows how much there is left; and no one is too sure what the ecological effects will be, even in the short term. But you can begin to see changes. Two years ago I travelled round the region. It had not rained in 18 months and large areas were already turning to desert because of the salt in the water. It was as if the desert of Algeria or Morocco had jumped the Mediterranean. Wherever the authorities had had to cut off water from farms to preserve supplies for communities, the land was turning to sand. The trees were dying and vast groves and orchards were being cut down for firewood. Some places were like Death Valley or the Sahara. As Murcia and southern Spain wakes up to the fact that it is already living way beyond its water means, even before climate change is factored in, the reality is sinking in. One golf course can use as much water as 10,000 homes, and one fruit farm growing water melons or iceberg lettuces under polythene can use as much as a golf course. One melon, indeed, needs nearly 100 litres of water to grow. Slowly, the region is beginning to understand that exporting fruit and vegetables is effectively exporting water. As ecological reality dawns, so the tensions rise. The developers see the end of their money machine if people cannot fill their pools or water their golf courses and are reaching for the law to defend their inalienable right to build inappropriate houses; the local authorities are angry that more
water cannot be transferred from the rest of Spain; pressure is mounting on supermarkets to use less water; and people are becoming more wary of buying. In the last few years there have been demonstrations of more than 250,000 people demanding better access to water. Murcia is now hitting the limits of sustainability, compounding the mistakes made by a previous generation with their budget hotels strung along the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca. It can turn to desalination, but that is going to put the prices up to the point where people will not buy; it can try to import more water from elsewhere in Spain, even though no one wants to give it to them; or – this sounds so simple but is like asking the sun not to shine – it can put the brakes on inappropriate development and just say no to more developments and golf courses. Take a wild guess what they will do 8 John Vidal is the Environment Editor for The Guardian
The Emperorâ€™s New Clothes A proposed building site that has remained dormant for two years as some residents still refuse to leave â€“ despite living in premises that are all but demolished
It is 15 years since China’s move towards capitalist economic development officially began. In megalopolises like Shanghai, which have come to define today’s China, strident development threatens the traditional way of life and transforming its cities into sterile networks of high-rise buildings. Boris Svartzman was studying in Chengdu in 2002-2003 when he was first inspired to pick up his camera and begin documenting the destruction of the old neighbourhoods and their sudden transformations. As in any Communist country, the land on which people’s homes are built is owned by the government. When an investor expresses interest, the authorities declare it destined for privatisation, for the promotion of development and for the benefit of the population. The Chinese government designates the area to be of no value, and allows private companies to destroy whatever is in their way thus relinquishing any responsibility as to how the people living in these areas are moved out or compensated. The traditional Chinese way of life is public, revolving around the streets. In these neighbourhoods, they provided a place where people would meet, play traditional games, cook together, watch their children at sports. Living in such proximity to your neighbours allowed intimate and devoted relationships to flourish between families: older people and children alike would be cared for by all. These smaller, quieter streets are now being enveloped by larger developments. Once a company has permission to begin destruction and subsequent building of a new development, the current inhabitants are given two to three months’ notice to leave. The respective company is also in charge of distributing the compensation to the families, who are given the choice of monetary reimbursement or relocation to buildings in the suburbs – usually those built in the ’70s for workers for state companies which have since closed. The tenants have few options in terms of fighting the decisions. They can try the police or the courts but the destruction is not illegal, so few complaints are heard. Those that do complain face the threat of arrest, as do lawyers who take on the cases. Urban sociologists are suggesting that the only intelligent way to protest is to try to show that improving the situation of those being moved out could benefit the government itself. But as the Chinese government embraces economic development while its totalitarian roots remain largely unreconstructed, it could be a case of the emperor’s new clothes 8 The Emperor’s New Clothes Boris Svartzman
A resident of a neighbourhood facing destruction moving out â€“ one of the few in the area who has not yet done so. He is walking along a neat stack of bricks taken by workers from the houses they are demolishing
A busy Shanghai street scene â€“ the new landscape that is replacing the traditional living spaces
A woman praying in an old neighbourhood during Chinese New Year festivities
Playing cards in the street. Old streets are traditionally a public space where all generations cohabit
This childâ€™s room that has been partially destroyed when he was at school. The parents refuse to move out until they receive a better offer of compensation for leaving
Oriental philosophy or resignation? This man, one of the last residents of a Chengdu central neighbourhood, reads peacefully while waiting for his house to be destroyed
This woman is about to lose not only her house but an income, as she rents out rooms in her three-storey building. No one can talk about the situation, they all live isolated in their sadness
Resisting residents use an empty room to hang their clothes
The last resistant resident of an old neighbourhood in Chengdu, eating in front of her house
Almost all buildings are destroyed by hand and there is only one worker on this site in Chengdu. On the wall, which used to be the back of a shop in a small neighbourhood, a child has practised writing: â€˜Dad is good, grandmother is goodâ€™
This man is going to be thrown out of his house. He lived in the family house with his wife (previous pages, top right), and used to supplement his pension by renting out rooms. Now they neither know where they are going to live nor how will they will be able to support themselves
Home Thoughts From Abroad 36
Like many Malians living in France, Modiboâ€™s life is suspended between two lands. In Bamako, Mali, are his roots, his wife and children, unemployment and poverty. In Epinay-sous-Senard, France, as an illegal migrant worker, he lives with anonymity, solitude and the constant threat of deportation and exploitation
“I was born in Bamako in Mali. I lived there in the family house until five years ago. I decided to move to France to work and send money back home. I didn’t have any choice, really. There is only me, and my older brother, the head of the family, earning a bit of money. I used to send about E200 home every month, but I can’t do it any more because the shop I was working for as a security agent went bankrupt and fired me. I am working now only a few hours early in the morning and evenings to get the bins out in the streets in Paris. I am living in Epinay-sous-Senard, a quiet suburb in the south of Paris, sharing a flat in a block on an estate with a Malian couple and their baby. I am in a very precarious condition because my salary cannot guarantee my rent, transport card and food and I am in debt. I have no papers. I’m living in fear. At any time, I can be checked by the police and sent back to Mali. I am currently taking the necessary steps to obtain a residency card. I want my situation to be straightened out but it’s such a long process, it can take up to five years. If I go to Mali now, in my situation, I can’t ever come back to France. I have no hope in the future. I am the only one in the family who left Mali. I haven’t seen my wife for five years. When I left, she was pregnant with twins. I have never seen my girls, only in pictures” 8 Home Thoughts from Abroad Caroline de Vries
Modibo, in Epinay-sous-Senard (previous page, left). Modibo’s wife, Mariam, in Bamako (right) Rue Anatole France, Epinay-sous-Senard (above left), near the block where Modibo shares an apartment. Rue 654 N’tomikorobougou, Bamako (right), the street where Modibo’s family are living
The front door of Modibo’s block of flats (top left) in Epinay-sous-Senard The courtyard of the home of some relatives (right) in Segou, Mali Modibo’s living room (above left) in the suburb of Paris where he lives The interior courtyard (right) of the family’s home in Bamako
In Bamako live Modiboâ€™s children Adam and Awa (above). When he left five years ago his wife was pregnant with twins. He has never seen his girls except in pictures
>Moments Living in the Vortex Luke Wolagiewicz
Ponte City in Hillbrow, Johannesburg is Africa’s tallest residential building. Standing at more than 560 ft, the 54storey Ponte City was completed in 1975 at the then striking cost of 11 million Rand. It was developed as a spectacular, high-class living space, including six penthouses each with a sauna, bar and rooftop area. During the 1980s and ’90s, at the time of the Apartheid collapse and the subsequent demise of the centre of Johannesburg, Ponte City and Hillbrow became notorious, run by hardened criminals and ruthless drug dealers. At one point, in the mid1990s, the situation became so volatile that there was a proposal to convert the building into a high-rise prison. Today, many apartments are occupied by six or more people, with curtains used to delineate personal space. Its most outstanding architectural feature is hidden from outside eyes: a gigantic cylindrical shaft piercing right through the building’s 54 floors: the building is hollow 8
The Moulovir Tek Slum in Dhaka City, November 2006, ÂŠ Kirsty Anderson
The Need to Survive David Pratt Welcome to an unimaginable place. A claustrophobic world of filth, disease and hunger. A place where children cluster like flies, scavenging among heaps of rotting garbage inhabited by armies of rats and cockroaches. A place where washing means scooping up stagnant water from ponds full of raw sewage and swarms of mosquitoes carrying malaria or the dreaded dengue fever, an infection that often leaves its victims vomiting blood. Welcome to the slums of Dhaka.
One in 10 of the children who inhabit this world will die before they are five years old. The 50p their exhausted parents might earn for a punishing 12-hour day breaking rocks or hauling a rickshaw in temperatures often in excess of 100ºF is never enough to buy them food, let alone the medicine that might keep them alive when they inevitably fall ill.
Across slum neighbourhoods some garbage dumps are so toxic they steam with the combustion of their own natural gases. Everywhere, evil, coal-black carrion crows seek out these dumps, where alongside the countless street children they probe and search among the festering mass for some useful morsel.
Photographer Kirsty Anderson and I had arrived in the neighbourhood of the Malek slum in the heart of this, one of the most populous cities on the planet, straight off a 12-hour flight from a plump and prosperous UK where the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy was well under way. On the flight, I had read about how more than a billion people are now estimated to be living in slums worldwide. Every day, their numbers grow as climate change, failing crops and the desperate hope of a new start drives countless rural dwellers into these “megacities” across the globe from Lagos to Rio de Janeiro.
In Dhaka’s world of vendors and pickers, these are the children of the “bhangari”, or recyclable goods, who scour the dumps with sacks on their backs looking for plastic bags, bottles and other items for which they are given a pittance by businessmen who sell on vast quantities of the garbage at a massive profit. Quickly we began to realise that what often appears at face value to be chaotic and anarchic street activity in Dhaka’s slums is frequently governed by a set of iron-clad rules, where almost everyone occupies a place in an economic hierarchy and owes fealty as well as cash to the person above him.
Dhaka is one of the fastestgrowing of such places, with some of the worst urban conditions to be found anywhere on earth. In a little over a decade the city’s slum population has doubled and now stands at a staggering 3.4 million people. We walked into Malek, through a maze of narrow passageways flanked by the tiny, smokeblackened shacks where families of five or six cram into a single room no bigger than 12 foot square. Here and there, some of the residents have devised a system of “hanging latrines” – precarious bamboo platforms raised a few feet above the ground, or water, and screened with rags. In the rainy season, the sluggish water rises above the tops of the stilts supporting some huts, flooding the floors and tiny alleyways with dead vermin, human faeces and other refuse. Disease is especially rife during this time. Fevers, diarrhoea, dysentery, scabies and tuberculosis often combine with malnourishment to kill the weakest and most vulnerable among the very young and elderly.
Noor Nahar is 26 years old. She came to Dhaka 12 years ago after her father in-law’s land was washed away during the floods that regularly deluge parts of Bangladesh. Perhaps as many as 15 million Bangladeshis have been displaced in this way, becoming what are often referred to as “environmental refugees”, a term that sanitises what effectively means losing everything that you have spent your life working for. For two months after arriving in Dhaka, having nowhere else to go, the Nahar family crammed into a relative’s already overcrowded shack before moving to Malek to join 1500 other families. As we talked, Noor cradled the youngest of her children, an 18-month-old daughter called Hamida who suffers from asthma. “Every month they get sick; fevers, coughs, “ she tells me, removing lice from the hair of her five-yearold son. “Sometimes I pick waste paper, and get about 70 taka [50p] a day, but for the last two months I have not been able to work because the children have been sick,” says Noor.
According to the 2003 United Nations report “The Challenge Of The Slums”, over the next two decades the global urban population will double from 2.5 to 5 billion. Almost all of this increase will be in the developing world, in cities such as Dhaka. With this escalation in numbers, a new generation of urban poor will face the hardships of slum life like those encountered by Noor Nahar, destined to live in conditions one slum dweller described to me as “semi-death”. As the UN report points out, this will be yet another generation of youngsters “trapped in an informal and illegal world, in slums that are not reflected on maps, where waste is not collected, where public services are not provided… effectively meaning they officially do not exist”. For those that inhabit places like the Malek slum, the reality of their surroundings is a far cry from those “engaging” issues of the “rising megalopolis” and “effects of globalisation” that so preoccupy western intellectuals. What we saw and the terrible stories we heard of lives that daily hang in the balance profoundly shocked and moved us during our time in Dhaka’s slums. The smell, the filth, the apparent sense of hopelessness was an attack on the sensibilities of two people who had come from the frenzy of shopping, eating, drinking and merry-making that is a feature of any Christmas here, in the wealthy, developed world. I am not condemning such excesses, rather trying to illustrate the terrible disquiet this juxtaposition caused me and the re-examination of my own values such an encounter inevitably prompts. Not for a moment, either, would any of those families we met living in the maze of wooden shacks and under torn tarpaulins begrudge us our indulgence. If there was one thing we were reminded of by the people of Dhaka, it is that poverty does not necessarily breed envy, only the need to survive 8 David Pratt is Foreign Editor of The Sunday Herald
Before we visit Sunderland’s Pennywell Estate, people ask if we have ever been to Beirut or the Bronx. The comparison is not so far-fetched – except that in a war zone you’re unlikely to turn a corner and come upon a street like Palmerston Road, with neat gardens, new double glazing, cars and caravans in the driveways ... But such scenes of suburban ordinariness cheek-by-jowl with devastation and decay are common right across this town. How come?
This England Tim Minogue Photographs Stuart Griffiths In Portslade Road, on Sunderland’s Pennywell estate, stands a very ordinary English suburban home. Brick-built in the mid-20th century, three bedrooms, mock-Georgian porch, new UPVC windows and doors, smart car in drive, neatly clipped hedge enclosing small, well-tended garden stocked with pampas grass and cordyline australis. In ten thousand other streets, in other towns, it would not merit a second glance. Here, however, it is a surreal sight. For on either side its neighbours are boarded up, abandoned, blasted by fire, vandalism and graffiti. Much of the estate is an image from the very worst nightmares of urban dystopia: empty, gutted, often roofless houses, the playground of arsonists and junkies, stand in acres of wasteland where hundreds of other homes have been demolished.
This page, from Top: Southwick Barries Square, Councilor George Blyth, High Pennywell Estate Previous pages: Portslade Road, Pennywell Estate
Before we visit Pennywell people ask if we have ever been to Beirut or the Bronx. The comparisons are not far-fetched, except that in a war zone one is unlikely to turn a corner and come into a street such as Palmerston Road. Suddenly all is “normal” again, with neat gardens, cars and caravans in driveways, new double-glazing, extensions. Such scenes of suburban ordinariness cheek-by-jowl with devastation and decay are common across Sunderland. Many of the “respectable” houses are owned by former council tenants who in the 1980s and ’90s exercised the “right to buy” introduced by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. Many bought their homes with redundancy payments awarded when local shipyards and mines closed. Independent – formerly Labour – Sunderland city councillor Mike Tansey explains: “When people got their redundancy cheques many bought their homes because they felt they would be secure for the rest of their lives. They weren’t buying to get on the property ladder and move on; they wanted to live out their lives in their communities. They didn’t reckon on those communities being knocked down around them.” Sunderland’s current housing problems are a consequence of the rise and fall in the city’s prosperity during the 20th century. Thousands were employed in local industries such as mining, shipbuilding and brewing. Either side of the Second World War vast council estates were built to house the workers and their families. When the industries went into decline, poverty, unemployment, drug use and crime began to grow on the estates at the same time that the money to maintain thousands of homes became harder to find. The problem was not confined to Sunderland. The government’s answer was privatisation – the “large scale voluntary transfer” of council homes to “not for profit” organisations such as housing associations. The Blair government requires all social housing in Britain to be modernised to a “decent homes
standard” by 2010. Substantial amounts of government money are made available if tenants vote for any of three forms of privatisation. Those who vote for the so-called “fourth option”, of remaining under local authority control, get nothing. Faced with this carrot-and-stick approach, councils are desperate to off-load their housing stock. In Sunderland tenants voted in favour of a plan prepared by the council’s former director of housing, Peter Walls, to transfer the city’s 36,342 council properties to a new “registered social landlord”, the Sunderland Housing Group (SHG), in 2001. The chief executive of the new private company was the very same Peter Walls – on a starting salary of £135,500 a year, almost double the £70,000 he had been paid by the council. SHG borrowed £480m and paid £228m for the city’s housing stock – just £6,273 per dwelling. Walls delivered his “vision” to bemused employees on a faux parchment scroll in which he claimed that “someone up there” had told him to mastermind the transfer and the modernisation of 10,000 homes within three years. He promised to reverse “30 years of decline” and deliver “real high quality stuff … affordable to all”. The reference to “someone up there” was, one hopes, an attempt at humour, but the combination of ambition, arrogance and vagueness was typical, say critics, of the style of SHG and its chief executive. Mr Walls’s nickname is “The Emperor”. SHG has delivered on its promise to modernise 10,000 homes to a high standard, ahead of time. But in other areas, particularly a promise to build 4,000 new homes in the first five years, it has failed dismally. While it has gone ahead and demolished some 3,000 houses that, some argue, could have been refurbished more cheaply, in five years it has only built about 120 new homes. Numbers on the housing waiting list soared to around 19,000. A system of qualification for “excellent tenant status” was introduced, which critics say is a device for excluding the poorest and those from “problem”
families, so that estates are “socially cleansed”, with those at the bottom of the heap being driven out and into the hands of possibly unscrupulous private landlords. Meanwhile SHG embarked on speculative conversions of old city centre buildings into luxury flats which no one wanted to buy. It is SHG’s demolition programme that has led to bizarre sights such as the neat suburban home surrounded by gutted hulks. Most tenants have been “decanted” into temporary accommodation while they wait for new homes to be completed. Many ageing owner-occupiers, however, are stuck in homes rendered worthless by the demolition of surrounding properties and the ensuing blight. Doxford Park is – or rather was – a modern estate of 820 flat-roofed, mainly three-bedroomed houses with gardens built in 1970 around U-shaped “courts”. Apart from problems with dampness in some houses, the majority are spacious and sound, yet SHG has decreed they must all come down by next year – to be replaced by fewer than 500 new homes, of which nearly half will be for sale. Bob Douglas, 65, a retired local government IT specialist, bought his house from the council more than 20 years ago. In 2001, after announcing the “renewal” – ie, demolition – of the estate, SHG offered him £30,000 for it – approximately £50,000 less than it was worth at the time. Mr Douglas would have had no prospect of buying another property, had he accepted, so he hung on for a better price. “Until five years ago it was a very nice estate,” he says. “It won architectural awards. People were clamouring to get onto it.” But after the long-standing tenants began to be “decanted” and other owner-occupiers sold out for low prices to SHG, a series of “tenants from hell” were moved in to Mr Douglas’s court. Children stripped the bark from a mature tree, set fire to it and killed it. In the course of a row between a drunken couple, a microwave oven was hurled through a window. One night 11 police officers in riot gear were required
to subdue a man threatening his partner with a knife. A “loner” moved in who shared his house with dozens of rats, pigeons and ducks. A youth was pursued down the road by a roaring man waving a spade over his head. Poorly secured empty houses are constantly broken into and stripped of anything removable, such as water tanks and piping. “I’d never experienced anything like this before,” says Mr Douglas. It all became too much. The Douglases have now accepted £66,000 from SHG for their home and are buying a new house for £138,000, with SHG putting in £50,000 and therefore holding nearly more than a third of the equity. The shortfall will come from the Douglases’ “rainy day money” – that they had saved for their old age. Many tenants, too, have had their lives transformed for the worse by SHG’s chaotic approach to regeneration. Danny and Rose Atkinson have lived in Doxford Park since 1970, when the houses were built, bringing up their four sons on the estate. Both are in declining health. Danny, 69, a retired engineering worker, suffers from arthritis, while Rose, 66, has a chronic lung disease. Now they live in the only occupied house in their court, surrounded by empty, vandalised properties. “We lived happily here for 35 years,” says Rose. “We knew all the other families and got on well. It was a real community. Now the others are scattered across the city and we are the only ones left. We dare not go out together, or go away on holiday, in case the house is burgled. We can’t have family to stay any more because their car would be broken into.” Despite their “excellent tenant status” the Atkinsons have been left behind while other tenants have been rehoused because, they say, SHG has failed to offer them an equivalent home and, despite stipulating that they must move into temporary accommodation twice before they can have a permanent home, refuses to pay relocation expenses for more than one move. For almost a year they have lived with half their possessions in boxes, ready to move at a
moment’s notice. Says Rose: “At our time of life we don’t know if we will live long enough to get a house we want. The way we are being treated is absolutely rotten. It feels like they are just sitting back and hoping that we will be worn down and sooner or later just move anywhere.” A couple of hundred yards away divorcee Georgina Kennedy, 61, lives alone in a bungalow isolated in a demolition desert. A huge computer screen dominates her living room, where she is studying for an Open University law degree. She is severely disabled with arthritis and osteoporosis and has had part of a lung removed. She is holding out for a “decent” place to live after being offered a bungalow with a parking space too far away for her to walk to and then a three-bedroomed house – much more than she needs – which did not have a downstairs lavatory, essential for someone with her disabilities. At night she bolts her doors and hopes for the best, as gangs of youths roam the estate. Georgina’s local councillor is George Blyth – like Mike Tansey, another life-long Labour man who has become an Independent because, he says, he is appalled at the local party’s failure to rein in SHG. “Someone has to pull them back and say ‘wait a minute, you can’t treat people like this’. I am not against regeneration but it has not been done properly. I only want them to treat people in a decent, honest way and tell them what’s happening. Pensioners and the disabled should have been the first to have their accommodation sorted out – they have as much right to be treated respectfully as anyone else.” Despite the fear and the uncertainty, Georgina is now determined to stay put until SHG offers her a decent place to live: “I am going to hang on for a suitable home. SHG are going to be stuck with me for as long as it takes. I can be just as awkward as them.” 8 Tim Minogue writes for Private Eye
>Moments Faire le Camping Bruno Fert For the second year running, Médecins du Monde delivered tents to the homeless in Paris. As well as providing shelter, they serve as beacons of distress, visible to all. This year, some homeless people have managed to buy their own tents. Some gather together and recreate villages in the middle of a square or a boulevard. Others choose a more solitary trajectory and put up their houses far from the public view. In a new departure this year, too, the homeless were joined by “well-housed” French citizens, who spent one night or several on the street in a show of “solidarity”. Bruno Fert has photographed these tents as a new type of housing, on an equal footing with other buildings that comprise our urban landscape, used by humans to protect themselves from what’s outside 8
For over 30 years now, close to 200,000 Saharawis have been refugees in the harsh Algerian desert near Tindouf, while tens of thousands live without freedom in their homeland, the disputed territory of the Western Sahara. Simon Thorpe went to the region, which is also among the most heavily landmined landscapes in the world, for Sandblast, an organisation which seeks to bring awareness to the cause through the arts 55
HIJOS DEL SOL Y EL VIENTO Aún vivimos en las esquinas de la nada entre el norte y el sur de las estaciones. Seguimos durmiendo abrazando almohadas de piedra como nuestros padres. Perseguimos las mismas nubes y reposamos bajo la sombra de acacias desnudas. Nos bebemos el té a sorbos de fuego caminamos descalzos para no espantar al silencio. Y a lo lejos en las laderas del espejismo todavía miramos, como cada tarde las puestas de sol en el mar. Y la misma mujer que se detiene sobre las atalayas del crepúsculo en el centro del mapa nos saluda. Nos saluda y se pierde en los ojos de un niño que nos sonríe desde el regazo de la eternidad. Aún esperamos la aurora siguiente para volver a comenzar.
CHILDREN OF THE SUN AND THE WIND We continue to live in the corners of nothingness between the north and south of the seasons. We continue to sleep embracing pillows of stone like our parents did. We chase the same clouds and rest in the shade of the bare acacias. We drink our tea with scorching sips we walk barefoot so as not to scare off the silence. And in the distance on the hillsides of the mirage we watch, as we have done every afternoon the sun setting on the sea. And the same woman that lingers on the peaks at dusk waves at us from the centre of the map. She waves at us and is lost in the eyes of a boy who smiles from the lap of eternity. We are still waiting for the dawn when we can start over. Mohamed Salem Abdelfatah, Ebnu
TIRIS Si llegas alguna vez a una tierra lisa y blanca acompañada de inmensas estatuas negras y el andar pasivo de camellos y beduinos, recuerda que existe una tierra sin amo y sin dueño espejo y alma de todo ser inocente.
TIRIS If you ever arrive at a white and wide land coupled with immense black statues and the passive pace of camels and Bedouins, remember that there exists a land without master and owner, mirror and soul of all innocent beings. Ali Salem Iselmu Photographs by Simon Thorpe Poems reprinted from Treinta y Uno – Thirty One. A Bilingual Anthology of New Saharawi Poetry, compiled and introduced by Pablo San Martín and Ben Bollig (London: Sandblast, 2007) www.sandblast-arts.org >Off the Wall An exhibition featuring Simon Thorpe’s photographs and of other Sandblast photographers was shown at HOST Gallery from 1 – 17 February
>Off the Wall Funeral Train Paul Fusco
RFK Funeral Train by Magnum photographer Paul Fusco is a moving series of images that document the emotional journey of Robert F Kennedy’s body as it was taken by train from New York City to Washington, D.C. days after he was assassinated. Fusco photographed the people that lined the route from a vantage point aboard the train. Hundreds of thousands turned out in the searing heat, in June 1968, to pay their respects
to a man who had shown his determination to make the lives of Americans better, and insisted that the government is answerable to all – black and white, rich and poor 8 Funeral Train will be at HOST gallery in London 14 March – 13 April
Between 1949 and 1989, over 800,000 people, mostly young, were forced to leave Ireland in search of work. The vanishing peaked in 1955, when 55,000 left the shores. Many went to America on holiday visas and never came back. When the older generation died the title of their homes would pass to their children abroad, who could not even return to Ireland to attend the funeral. These were desperate choices
Not Wanted on Voyage North Mayo, 2005 (below left). “While visiting these unoccupied houses I felt like an intruder,” says David Creedon, “disturbing the spirits that still haunt every room. In some homes it looked as if the last activity was the waking of the dead, the closing of the door and the abandonment of the house”
“The devotion to the Catholic faith is always present (below right) and there are three icons you’ll always find in Irish houses: the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and the Infant of Prague. Here Our Lady is resting against the wall by the fireplace”
“The only contact with the outside world often was the radio (below). And the only way to keep in touch with loved ones was by letter. For anyone reading a letter it wasn’t just the content but the interpretation ... reading between the lines. Troubles expressed in a letter became worries. With no one to talk to people would naturally turn to prayer”
“The return. The owner of this trunk (bottom) had left for New York on 16 October 1930, on a 3rd class passage on the White Star Line. When she came back on 16 August 1949, she travelled cabin class from Pier 61, New York to Cobh. The menu offered caviar and wild Irish smoked salmon. She must have made a bit of money on her travels!”
â€œThis is the only Infant of Prague I saw with its head on (below); traditionally they are decapitated. They are given as wedding gifts, and often put into the garden on the night before the weddingâ€?
“This Ford Consul (below) in an abandoned garage in Ross Common would have been built in the 1960s and most likely assembled in Cork – back in the days when there were ‘jobs for life’ ”
“Cattle were occupying the ground floor here (bottom). You can just make out the Sacred Heart on the chair. For me, these photographs are not images of other people’s houses but pictures of all our homes”
Silence, Exile and Cunning John O’Farrell Photographs David Creedon For a time, the German Democratic Republic was the best place in Europe to go squatting. West Berlin has a long history of organised squatters, sharing information and advice about “stealing a house”, as they quaintly and honestly call the process of appropriation. But is it theft if no-one wants the property? Is abandonment consent?
After the simultaneous opening of the Berlin Wall and closure of the Warsaw Pact, thousands of Ossies simply left and went west. Entire blocks of flats were vacated of people, deserting their possessions for the better class of tat and furniture they hoped to find in Dusseldorf, or Hamburg, or simply a few kilometres across the redundant free fire zone that marked the navel of the Cold War. Capitalism, when it landed on the East, called people like the sirens, asset-stripping the populace of the young, the bored and those who hungered for what good Marxists called the “superstructure”, that surface glitz of unfathomable depths that made no sense to Historical Materialism. Or it could have been an older impulse, one that necessitated embracing the taboo that had almost defined the failure of the Soviet empire; the right to move. At bottom, it said that those states could not trust their own citizens. The Museum of German History that used to grace the Unter den Linden (just opposite the vast embassy of the USSR and its prominent bust of Stalin) referred to the “necessity” of building the Berlin Wall as some ingrates were leaving “like thieves in the night.” But these thieves were reclaiming an older right. They were challenging the restrictions of space, choosing to make their home at their heart’s place rather than submitting to the fate of geography and the accident of birth. A few years after the Fall, I had the dubious honour of a lengthy chat with an ex-member of the Politburo of the Staatspartei, who by 1993 was playing a leading role in organising the unemployed, which then accounted for about 50 per cent of the Ossie working population. I asked him when he realised the game was up. He said it was the day in 1987 when the Stasi briefed him and a handful of others that the official figure for emigration visas of always 5,000 was hokum. The real figure was over 2 million. That proportion of the GDR’s population of 17 million shocked the apparatniks to their core, because they knew what a
risk it was to make a formal application to leave. If such a number were prepared to face personal and family ruin, then what of the rest? Erich Honecker, the ailing patriarch of the walled workers’ state was kept blissfully ignorant, only being told by Gorbachev as they marked the 40th anniversary of the enterprise in the summer of 1989. After that, they kissed like dons in a bad mafia movie and agreed that the contemporaneous example of Tiananmen Square was not an option. In another part of Europe, the problem was also keeping people in. Ireland had been shedding its young for a century and a half, its population sliding from eight million on 1841 to less than three million by 1961. The mid-1980s saw the all-time peak of emigration, but “the Fifties” has an iconic ring in Ireland, an era of conformity, stagnation, ineptitude, belligerence and flight. Those who dared read the banned James Joyce tended to follow his advice for a free-thinker’s survival: “Silence, exile and cunning.” Like Poland now, in Europe but gnawed by the rhetoric of the comic twins who act as President and Premier, some leave for psychic survival. Most however, get out for material ends, leaving very little behind. Like those who left the abandoned homes in rural Ireland, their slow decay frozen by David Creedon, many will replicate those icons abroad, with knobs on. Witness the new bungalows of the successful IrishAmericans with their garish idols of Christ and his Sacred Heart, of Mary “Our Mother” and of Padraig Pearse. In reverse, it is common still to find busts and portraits of that most successful son of the Atlantic crossing, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. His visit to the Ould Sod in 1963, five months before his date with destiny’s bullet, was the highlight of the Irish “Sixties”, and an odd death knell for the Ireland carved by his host, Eamon de Valera. The then president of Ireland was born in New York poverty and extolled the “homely
virtues” of frugal living and pious patriotism. His Boston guest was rich, vibrant, sexy and powerful enough to have almost cost the earth only months before. He was most of all, successful, and said to a young, bored and hungry generation that any Irish man can “be like me”. You can be born again in a suitcase. It was those emigrants, those who left in the ’60s and ’80s who created modern Ireland. They sent back ideas and thoughts that could not have lifted under the fog of holy Ireland. They left for the things that dreams are made of (“like food and money and dreams and love/ the things you never thought of”) and then introduced those dreams to Ireland. Which is why young, bored and hungry Poles and Lithuanians and Ukrainians and Portuguese and East Timorese and Palestinians and Libyans and Nigerians now make up an estimated 10 per cent of the population, one of the fastest rates of immigration into any country in modern times. People’s stuff is smaller these days. It is digital and virtual and that is probably why there is a mini-boom in family portraits and snapshots on eBay. Moving the length of a continent is easier, cheaper and faster than taking the ferry across the Irish sea. Migration is transient, work is fluid, home is a movable feast. People move forward and back in a manner unthinkable a generation ago and their “home” is in many places, a portfolio of experiences as much as a photo album or a “forever box”, floating capsules of time and space. In the ’50s, emigration to America was a done deal. No returns for Christmas or funerals, ever. They were a living death in the family. A tradition started called the “American Wake”, the last chance to mark the passing of the living souls to the other side. That is the raw core of those abandoned cottages, why they are untouched except by time and why the Sacred Hearts still flicker on the mantels. They are cemeteries 8 John O’Farrell is Communications Officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, based in Belfast
“Lived alone without you Shadows on my wall Ghosts in my looking glass and voices in the hall” “Ghosts” – Horslips
David Creedon will be exhibiting these pictures at Ballina Art Centre, Co Mayo from 4 April and at Fotahouse, Co. Cora from 8 June 2007
> Inside Reviews Listings On My Shelf 67
EI8HT:How did you conceive the show, and did you consider using photography? Zoé Whitely: When we first started thinking about it, the exhibition was going to be a small display. It started with Lubaina Hamid’s Naming the Money – life-sized figures of black slaves interspersed throughout the British gallery. The idea was that we would both figuratively and literally be putting slaves and black bodies into the history of British design and decorative art, which in itself would make quite a strong statement. But the more I started thinking about it, there were quite a few artists who were doing really interesting things with the subject matter and then it grew into something bigger. We were aware of a couple of challenges in that this was always going to be the time when black artists were approached for their work. I think very strongly that slavery isn’t just a black issue, and it’s interesting that is seen this way by blacks as well as whites. This is probably the one time in the next five years that all the national museums will probably start ringing Keith Piper, saying we need a black artist! We put together this wish list, and we were thinking – what don’t we want? And we knew this straight away: we didn’t want it to be too inward looking. We wanted it to be contemporary and fresh. We didn’t want to be the usual suspects – not just well known
artists, fantastic artists like Yinka [Shonibare] and Fred [Wilson], we also wanted it to be a mix of leading artists and emerging artists. We also wanted to address why slavery is seen as something that is divorced from the present. Slavery is still going on, so how do we address that? Just by the fact that contemporary artists are engaging with the issue? Or do we also want to make some inroads into engaging with issues like human trafficking? Women who have to work as drug mules in South America, or certain Eastern European women, who come to the west to work as prostitutes. There were lots of different ways we could have taken it and for a while we were thinking that a series of photographs from National Geographic of contemporary slaves from all around the world – child garment workers in Bangladesh, people who work as indentured servants – might do that. In the end, we decided we wanted to make it something exciting that works specifically for the Victoria & Albert Museum, for how we put contemporary exhibitions together, which is why the subtitle – the shadow of the slave trade on contemporary art and design – can relate to things that we have in our collections already. 8: Is it about reassessing the V&A’s own collection?
Recovery by Christine Meisner
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain, one of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s youngest curator’s has commissioned Uncomfortable Truths, a far-reaching and dynamic show, drawing on contemporary work by black and non-black artists as well as reflecting on the museum’s existing collection in the light of the slave trade. Max Houghton meets Zoé Whitely
ZW: There’s an element of that. We have created a second gallery guide for the show, and there is a series of five trails that highlight items in the permanent collection that are relevant in our collection. And it won’t just be the black servant serving food in the corner of this oil painting, although that’s one element. We’re also interested in larger issues, like unpicking the fact that in a museum like ours, where we don’t have an African collection, there are still important links, even though they might be quite indirect, to the slave trade. It might be something like what Yinka is touching on, where slave money fostered a certain kind of lifestyle
and led to bequests to national museums such as ours and others. We have work in our silver galleries that came to us via that route, for example. We’re even thinking about the function of certain objects, something as quintessentially V&A like a silver teapot, what could be more V&A than that, or a silver chocolate pot, and just the idea of how tealeaves would have arrived here because of the British empire. Or the vogue for drinking chocolate, because it didn’t used to come out of little Cadbury’s pots already sweetened, so who could afford sugar? Who could afford someone to mix up the chocolate for them, back when it was a bitter
yet, there are so many areas even within the transatlantic slave trade that aren’t common knowledge. And in as much as I curate contemporary things, such a range of different artists from different countries of many different age groups, both genders, white as well as black, were engaging with this issue, I thought it was important to try and show that.
oily kind of drink. So looking again at our collection is a big part of it, making it an intervention inside our permanent galleries. The British galleries have been around for about five years now, so some people have seen them quite a few times. Now all of a sudden, you pluck something out and see that object in quite a different way, and you reevaluate the surroundings that it’s in. You see the whole in quite a different way, which I hope is exciting.
8: As you touched upon, everyone – EI8HT included – is going to want to ‘do something’ on slavery for the bicentenary … ZW: Yes and there are important things that need to be covered, like Wilberforce and Fox, but I was hoping that maybe by looking at it differently, we can attract a new audience to the subject. I don’t want this to sound overly ambitious or pretentious, but I earnestly think in the same way that the Holocaust and how that
happened is an important part of my life, not a separate Jewish history, I think it’s very important that we see that the transatlantic slave trade as something that affects all of humanity. And in the same way, the way we privilege looking at the transatlantic slave trade over the trade across the African continent, or the trade in slaves, also African, towards the East – the trans-Arab slave trade – all these other areas that don’t get talked about nearly as much. And
8: Is it ever possible to see the dissemination of African culture to the wider world as a positive result of the slave trade or is that an abhorrent thought? ZW: It reminds me of the first time I read Phillis Wheatley’s writing, she was a slave in America who was educated by fairly kindly slave owners – as slave-owners go, I guess! You see that’s the thing, I’m using my present day values but her writings are really interesting and they stand in stark contrast to people like Frederick Douglass or Olaudah Equiano, because she writes about slavery being a good thing. I’m oversimplifying it, but it is really shocking to read, because she basically says she wouldn’t know how to read or write and basically she was much better off, and all slaves were much better off than if they’d been running around in Africa. It makes me think a lot. One of the questions I ask in the introduction [to the gallery guide] is precisely the contribution black slaves made to building Britain or the West. It’s always hard to boil
I always end up being drawn to art and design that has some kind of political or social relevance but I don’t do it on purpose! I think some people will see it as political. Already people are talking about how it’s an important exhibition for the V&A to be seen to be doing or talking about the fact that I’m a black curator and I’m very young, well 27…
something down to good and bad and that’s the whole reason why I ask the question in my introduction: it is one of those uncomfortable truths. I think it’s very important to look at how slavery contributed to the benefit and the detriment of the world we live in today. There are certain things we wouldn’t have. It’s difficult to assess it as a whole, It’s important to discuss it. In Hugh Thomas’ book The Slave Trade he has a really important quote in the introduction which warns against using the value judgments of your present day too much to assess the past. There are some very interesting writings about slavery written by abolitionists in particular, and you find that as much as they abhor the slave trade, they are also clearly writing about black people as if they are also inferior. But there are degrees. They can identify that the slave trade is abhorrent but they don’t share the mindset that those of us who are enlightened about everyone being equal today would feel. It’s not that easy a correlation to make. You can still read some of that stuff and be highly, highly offended! 8: Do you feel Uncomfortable Truths is an overtly political exhibition (I’m thinking of Mark Wallinger’s exhibition at the Tate)? ZW: I like it when people ask me this question because Yinka Shonibare helped me answer it last week! He was talking at the
flag-raising at the Hayward Gallery, he said (and it was a quote) that there is no political art, only good art that is political. I think that’s absolutely true. I always end up being drawn to art and design that has some kind of political or social relevance but I don’t do it on purpose! I think some people will see it as political. Already people are talking about how it’s an important exhibition for the V&A to be seen to be doing or talking about the fact that I’m a black curator and I’m very young, well 27… 8: Do you feel there’s a sense that all black art is presumed to be political or part of a black power movement? ZW: That’s why I wanted to include Fred Wilson’s work. I think people will find a piece of work like Regina Atra [pictured] exciting and subversive, but it’s not quite as simple as black means race and you can see in each little diamond a black fist raised. That’s what makes it great – it’s good art that lasts, that’s interesting, that’s a great design. It’s not just one note. 8: I wonder if the Michael Paul Britto piece, in which the artist filmed people dressed as black slaves dancing choreographed moves to Britney Spears’ Slave 4 U, will be seen as this exhibition’s most ‘controversial’ piece? ZW: Michael Paul Britto is an amazing American film maker. His
work’s never been shown in the UK before. I saw it in the Studio Museum in Harlem, where two works of his were being shown:. Slave 4 U and Dirty Harriet Tubman. Tubman was a very important figure in the history of slavery in the USA, a runaway slave and abolitionist, who with the help of Quakers and a whole underground network, risked her life again and again to help other people become free. She’s also known as Grandma Moses. Britto has recast her as a 1970s blaxploitation heroine! It’s really funny, despite the fact you revere her. He’s very interested in this idea of pop culture as great leveller. I really felt it spoke to me and my generation. 8: It all comes down to storytelling in the end, finding new ways to tell old stories … ZW: Right – and I have to credit I’m a Slave 4 U for helping me come up with the title of the exhibition. We were watching it in Harlem, a predominantly black area, and suddenly the Britney Spears song comes on and you see these choreographed dancers in period dress. In Britney’s own video, one of her earliest raunchy videos, she had hot pink pants on over the top of her jeans, so it looked like the reverse of wearing chaps that really accentuated her crotch. It was shot in a really trendy apartment and everybody is dancing and they are all really
sweaty and gyrating and then at the end they all run out into the rain. So in Britto taking up the song, I think it really throws into question the use of this word slave – you don’t think about it at all in the Britney version. But then, you’ve got these people dressed up as slaves, yet set to this music: it’s funny but it’s wrong … hence the title. He’s working in the tradition of being really irreverent but being really close to the bone. It does make you uncomfortable, but the subject should. I think there’s a risk that people can think – oh yeah, slavery, that happened so long ago. There’s something about pairing it with something we all know that means it does get the column inches because right away people see that jarring juxtaposition with Britney and something like slavery. My husband’s white, he’s British, and when I saw this work for the first time, and I was laughing, I did wonder if I’d still be laughing if there were white people in the room. I definitely would be, but it did cross my mind. 8: It’s interesting because my initial reaction to the piece was to be very serious about it. ZW: I quite like that, because of course it is very serious too and sometimes when I start to tell people about it, they’re half guffawing already, and I’m thinking – have you seen it??! And it is that kind of very tricky doubleedged subject.
Michael Paul Britto, “I’m a Slave 4 U”
Regina Atra by Fred Wilson
8: I guess you could question aestheticising the subject matter in the same way? ZW: Yes, like in the work of Christine Meisner, which is incredibly beautiful. It also addresses these issues and deals with themes like survival and redemption in these descendants of slave communities and that’s not something you would normally put together. You think of slavery as depraved and immoral, without ethics, extremely ugly, but the way she’s able to look at it is very beautiful. It isn’t meant to sugarcoat the issue in any way, but it’s another way to engage with the subject. We had already finalised the list when I came across her work in Warsaw, where she was artist in residence. She was working on something to do with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and I was just amazed by her drawings, so I just asked her there and then to be a part of the show. She’s also never been shown in the UK before, so that’s exciting. It’s great to be working with everyone for different reasons.
Lubaina and Keith because they’re amazing artists, first and foremost, but also because they represent something very important in the black arts movement in Britain at the moment. Internationally, El Anatsui is arguably the best known contemporary artist working in Africa today, also what Romuald Hazoumé, the Beninese artist working with found objects, has created in his serpent sculpture blows your mind. Fred Wilson is someone I’ve always wanted to work with, since I was an art history undergraduate. Anissa-Jane and Christine and Michael Paul Britto are all emerging artists, so you’re getting a chance to show something new, not just something for ‘the slavery show’. 8: As you’ve said, slavery is not a subject that can be stored neatly in the past. Is there a way in which you feel an exhibition like Uncomfortable Truths can have an affect on a world in which 100 million children are still working as slaves?
ZW: I wouldn’t do the job I do if I didn’t think art and design did have an important role to play in society. Sometimes when I’m having a bad day, I do reality check myself about whatever might be causing that bad day, because I’m not a doctor or a nurse, nobody’s died, I don’t work for the Red Cross, or Liberty, or Amnesty International, it’s not on that level, but … I think the best we can hope to do is to surprise and challenge people who might be in the British Galleries for something else and would never come to an exhibition that has anything to do with slavery and then all of a sudden they discover an artist they’re interested in in a way that surprises them. Exactly those people who think all black art is black power. They might find something that they find beautiful. 8: Do you think you will reach new audiences as well? ZW: ‘New audiences’ for the V&A is shorthand for not middle class, not the Kensington lady, no art history MA, darker than average –
more like me! Well, only in some ways, because I suppose I am middle class, art history MA and all that. I think we will get new audiences, but, and this goes back to what I was saying about slavery is not just a black issue, the point is how we sustain that. I want the increased numbers of ethnic minorities who come to the museum, and who I very much want to come to the museum, to see that there are other things that they can benefit from too. If there’s just one detail from one label that they find interesting, then that’s pretty good going 8 Uncomfortable Truths will be on at the V&A from 20 February – 17 June 2007
Children of Abraham Abbas Published by Editions Intervalles www.editionsintervalles.com £21 (240pp Softback) The sociologist Jeremy Seabrook once wrote of the complexities of using photography to deal with conditions that were as much psychological as visually apparent. It feels awkward then, perhaps even paradoxical, that in an era so fearful, suspicious and conservative as ours, photographers continue to make work that seems to rest on the surface of what are deeply complex conditions. In a new book of photographs that draw on work made over the final years of the last century, Magnum photographer Abbas progresses what has become a long-term commitment to photographing religious practices (and their political consequences) internationally. After Allah O Akbar (his earlier study of militant Islam), Children of Abraham differs dramatically in size from the grand earlier Phaidon publication. Yet, in volume, it’s equally expansive, drawing together photographs of Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities throughout the world. Equally, it’s perhaps this breadth that provides the biggest challenge to the book’s success. To contextualise the pictures, Abbas presents short texts written during visits to the regions he has worked through. They act as a coda, drawing together photographs with calm, reflective reason. They are not diary extracts, in that they are not complete, specific or confessional. This is not Telex Iran – Gilles Perres’ essential and honest weaving of photography and panic. Abbas’ texts are hardly temporal, because they don’t tend to plot a particular journey or exhaust a particular event. Fundamentally, they appear to be observations, wise recollections – the memoirs of a traveller who (in his own words) “never arrives”. In their inclusion, they become drawstrings, to animate and provide cohesion for what is, in reality, a collection of pictures from incredibly disparate journeys.
With his writing, Abbas assesses his own position within photography. By calling himself a photojournalist rather than a “photo painter” (presumably an artist who centres themselves rather than the use of their photography), he provokes a useful question: Do these pictures say more about the photographer than they manage to relate about the subject, and does this change when the pictures rest within a book? The subject itself, on these pages at least, is hard to get close to – in contrast, let’s say, to the intimacy of Larry Towell’s Mennonites project. Abbas attempts a more global reach. Photographs drawn from more thorough stories sit next to those from other regions in formal pairings; young Hassidic Jews study sacred texts and melt (at the book’s gutter) into a classroom of Egyptian children who recite the Koran; the twisted hands of a disabled child in South Korea reach out towards entwined hands in Lourdes. In this layout, though appealing, they appear of limited depth. The smaller images in the book punctuate more expansive pages, and it is these full-bleed reproductions that save the book by relating the work’s energy. Occasionally, pictures are set into the page, or set on a bed of black ink, emphasising the detail and layout of particular scenes and providing a welcome shift in pace. The book, though loose in narrative and guilty of a handful of lukewarm inclusions, successfully relates the dexterity of Abbas’ photography. His best pictures show diverse qualities. Some offer a sensitive and carefully managed
use of the frame; a child’s circumcision is both terrible and routine, rich in perspective and a mapping of age and inheritance. Elsewhere, in situations of trauma and urgency, he reacts perfectly to relate the terror of a Shah sympathiser, dragged to her own lynching by a chanting, cantering gang. This picture, coming late in a book that takes us to the threshold of a complex and imperative debate, signals a dark, restless close – and it is nothing short of stunning. KG
Beijing: Theatre of the People Ambroise Tézenas Published by Dewi Lewis www.dewilewispublishing.com £25 (120pp Hardback) If one of the roles of photography is to reveal aspects of the world, another is to subvert established notions and conventional wisdom. Ambroise Tézenas sets out to confound us. Many visitors to Beijing come away with a sense of a noisy, fast, teeming and dusty city seriously intent on uprooting its past; Tézenas chooses (in the main) to portray hidden backwaters in a filmic and melancholic mood and even the massive reconstruction projects he depicts are virtually without people. “It may seem strange but at no time did I experience a sense of the population density of Beijing,” he avows. This publication won the European Publishers Group Award for 2006 and it certainly reflects a familiar zeitgeist of contemporary photography. Many photographers working at the edge of those muddled crossroads between journalism, documentary and art concentrate on what theorists call the Absence of Presence. Tézenas expresses strong social concern for what is happening to Beijing and its citizens but his creative choice is to make people non-existent or transient in his images. This is an artist’s decision not a documentarist’s; we learn a lot about Tézenas’s response to the situation, little about the experiences of people most affected by change. As a member of the French Agence Editing, Tézenas’s former work was predominantly in the field of reportage; he was heavily influenced by the photographers of Magnum and “this has had an impact on my way of looking at everything that touches on photography”. Unlike some prominent ex-photojournalists who enthusiastically reject their past allegiances by embracing the art/gallery scene lock, stock and barrel, Tézenas is loyal to what he calls the “defining experience” of commissioned press work. In Beijing, however, Tézenas
worked with a 5 x 4 camera during five trips between 2001 and 2005; he was able to witness the wholesale demolition of the old residential areas, or hutongs, as the city embraced a massive modernisation and redevelopment programme with one eye on the 2008 Olympics and another on China’s emerging commercial clout. He walked for days through Beijing, lugging his heavy equipment, “a bit like a disorientated pilgrim”. Tézenas’s vision is aesthetically intriguing but curiously devoid of emotion. The night time images of this disappearing world become repetitive and stylistically similar so we end up with documentation rather than comment or interpretation. In spite of his
reluctance to engage with people, it is the photographs depicting people that stay in the mind. However hard the author as artist sought to distance himself by using a large format camera with tripod, he couldn’t quite suppress his reportage instincts. Colin Jacobson
Le Mal d’Afrique: A Journey into Old and New Africa Guillaume Bonn Published by Empire Editions www.empireeditions.com $45 (144pp Hardback) “The disease of Africa” – so this book’s French title translates into English. Photojournalist Guillaume Bonn was the third generation of his family to be born in Madagascar and has lived most of his life in Kenya. In light of this privileged position a title such as this becomes more justified … or does it? Le Mal d’Afrique is quite ambitious in its scope. Bonn’s purpose in creating it, as he mentions in the introduction, was to “break free from seeing Africa in one stereotypical way. Rather, it is to visually commingle all the different worlds …” Doing so in a mere 150 pages does not seem viable. He approaches this goal by setting the book apart in four seemingly disparate sections: My Family, Traditions, The New Africa and Men & Wildlife. The images taken by Bonn’s great-grandfather and grandfather from the 1920s and 40s, beginning and ending the book, are timeless and also the most emblematic of the root of Africa’s problems, only touched upon in this book, stemming from colonial times. Revealing his family history and background firmly situates this book on a deeply personal level and becomes more about Bonn himself than the issues facing Africa today. In the Traditions section Bonn describes the Massai tribe and their customs pertaining to young boys’ initiation as warriors. The images accompanying this are beautiful, classic images of traditional Africa similar to those we have seen from the pages of National Geographic. In the section titled New Africa, the direction of the narrative becomes more vague and drawing links between the images more tenuous. The main focus here is on the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Images of poverty, modernisation and the still apparent colonialist divide between the races dominate
here. When suddenly we are shown images from Uganda, bringing up the country’s conflict with the LRA, the structure is diluted. These sudden jumps are curious; surely a more coherent and valid point would have been made by staying focused on one subject at a time. The most intriguing, visually and factually, is the section on Men & Wildlife. The problem of controlling the hunting in Africa brings up many valid points relating to the senseless killing for ivory and game meat and on the other side of the spectrum killing for game, mostly done by the white tourists. This tradition more than signifies in itself the hardships Africa is facing due to the reaping
of its natural resources, animals included. Not much photographic work is created on this subject and perhaps an entire publication focusing mainly on this aspect would have been of greater interest and meaning. Some images seem quite dated but also iconic and such is their appeal. A strong journalistic approach flows through this section and it is obviously something that the photographer was deeply interested in, perhaps more so than the other themes represented in the book. To see photographic work about Africa by a black African photographer is quite rare. Bonn’s position does provide him with some privileged views
of the country seen through a colonialist family history that has always considered Africa home. Perhaps by taking this as his best asset and working more on the role he and others have played in shaping the continent into what it is today, will a more coherent and interesting point be made. Bonn has been privy to observe first hand “the disease of Africa” but does not manage to elucidate exactly what it is. LH
Rice is Life Published by Greenpeace www.greenpeace.org ÂŁ22 (124pp Softback) Rainforest Thomas Marent Published by Dorling Kindersley Books www.dorlingkindersley-uk.co.uk $40 (360pp Hardback) The Human Footprint: Challenges for Wilderness and Biodiversity Published by Cemex www.cemex.com $50 (322pp Hardback)
At what point does a professional photographer admit that he cannot match the work of an amateur? For Geng Yunsheng, it was a few months after he had taught five peasant rice farmers in Yunnan province in China the rudiments of photography. On behalf of Greenpeace, who were anxious to celebrate sustainable farming, he had given them each a camera, and urged them to record their lives. Every month he went back to their villages, gave them new film and took away the old. After a year he had several thousand pictures, 101 of which have now been printed in a slim book to express the beauty and hardship, the joy and the depth of rural life in China. They are simple enough. Five men carrying a log; an old woman being given a massage; four men ploughing a rice field like bullocks; people returning from the fields with firewood; men smoking pipes; the planting of rice; a wedding; the old looking after the young; young men relaxing after the harvest; a
woman bent double. But there is a rare grace and – so unfashionable this – a true happiness and unselfconsciousness in the pictures. This portrait of peasant life expresses the hardship but also the rhythms, the satisfaction, harmony and the richness of culture and community. To see people relaxing in front of a camera is a joy, as is seeing photographers working from the inside out. With true insight, Li Mingfu, one of the farmers, also gave the simplest reason ever to take pictures: “I took them to tell the people outside what we have seen,” he said. Geng Yungsheng, the professional, tried to sum up the project. “I am greatly impressed. I may even doubt sometimes if they were really taken by the farmers themselves; but there’s nothing to doubt; the farmers are living in the pictures every day and can catch the most exciting scenes. By contrast, I as a professional am more than often failing to
capture the essence. We could hardly believe these were shot by five farmers with virtually no experience of using photography. Maybe the emotion indicated in these pictures could never have been injected by professional photographers from outside the communities.” By contrast, The Human Footprint offers 300 pages of high quality aerial pictures purporting to show man’s impact on wilderness. The pictures are by the likes of Yann Arthus Bertrand, National Geographic staffers, Magnum and big US conservation photographers like Mike Fay. You know the drill: exquisite Colorado coastlines, achingly beautiful Micronesian islands, waterfalls, glaciers. Wow. Actually, the whole book stinks of money and PR. It may also have some flashy essays by expensive “thinkers” like Jared Diamond, but this is really a massive PR exercise for Cemex, the world’s third largest concrete maker who commissioned it. The editors are at pains to say how wonderful and
careful the company is, but it is all American corporate greenwash. The fact is that Cemex mixes 98 million tonnes of cement a year, is responsible for vast areas of land being dug up for gravel and is a mighty emitter of carbon dioxide. To then commission a lush coffee table book about the beauty of what is left of wild nature is outrageous, and those who have taken money from it should give it back at once. By contrast again, Thomas Marent, a Swiss photographer, lives and breathes rainforests, and has come close to death in them. He has put together an astonishingly rich portrait of these wet, magical places and has captured their uniqueness and convoluted ecology. Here, in several hundred portraits, are rivers flowing like milk; insects and flowers of unimaginable shape and size; parasites, pathogens, masters of deception and disguise, ants and reptiles. The only life form in the forest missing from Marent’s world, it seems, is man. This is a shame, because
tens of thousands of indigenous peoples have made these forests that stretch over one sixth of the world their home, and to some extent have shaped them and defended them. They deserve to be recorded with the same passion and sensitivity. John Vidal
Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV and Africa Steve Simon Published by Charta www.chartaartbooks.it w23.20 (104pp Softback) Cartier Bresson once said that taking photographs is “putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”. This is the feeling that you get when looking at Steve Simon’s pictures of communities in Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zambia and Mozambique. Each image has a strong and striking composition that connects with its subject and tells a story that comes from a true alignment of head, eye and heart. His subject is the people of subSaharan Africa who are affected by HIV/Aids. While the pictures are allowed to stand alone and communicate directly as images, detailed captions at the end of the book provide valuable information and context. This could be the fact that the body in a coffin, carried along a dusty track in the heat of the day, was a 35 year-old woman, or the sobering statistic that almost 10 per cent of children under 17 in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents to Aids. While HIV and Aids, by necessity, permeates much of the story, what comes through again and again is Simon’s love of Africa and its people. He has concentrated on rural villages, where fertile plains stretch out to the mountains, and clouds hang low in the vast skies; where the colours in people’s blankets and shawls glow bright.
It is by remembering and capturing the beauty of the landscape and the people, that the tragedy and violation of this incurable disease is brought acutely into consciousness – into one’s own head, eye and heart. The book is paced carefully to take you from this point of awe and wonder, into the intimate homes, churches and community medical centres with people trying to cope, and on to the more harrowing scenes inside hospitals where people are dying and staring into the blank distance. Simon documents how HIV/ Aids has forced communities to reorganise themselves. He shows how it often now falls on grandmothers to care for large families where parents have died, and how they are summoning up strength – as the last generation largely unaffected by the disease – to run support centres. In Lesotho, where 28 per cent of the adult population is estimated to be infected with the disease, its funeral services are overwhelmed. They are photographed with coffins half open in order for relatives to identify the correct bodies, and we witness a chilling scene where coffins for infants, children and adults lie jumbled up in a back room. Outside, a line of women stand in-front of a hand-painted sign whose polite instruction might provide a gallows humour, if it wasn’t so pertinent: ‘Kindly ensure that the body you take out of the mortuary is that of your relative. UTH will not accept liability for any wrong identification.’ The mobilisation of energy and resources is shown in numerous and impressive ways – from
aerobics classes to touring dramas on safe sex. The care and tenderness given to those suffering is moving and, at points, uplifting – a giant old lady in a red-striped dress is mobbed by a gang of orphaned boys in the centre she set up in Lesotho. There is a real sense that people are pulling together to help themselves in the very difficult circumstances. But finally, the book ends with hope for the future: Africa’s children, their education, and those funny rubber things in little wrappers. Standing in classrooms, opening them up, the children have a look, wave them about and even make them pop-up and inflate from a special box. Packed in, the children are doubled up laughing at these pale balloons that, they may discover, are their best chance for staying alive. It is a good sight. Ruth Hedges
perhaps the last thing to notice, are red and tearful. In this, one of the stronger pictures in this monograph, the clarity of large format colour photography adds such details and complexities.
Figure and Ground Richard Renaldi Published by Aperture www.aperture.org £25 (156pp Hardback) One of the hardest challenges for a photographer is to master distance in a picture. Looking at the work of Richard Renaldi in Figure and Ground I am mindful of a photographer who is wrestling with this too. The book is substantial in volume, a collection of photographs from discrete projects made over the last seven years and adopting a dual viewpoint of the American land and its people. Renaldi works with brief acquaintances. Travelling freely, his portraits are often made during breaks from listless jobs, or in the stations and waiting areas endured in transit. He photographs those who sit quietly in thought or in limbo, chasing a dream or quietly leaving. These studies are captioned with a note of first names and the long journeys pending – a strategy that draws a sense of vulnerability in the movement of real lives across a vast and insurmountable country. Working with such a breadth of population can make a piece of work too general. If there is an emphasis, it is that Renaldi’s subjects are often adolescents, preoccupied and adorned with tattoos or the personal fashions of (self-) conscious American Youth. In an otherwise empty bus terminal in Amarillo, Texas, a teenage girl shapes herself and faces the camera. Her grey sweatshirt is stained and worn-in above a pink skirt. Her eyes,
Returning to a sense of distance, Renaldi’s subjects often seem withdrawn within the frame. In Winslow, Arizona, against an unremarkable bungalow sprawl, a young woman is vivid against late autumn light. Occupying the centre of the frame, she feels a few steps away, somehow remote to us. Quietly, this becomes a signature in the work, the binding of people to their own towns and streets. In this respect, they are more engaging than some of Renaldi’s closer studies that slip from the pulse, and lessen the book’s cohesion. The book is paced by strong interjections of landscape and architectural photographs. Suddenly empty, they become borderlands, hinting at economies that hold and will eventually shape those who people these pictures. Whether detailing the cream majesty of Newark business blocks, fringed by thrift stores offering of easy credit, or the functional ordinariness of El Paso, Texas, they are strong and successful parameters, a frayed foil to the exhilarations of youth in this ambitious photographer’s American index. KG
Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour Published by Merrell www.merrellpublishers.com £35 (160pp Hardback) The hour of fading light after the sun has set – magic hour – is treasured by photographers; the quality of the soft light depends on the weather, the season, and the location, but it always informs the feel of the photograph in its specificity. Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour, is not about photography at twilight, but rather about photography of twilight, of the moods that have come to be associated with the liminal moment between day and night. This book and the recent exhibit at the V&A, edited and curated by Martin Barnes and Kate Best, are an effort to describe the cultural resonance of twilight as evidenced in recent photography, bringing together the work of eight photographers for whom the suggestion of twilight (or in the case of Liang Yue, muted light, and for Boris Mikhailov, muted prints) informs the narrative tone of the pictures. This task is easier said than done, not least because twilight, while evocative, nonetheless evokes many different ideas and feelings. However, the effect of the book is powerful and provocative due to an interesting argument supported by exceptional photography, and excellent supporting essays. Gregory Crewdson and PhilipLorca diCorcia add artificial light to twilight to create pictures that deploy two very different kinds of cinema language: Crewdson calls up one set of cinematic references to twilight with larger than life magical realist tableaux while diCorcia evokes the look and
feel of realist “New Hollywood” movies of the 1970s in which twilight opened up a moment of loneliness and uncertainty. For both photographers, twilight suggests a moment of possibility and self-consciousness, as it does in Bill Henson’s portraits at the moment at which twilight surely becomes night, in Ori Gersht’s pictures of sublime evening skies overwhelming city skylines, and in Chrystel Lebas’ panoramic images of light falling in forests. In Lebas and Henson’s pictures, and in Liang Yue’s series of a distant figure holding a warm signal lamp in cityscapes overcome by the haze of dust storms, the awareness of possibility hovers between anticipation and dread. Robert Adams’ romantic Summer Nights series anchors these explorations at one end with its views of landscapes and countryside reclaiming the world at night; even a carnival ride, all electricity, is no match for the deep bank of light and cloud descending on it. The other anchor for this collection is Boris Mikhailov’s series, At Dusk. Where Adams romanticises the certainty of light, landscape, and time, Mikhailov’s pictures from the Ukraine in the early 1990s anxiously depict the uncertainty of human action and the precariousness of time passing. By bookending the collection between Adams and Mikhailov, the argument, suggested by the title, is that photography itself stands at a magic hour, a liminal, transitional moment, between the modernist imaging of the certainty of things, and an overtly subjective and political engagement. The move from Adams to Mikhailov, the editors suggest, is a journey through a metaphorical magic hour; at twilight we wonder who we were, where we are. Leo Hsu
child – the film concentrates as much on the actual group dynamics of being at Renfrew, as a patient, as staff, and as visiting family. The group dynamics play out most vividly among the four or so young women and during their general “community meetings” with the entire group of patients and staff. This is very dramatic stuff with girls struggling to eat, vomiting, sneaking cigarettes, ragging on staff, undergoing searches, engaging in middleschool level power games with one another, and suffering complete emotional meltdowns. The women also discuss their eating disorders and their perceptions of themselves in relation to their ideal image.
Thin Director Lauren Greenfield 110 Minutes, DVD HBO, 2006 $24.98 Thin Lauren Greenfield Published by Chronicle Books www.chroniclebooks.com $35.00 (224pp Hardback)
It is not every disease that has its own tattoo, but persons with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa who belong to the American National Eating Disorder Association, often tattoo themselves with a pair of ribbons, red denoting anorexia and purple recovery. Ana and Mia – for anorexia and bulimia – affect some five million women and girls in America and, increasingly, worldwide. Approximately one in seven dies of the disease. Although the disease is overwhelmingly female and middle class, it cuts across the entire demographic and affects men and boys as well. At the root of the condition are the contradictory body images that society increasingly sells to girls and women – of razor-thin models living happy, sexy, successful lives. Think of Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham (but not for too long). Hardly a week goes by before another model dies of an eating disorder related heart attack or organ failure, most recently Carla Sobrado Casalle and Ana Carolina Reston, both young Brazilian models. With
“I just want to be thin. If it takes dying to get there, so be it” Polly (30 years old)
omnipresent imagery and celebrity hype shaping female images, many women and girls seek to attain the ultimate thin, Size Zero, even if it kills them. Lauren Greenfield has explored aspects of social roles, peer pressure, and eating disorders among young women and girls in two previous books, Fast Forward (1999) and Girl Culture (2002), yet her latest effort, Thin, goes much further in examining the culture of body images and the ramifications when it gets out of hand. The Thin project, a traditional book with interviews and images by Greenfield and a TV documentary for HBO, the Home Box Office network, directed by her, examined the lives of young women and girls at the Renfrew Center, an inpatient facility in Boca Raton, Florida, with a day rate of $1,500, for people with eating disorders. Greenfield, a member of the VII
Photography Agency, worked with HBO for over two years to develop the project and spent 10 weeks shooting some 200 hours of tape with a small camera crew over a six-month period. Her team was granted unprecedented access to staff and patients who consented to being filmed and interviewed. She followed up the story for more than 18 months, after the film was finished, to do further still images and to conduct interviews for the book. The stories track the lives of four patients in particular, Polly (30), Alisa (30), Brittany (15), and Shelley (25), as well as various others who flesh out a range of ages, socio-economic levels, and personal histories among the patients. The two halves of Thin illustrate the different modalities and structures of books and movies. Whereas the book may be followed linearly or at random and provides more opportunity for patients’ backstories – many of which feature sexual abuse as a
The movie version brings the Schrödinger’s Cat principle into the equation: does observing the experiment change the result. This principle is also vital to photojournalism. How does documenting something, especially with a camera or a film crew, affect what is going on? What is being staged for the camera is a question all journalists are confronted with on a daily basis. Similarly, the theatrics of patient interactions sometimes seem like some hammy student production. The camera, like the pen, also seeks out dramatic characters with interesting stories. The book may more freely include stories of the more mundane patients, but film and television demand action and drama. Greenfield argues that the girls and women at Renfrew were more preoccupied with their daily life and death struggles to be concerned with playing for the camera. This version also reveals details less visible in the book. We see how the women talk, their mannerisms, and their body language. Camera angles play a role as well as images shot from sitting on the floor level bring a different perspective and subtle judgments to otherwise straight interviews. Similarly the omnipresence of pharmaceutical advertisements in the calendars, wall clocks, mouse pads, and refrigerator magnets points to the role the industry plays in medical facilities where psycho-active drugs are a way of life (and death).
Le Fleuve Mure Pierre Montavon Published by Cadrat Editions www.cadrateditions.ch w37.50 (147pp Hardback) This beautiful and clever book takes as its subject the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China. Swiss photographer, Pierre Montavon, photographed the affected provinces of Hubei and Chongquin, between 2003 and 2006. Le Fleuve Mure is eloquently presented in three sequences. The first chapter, photographed in black and white, shows parts of the construction of the dam. Abstract tragic landscapes and details cohabit here, depicting the enormous scale of the dam. The second part is on the human and social upheaval caused by the rise of water level. Numerous neighbourhoods were completely destroyed, forcing more than two million residents to migrate away from their roots and occupations.
When the photographer turns to colour, in the final section, it automatically brings a more modern tone and shows a new side of China. It is dedicated to the countryâ€™s urban plans and on the relocation of the population affected by the dam. The sudden use of colour emphasises what has been lost on the way.
Other images point out to problems in the American way of life. Some of the staff at Renfrew are overweight if not obese. How that affects patients with severe body image problems is open to question. Likewise, when the patients are introduced to â€œnormalâ€? food and eating experiences it is inevitably at some fast food restaurant with its calorie laden nachos and French fries. Thin is a powerful glimpse into the world of eating disorders and attempts to control them. Greenfield records the stories of several patients as they struggle to regain their health at Renfrew Center. The women confront their personal histories with anorexia and bulimia at a completely personal level. The film is up-close and personal, almost too personal. Thin is, as the PR people at Renfrew and Greenfield state, but a snapshot of what
goes on both at the Center and in the lives of these women in the film and with people with eating disorders in general. That said, Thin makes for compelling watching. The book and film are accompanied by a website, www.laurengreenfield.com, which provides backstories, deleted scenes, resource guides, and an ongoing series of blogs and forums where women in the film and others post commentaries in an ongoing give and take. BK
It seems a shame that Montavon did not concentrate on one particular family. It would have been fascinating to document the journey and battle of one small group of people rather than have a less personal but more global approach to the situation. Yet the standard of photography, the pristine design and the beautiful Chinese calligraphy which opens the book ensure this oversight is not terminal. The text by Frederic Koller accompanying the photographs is in French, and is also translated into Chinese in the book. It definitely deserves to be translated and published in English too, as it cleverly describes the historical, political, social and ecological impact of the construction of the dam in great detail. LM
The Black Panthers Stephen Shames Published by Aperture www.aperture.org £19.50 (152pp Hardback) At a time of rich rebel iconography, no other revolutionarily minded group of the era played with images as well as the Black Panther Party in the years 1965-1972. For all the posters of Che Guevara, it was but one picture of one man on every girl’s dormroom wall. The Panthers were the embodiment of political committedness, civil rights, righteous struggle, and they were as sexy as hell in their Afros, berets “patterned after the Resistance,” their shades, and their leather jackets. The conscious eroticism of their imagery obscures the relevance of their political programme, “What We Want, What We Believe,” whose 10 points still resonate today in America. It obscures the infighting that every movement has, with often fatal consequences, and it obscured the war carried out against them by J Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Richard Nixon’s COINTELPRO programme that served to defend a still racist, conservative regime against most forms of democratic change and played into the hands of the militants in the Panther Party. Of all the photographers of the era who covered the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, perhaps none is as important as Stephen Shames whose work is now collected in a book, The Black Panthers, published by Aperture. Panther founding chairman Bobby Seale records that he invited Shames to be the photographer for the movement’s weekly newspaper, The Black Panther, and thus “embedded” with them. It is this unusual access and intimacy to all aspects of the Black Panther Party that makes this the most important document to date.
images of the BPP, he also photographed their performative, public presence with its press conferences, sit-ins and rallies, he also documented their efforts to effect political change by encouraging self-help, selfdetermination, social work, and the Panthers’ education programmes as much as he showed images of their armed, self-defence efforts in the wake of police shootings that claimed the lives of several of their members. From his first shots of Bobby Seale and Huey P Newton from a 15 April 1967 demonstration against the Viet-Nam War at the University of California, Berkeley, through the arrests and sieges in Oakland, California, and New Haven, Connecticut, and the trials and funerals of George Jackson, Bobby Hutton, and others, Shames was there and accepted as an insider by the Panthers. At a talk a few years ago in Oakland, he relates that he was asked by an audience member if he had been a party member, he said, “No, I was a photographer.” Former Panthers in the audience got up and said, “Steve, we always considered you a member of the party.” In the introduction to his book Shames writes, “That is a badge I wear with honor.” Other photographers, notably Jeffrey Scales, Pirkle Jones, and Michelle Vignes, were there as well, but it is Shames’s images that stand out as the most complete document to date. BK
His images of Bobby Seale, Huey P Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, and others at work and play are vital to the understanding of the movement. Not only did he create the iconic
Photo Trouvée Published by Phaidon www,phaidon.com £24.95 (320pp Hardback) This collection is born out of a recent trend towards found (or lost) pictures that has led to such publishing ventures as Found Magazine and FLOH, a particularly beautiful book by artist Tacita Dean. Is the fascination for Photo Trouvée down to our need to relate our individual take on the world to that of “strangers”? Or is it purely voyeurism or simple curiosity? Are we aware that our new digital era might minimise the possibility of this kind of collection, as we hit the delete buttons instead of keeping the “rejected” pictures in our storage boxes ? Reading this book is like walking past houses at night time and watching through the brightly lit windows of other people’s homes to try to grasp a scent of their private everyday moments. It is like a small anthropology of the “ordinary”. Some of the pictures send you off into a daydream, wondering what their subjects were like, where they were, and what were they possibly doing at the time of the picture. Sometimes these amateur photographs reveal the intention of the person taking them and their clumsiness or carelessness shines through in unexpected ways: this is what gives them their particular charm.
Villa Mona: A Proper Kind of House Marjolaine Ryley Published byTRACE Editions www.traceisnotaplace.com £15 (81pp Hardback) This is a modest book, with minimal captions, yet plenty of intrigue. Between the wooden doors that beckon you in through the front cover, and the interior flower-print wallpaper, a family and their house is revealed in photography and writing. most respected photography historians, and Cedric de Veigy, is well demonstrated in this publication, yet the book lacks coherence and it was difficult to distinguish its 18 sections. If you are looking for a constructive narrative photobook then this might not be your thing. The beauty of this publication is the fact that each picture has its own history, and stands almost a chapter of a book itself. The proverbial one thousand words, perhaps. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer amateur photographers get their snaps printed these days. Their “lost” pictures will remain forever trapped in their hard drives. LM
Belgian-born Marjolaine Ryley has created a portrait of the home on the Belgian coast in which she spent much of her childhood, as had her mother before that, and her grandmother before that. The continuity of generations and accumulated treasures and belongings is the story’s focus. Patterns and light provide repeated motifs in this gentle homage. It is about as sharp a contrast to the idea of home purveyed on programmes such as Location, Location, Location, where a home is a property, as you can imagine. Perhaps that’s why Ryley has called the Villa Mona a “proper kind of house”. It is proper because it is an evolution and a history, where things don’t match and clutter tells stories. But perhaps there is also irony, because not all is “proper” as the bourgeois validation implies (nor would it want to be).
The book is well designed, the personality of each photograph is preserved, not disturbed by any words or captions on their page; one single picture a page. The photographs are printed quite small on the A5 page, and although I believe in small prints for their intimate quality, I think some of the pictures here deserve a larger format.
Patterns criss-cross, adorn and swirl in fabric, curtains, plates, cushions, rugs, aprons, tablecloths, but also in family life and domestic routines: the making and preparing of food, the drinking of tea, the sitting together and talking. These are the daily activities that weave the family and house together, creating its familiar refrain.
A couple of pages of captions at the back of the book would have been useful to nourish my interest: simple information like the name of the place where the picture was found, for example.
Patches of light are captured in quiet stillness as they move slowly across the rooms, warming carpets and furniture as they make their journey from east to west. These pictures are nostalgic for childhood when you notice such things, and a poignant nod to old age when there is time to watch the hours’ passing.
The choice of the pictures is rich and various, but sometimes feels random. The talent of Michel Frizot, one of the world’s
The feminine presence is strong and defining. Men feature in photographs only twice – once reading the paper in a darkened room, and another blurred into the background by the focus on a vase of roses. There is, however, a third and beguiling image which appears to be soft homosexual erotica. It is the framed sepiatinged picture of an athletic naked man in Grecian discus pose. It’s rather beautiful, and is in fact, the great-grandfather – M. Marin – a physiotherapist who taught fitness in local schools. In one of three elegant and imaginative written accompaniments to the pictures, Brigitte Ryley, recalls how her grandfather “became more and more at home in the area of physical perfection and beauty than in the chaotic realms of women and sexual desire.” So delicately put. Marjolaine Ryley has put together an eloquent study of, and tribute to, her family home, that is not without wit, subversion and sadness, but is held together with love. Ruth Hedges
Naked Punch www.nakedpunch.com The thing about academic journals is that they are targeted at their intended audience with a good deal more accuracy than a state-of-the-art missile. It is for this reason that it is difficult, unfair, even, to attempt a review of a product that is not strictly meant for me. It feels a bit like asking John Reid to describe a functioning government department. In the case of Naked Punch, I suspect it’s written for a very specific group of Nietzschean neo-Marxists with an abiding interest in Middle East politics, although I could be wrong. There’s something about this circular type of publishing venture that despite the very worldliness it seeks to disseminate, nonetheless feels as though it has been created in a vacuum. This doesn’t mean it is without interest. Naked Punch offers a mix of essays, interviews, poetry and art, as well as a dedicated section (which presumably changes each issue) on Latin America. Qalander Bux Memon, one of the editors, opens this issue with a ‘fragment of a prologue’ on the ongoing Palestinian conflict, declaring solidarity with the people of that country and also the people of Lebanon. The writing style is polemical, and as such does not carry a particularly insightful message, weighed down as it is by rhetoric. Yet elsewhere in the journal, a poem, On late night trains and Yellow Roses [sic] shows a much more
NAKED PUNCH B ISSUE 08
F GILBERT HAGE
Beyond the Lens.
from that of the country itself, in a day and age when being an Arab holds meaning beyond that of the individual?
Sitting for “Ici et Maintenant” (Here and Now) is a quick and emotionless experience. In a dim basement studio, there is a blank background, a couple of light sources and a chair facing a medium-format camera on a tripod. You sit, and fumble a bit while he adjusts the height of lens. There is usually silence. Then he asks you to look into the camera. Shoulders back, head high, back straight, and look into the camera. Look deep in the camera. Head aligned with your spine axis. Think of nothing. Look into the lens… Look beyond the lens… Beyond the lens. And the light pops with that little whirring noise, once, twice, and before you know it, it’s all over. Ten minutes at best.
Each of the portraits carries an identity borne from their name. They are Jad Eid, Sara Saliba, or Yves Atallah. They are not anonymous faces, but stare defiantly across the room with an identity that is fact, yet illusory. The name is the only sign that can engage the viewer in dialogue with the subject, yet it remains a name. It is an obstacle to stereotyping inasmuch as it offers clues, however much invalidated, to re-place the person into a mould. Hage says: “I am thoroughly convinced that human face or the portrait is neither determined or real; however it is receptive, flexible and subjected to changes. It oscillates between realities and illusions. Human expressions are only defined culturally and structured socially.”
In a way, that may be why the imposing portraits, once placed within the context of an exhibition (shot on a six by seven film, they are subsequently blown up to 175 x 150 cm), seem to stare through you, as opposed to into your eyes. Their gaze is not that of a communicative eye-lock, and they don’t seem to have anything to say, most probably because there is no dialogue during the shoot itself. The gaze is almost blank, yet it is charged with a substance and poise that eventually demarcates the portraits from a common “passport picture” analogy that an un-discerning viewer may call upon them. The gaze of each of the portraits pierces through the viewer and into the space beyond.
In light of the recent events that shook the country once again, the post-war generation is still in a postwar time, which legitimizes even more the scope of Hage’s work. The selected photographs are actually part of a bigger plan of compiling up to 1000 portraits in view of a major exhibition one day. Already exhibited in Beirut as well as in Berlin’s House of World Cultures in 2004 (as part of a conference on globalization and identity), the work continues to speak in terms of the carving of a contemporary Lebanese self. As part of the Lebanese post-war generation myself, and with my portrait hanging bigger than life-size, I may just be extrapolating… Hage concludes by saying that “I intend to seize the frontier that exists only anthropologically”, projecting faces that are linked only by their land and “Lebanese” appellation, and by the fate of having grown-up in a country finding its feet. No more, no less.
When the shoot is over, you state your full name on a piece of paper. And then you are whisked out into the sun and on your way to wherever you came from…
F Rasha Kahil
subtle talent at work by the same writer. I had to reread a further ‘fragment of a prologue’ by Nadim Samman, On Work Experience, several times over, to ensure I was not missing a deeper allegorical message. The writer invokes Nietzsche, Seneca and Hume, among others, to muse upon the lot of the unpaid intern, concluding that such ‘pseudoemployment’ is “a deeply conservative, anti-egalitarian, state of affairs”. The main thrust of the piece appears to be that only the rich can take unpaid work, ergo, institutions that offer unpaid internships are excluding those with limited means. Surely in the shadowy arena of corporate misdemeanour, this practise is somewhat less sinister than, say, slave labour or trafficking women? But then comes a thoughtful piece of writing by Simon Critchley, ruminating, as many
philosophers have before him, on the elusive subject of happiness. His most pertinent observations are on thought itself, on the act of thinking, and on the impossibility of thinking about thinking. Using the sea as a starting point for thought, Critchley suggests: “Cities sometimes slip into the sea, eaten alive by their thoughtfulness, like Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast …” This evocative picture sounds like a poetic starting point for the book he is certain he will never finish. A bright yellow page heralds the Lebanese Contemporary Art Dossier, which includes a striking set of portraits by Gilbert Hage. He asked his subjects to stare beyond the lens for ten minutes in silence, we discover, and it is this charged yet blank gaze that holds our eye as we gaze back at the wide plains and slightly sunken valleys of these young Lebanese faces. A more conceptual piece of work by Jean-Noel Aoun sees the photographer playing with
<< by Rasha Kahil
All of the eight subjects shot by Hage, like him, are Lebanese. More specifically, they are part of the postwar generation, not under 18, not over 30 (seemingly), who have been blessed with the burden of having to define what “being Lebanese” really means. Having taught photography at the USEK and at ALBA universities in Beirut over the past 10 years, Hage is constantly surrounded by what he refers to as a “youth seeking motivations”. And to possess motivations, one needs to have more or less formed an identity. But, in a Lebanon renowned for its cultural, religious and class jumble, how easy is it to forge an identity that detaches itself
So maybe the economy of words when sitting for Gilbert and the inconstant gaze of the subject say it all. Gilbert Hage is represented by the Tanit Gallery, Munich, and has exhibited in Lebanon, Syria, France, Germany and Brazil. He is currently working on a project about the July 2006 events in Lebanon. Gilbert teaches photography at USEK and ALBA universities in Beirut. www.gilberthage.com
viewpoint by inserting a picture of himself taking a photograph in a series called Beruit Un-Scene 2006. Aoun becomes the moment of impact and the effect is both unsettling and thoughtprovoking. For the dedicated reader, there are many more in-depth essays and interviews with leading anthropologists, political theorists and professors of philosophy. For the less-academically-inclined but nonetheless politically and philosophically engaged, there’s this great magazine called EI8HT. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it … MH
Forgotten War: Democratic Republic of the Congo Published by de.MO www.de-mo.org £20 (128pp Softback) “Compassion fatigue” became one of the nastier strains of the 1980s, the sense that one could have too much of a bad thing, especially when the bad things came from Africa. The ailment arose as a reaction to Live Aid and the perceived hectoring of Sir Bob Geldof. Every once in a while, western consciences are pricked by some alarming and immediate catastrophe, but for too many in the West and the East and the North of that continent, the litanies mount up into a blur. Places few have heard of crash onto our screens, and then fade, remembered not as homes but as events. Biafra is one such place, as is Ogaden, or Katanga,or Goma, just as Darfur has entered the lexicon of horror. How then, do those who plug away at improving Africa reach into our souls? This is a special quandary. Ask anyone who has spent time in any African nation as a diplomat, aid worker, tourist, peacekeeper, businessman, musicologist, economist, doctor or mercenary and they will implore you to go and see for yourself the humanity, the humour, the hospitality, the everyday saintliness and the sheer terrifying random chaos of the place from which they have traversed. This book is a case in point. Forgotten War takes five photographers to the most benighted corner of the continent
and presents us with their souvenirs. I admit with a modicum of shame that a wave of cynicism washed over me as I first flicked through this collection. In fact, the headline that sprang to mind was ‘Madonna’s New Catalogue’. Still, there were snaps that caught my attention, to which I returned and found mesmerising. There is a photo by Gary Knight of a patient in a hospital. It is unclear if it is indoors or out, or if the cloths hanging from lines are washing or mosquito nets or bandages. It is unclear if the patient is male or female. It is unclear if the padded bandage across her/his mouth is to ward off infection or heal a facial injury. All that is still are his/her eyes. They burn out of the centre of the picture like Kalashnikov rounds. The picture could have been taken in China in 1937, or etched by Goya in 1812, or filmed by Fassbinder in 1974. It carries a message of loss, anger, strength, hopelessness and perfect stillness among some swirling wind. The photo was taken at a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Bunia, eastern Congo. That region is loaded with natural wealth and surrounded by predators. It is the epicentre of the worst humanitarian disaster to have stricken the entire Earth in the past 60 years. And every time you and I use our mobile telephones, we are profiting from the carnage. The region is cursed with enormous deposits of Coltan, a mineral that helps run the technology that makes mobiles mobile. Its value has skyrocketed as the mobile has become an essential encumbrance to our getting around and being heard. The higher the value of Coltan, it seems that human life devalues in direct proportion.
Rwanda, obviously desperate to prove that there is no nobility in suffering, stole Coltan in such vast quantities that Congo’s tiny neighbour briefly held a near global monopoly. Mass rape compounded the Aids crisis; slave labour was common; millions were displaced. By the time a peace of sorts was enforced, around four million Congolese lay dead. “Imagine a tsunami deadly as the one that devastated much of Asia during Christmas 2004, striking every few months. That’s the equivalent of what happened in Congo for six years.” Cholera, ebola, malaria and the plague still kill over 1,000 people each month. In Congo during the years 1998-2004, all four horsemen of the apocalypse ravaged at will. Five noted photographers, Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Joachim Ladefoged and James Nachtwey have gone and seen for themselves, and the souvenirs they have returned with are not for the mantelpiece, but for that private place one ought to store when one feels one’s compassion slumber. John O’Farrell
Photography Exhibitions and Events HOST Gallery 1 Honduras Street, London EC1Y 1 - 17 February Sandblast: Visions from the last colony in Africa Photographs highlighting the unknown lives of Saharawi people. 14 March – 13 April Magnum photographer Paul Fusco’s, RFK Funeral Train. www.hostgallery.co.uk Michael Hoppen Gallery 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 8 February – 10 March Gonzo, photographs of and by Hunter S Thompson. www.michaelhoppengallery.com Side Photographic Gallery 9 Side, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Until 10 March Survival Programmes The work of the Exit photography group and their mass observation on Britains inner cities in the 70s. www.amber-online.com St. Paul’s Cathedral London EC4M 21 February – 29 March Slave Britain: The 21st century trade in human lives, presented by Panos photographers. www.panos.co.uk London Book Fair Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, London SW5 16 – 18 April The yearly Spring forum for booksellers, publishers, librarians and worldwide. www.londonbookfair.co.uk f295 Symposium Pittsburg, PA USA 26 – 29 April A symposium on photographic processes for debate regarding the rising use of alternative photographic methods. www.f295.org/wordpress Dfoto San Sebastian, Spain 3 – 6 May The annual fair to boost private and corporate collecting, offering a space to consolidate photography and video in the art market. www.coff.es/es/dfoto07/
Rwanda is one of the five African countries that descended on the region to take sides and pelf in the civil war that first deposed the most corrupt dictator in Africa and dragged on in the wake of Mobuto Sese Seko. The term ‘kleptocracy’ was coined by a US diplomat who acted as a bagman for Mobuto. It could be said, in bitter retrospect, that at least the country’s wealth was being stolen by a native.
THE NEXT ISSUE OF EI8HT “MIND” We welcome your written and photographic contributions on this idea. See www.foto8.com/drr for full details on how to submit your work
enables Heat to reproduce such a quantity of images on a weekly basis also serves the independent sector. While once the independent press relied on photocopiers and staplers, now an Apple Mac and a digital camera enables even the smallest publication to reproduce photography to a high standard. It is easier than ever now to not only publish your own magazine, but do so to a professional standard.
125 Magazine www.125magazine.com Bidoun www.bidoun.com Chance Magazine www.ubosdesign.co.uk Day Four Magazine www.dayfour.info PowerHouse Magazine www.powerhousebooks.com Steppe www.steppemagazine.com Magazines and photography have been inextricably linked ever since the first half-tone reproduction was printed. So much so, it’s difficult now to imagine a magazine without photography; from the early photo-news magazines of the ’30s and ’40s, through the consumerism of the ’60s and ’70s, the style-obsessed ’80s and ’90s and on to today’s love-hate celebrity culture, photography has retained a central role in magazine publishing. The amount of photography created for and reproduced in magazines today is phenomenal – just check out one week’s output at your newsagent. But what value is put on all this photography? As I write, the current issue of Heat carries an extraordinary 484 individual pictures, of which only 17 are reproduced at anything like page size. Just as mainstream magazines themselves have become increasingly commodified, so the photography they reproduce is suffering the same fate. There is little space here for anything different or experimental – just more of the same, please, to be used as a stamp-sized visual cue. Luckily, the same technology that
There are many, many examples of self-published magazines, ranging from the mainstream wannabe through the clever niche publication to the absurd experiment. The key factor for success as a magazine is the passion and love of their subject matter, however obscure. Titles like France’s Yummy (fast food), Denmark’s S-magazine (erotic fashion imagery) and Germany’s 032c (art and trends) command small but loyal, international readerships. But what better subject to get passionate about than photography itself? There are plenty of independent magazines specialising in the subject, although many are hit-and-miss portfolios of imagery that simply don’t hold together as magazines, however great individual contributions might be. But give the content an editorial stance, a theme or an opinion, something for those creating the magazine to get passionate about, and chances are you have an engaging publication. Here are some recent launches that have, with different degrees of success, taken photography as their lead. Perhaps the most wilfully difficult of the lot is Chance magazine. This large-format, loose-leaf publication is published by west London design agency Ubos. They invited submissions from photographers on the theme of “chance” and acted as mediators, choosing and combining images on spreads to create a flow of imagery that appears to be quite random. Without words, the reader (viewer?) is left to search for meaning in the combinations of pictures, and occasionally one can find visual links between images on a spread. But it’s
unclear how much is intended and how much is, well … chance. An added dimension is provided by the unbound pages – pull the spreads apart and suddenly there are whole new combinations of images and half-images. This works well with the theme Chance, but an appeal for submissions for the second issue, to be themed “prophecy”, makes me wonder how the format can reflect that theme as strongly as it does Chance. But for this first issue, the minimal design suits the chosen images well, the paper and print are very high quality and the issue contains some great images. Day Four also uses a theme to hold each issue together, and has recently reached issue 5. Published to a very small print run by Fiona Hayes, who has a fulltime position as art director on a major consumer magazine, Day Four commissions content from international contributors. Recent themes have included Summer, which delivered few surprises but was nonetheless a satisfying visual précis of summer life here and abroad, and the more intriguing Ulysses issue. This involved 44 photographers around the world recording the minutiae of a single day, June 19, 2004. They were asked to take a picture on the hour every hour. The result is an endless drip-dripdrip of the mundane yet fascinating, made all the more interesting because that June 19 was a Saturday. This is people taking their leisure: watching TV, attending a football match, doing the shopping, preparing for a party or just hanging out. 125 has a similar approach but a more ambitious scope. Announcing themes on its website, its four directors judge the submissions and assemble the accepted work to make an issue. The magazine is now available in 14 countries and is able to publish a combination of work from newcomers and name photographers. The recent Music issue included classic images of Iggy Pop by Mick Rock alongside a fashion story featuring a Bob Dylan look-a-like by Nick Clements. The theme stretches to include still lifes of expired tape recorders by Julian Ward, and a
James Deavin series on sites where pop stars died. 125 is a heavy, glossy title that is well worth tracking down. The people behind it, Perry Curties, Jason Joyce, Rob Crane and Martin Yates, have the luxury of being able to choose from a strong submission and use high production values to publish the final edit. Steppe magazine takes a more conventional approach, using words and images to express the editors’ passion for Central Asia. Summer Coish and Lucy Kelaart have created a magazine with a great depth of knowledge of their subject, suggesting that they have travelled throughout Central Asia and found it, in the words of their press release, “one of the most enchanting regions of the world”. It is certainly refreshing to discover real information about this relatively unknown part of the
world, a region often misrepresented in the west. The states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to name three, are easily written off as ex-Soviet republics, areas that don’t even achieve the negative news coverage of neighbours such as Afghanistan. That love for the region comes across in the pages, with photo stories about the less obvious – Soviet-era modernist architecture, customised bus stops – mixing with others about traditional village and religious life. The overall design and presentation lets the magazine down, and as there is a sense that its publishers wish Steppe to be taken as a serious commercial project, this is something that needs to be addressed. Another magazine, Bidoun, attempts a similar reflection on another often misunderstood area, the Middle East, and benefits from a more consistent design approach. PowerHouse magazine also seeks to reflect a specific single area, in the case of its launch issue the South Bronx. If, like me, you assume such a familiarsounding theme has little new to offer, think again. Editor Sara Rosen grew up there and has used her knowledge of the district to compile a compelling set of images and stories that tell the story of hip hop from its birth 30 years ago. Yes, there are the obvious images of graffiti and rappers, but they sit among archive images of DJs and breakdancers and pictures of ordinary people going about their lives. The magazine is an upbeat reflection of one person’s love for their home district. The publishers behind these magazines share a passion for their subjects that makes their publications more than the sum of their individual parts. Having devised, commissioned, designed and printed their magazines they deserve our support as they hit the hardest part of the process – getting their publications out to us, the readers. Jeremy Leslie
Chance A3 photo-paper
Chance A3 photo-paper
Photography in chance …if a thread one meter long falls straight from a height of one meter onto a horizontal plane twisting as it pleases and creates a new image of the unit of length Marcel Duchamp, notes on ‘3 Standard stops’ Paris 1913-14
Throw the dice. What are the odds? You pick up a camera to photograph the sunset and a man weeding his garden catches your eye instead. A slight variation of intention; a small shift in plan and everything slides in a parallel timeline. You know the scenario: Run Lola Run meets Sliding Doors. Chance. Marcel Duchamp incorporated it into his art. William Burroughs used it to restructure his texts. John Cage introduced random events into his music. Think 4’33” of silence. Think Robert Capa’s eleven surviving frames from the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach – blurred, surreal instances that were all that remained after a photo lab dried the film too quickly. Blurred because his hands were shaking so much under gunfire. Blurred because the emulsion melted in the extreme heat. Regardless, the shots are defining images of World War II. 11 frames out of 106. Pure chance.
Haphazard tyre tracks in the sand. The irregularities of eggs. An unexpected mountain view. Snowfall. What is it they say about snowflakes… no two snowflakes are alike. What are the chances… An accidental encounter at a rockabilly weekend in Vegas. Random configurations of people on an absent beach. A stranger’s private scrabble game recorded by a passer-by. Throw the dice. Like a Luke Rhinehart journey to redemption, let the dice determine your decisions. Relinquish control, leave it up to chance. Life too easily becomes a set of habits, a predictable pattern of routines; who doesn’t hope for a little something unexpected occasionally. Who doesn’t tempt providence now and again to see what other possibilities exist in a greater scheme of things. Who doesn’t welcome an unscripted outcome sometimes when picking up the camera, the pen, the kids from school, on the supermarket run… Our journeys need room to breath; they need accidents in order to cultivate broader possibilities. They need chance encounters to expand, elaborate, and transform into the wider, larger imaginings we might call dreams.
Jeremy Leslie is Group Creative Director at John Brown, and writes a blog about magazines
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On My Shelf Jefferson Hack
My first choice is Berlin by Hedi Slimane (7L, 2003) – he’s not really known for being a photographer, as he’s head designer of Dior Homme. He’s got an incredible eye for photography and works with a very monochromatic style which is similar to his style of designing clothes. His fashion shows, and use of theatre in them, echoes his photography, especially in the way that he chooses models. They’re always very real people, who possess a striking kind of youthfulness that he tries to capture in his photography. He’s incredibly voyeuristic and distances himself from his subjects so that you see detailed abstracts; never a whole narrative in a picture. He tends to use, excessively in fact, young boys and girls. He’s dealing with those issues around innocence and experience in that state of flux: children becoming adults, freedom, dystopia, anger, frustration, those things that adolescents feel. I think he’s captured a real sense of Berlin here through the architecture and the interplay between architecture and youth culture. I really connect with his work because it’s about music and youth: things I’m very inspired by; it’s just very cool. The layout’s really great, no text at all, not even a foreward, and I love how it’s completely unexplained. What’s good about it is there’s as much utopia as there is dystopia, as much hope as there is
hopelessness in the book. It becomes stylised through the detailed shots. I think that makes it as interesting for design as it does for photography, lifestyle, reportage. Berlin crosses those boundaries. Andy Warhol’s Index (Book) (Random House, 1967) is a classic collectable. My copy’s really bashed up because I’ve shown it and shown it. I don’t really collect books, but I have a lot of photography and art books, which I tend to use for reference as well as for enjoyment and sharing … the problem is that they get beaten up really quickly. But I don’t care because books are there to be used and not just left to gather dust. The reason I wanted to add this to the mix is that there’s been a trend for a while for object books, highdesign books that have intricate paper folding techniques, all kinds of printing techniques and production specials that make them really expensive but really collectable. They turn the book into a piece of sculpture or an art object and I think this is an example of an early object book from that pop era. It’s got this really amazing holographic 3D cover, or an early attempt to create a kind of optical illusion. It’s on classic 60s matt paper, and it feels like the alternative press, like early Interview magazine. There are great pop-ups in there – since used by Damian Hirst – and they’re playing with so many things: sound, touch, scale. There are really brilliant photographs of them all hanging out, Edie and the whole gang. The reproduction of the photography is terrible, like photocopies, but that’s part of the charm. There’s a whole section that is concealed, that will reveal something but I have never opened it. There’s a 7” flexi-disc. It’s got a bit of everything, even a can of tomato paste. There’s an Andy Warhol signature that comes like a tab of acid and you can cut it out and put it into a container of water and his signature will kind of melt and infuse in the water so you can create your own kind of Warhol water sculpture which is pretty amazing. It’s incredibly playful in its remixing and sampling the language from pop culture at the time, and then putting it all
together so it doesn’t make any sense. A kind of non-language to the language that makes it a classic. I like it a lot! Next is Helmut Newton – Aus dem Photographischen Werk (Schirmer Mosel, 1993), which shows a range of his work. There’s some early 60s work, a lot of fashion photography, which became extremely influential as a way of putting a story together. For example, his British Vogue shoots were inspired by the Hitchcock film North by Northwest using a bi-plane and a woman running away. His portrayal of women was really ahead of its time as well. He had these powerful women: tall, statuesque, aspirational, but also very confident. It was a type of sexuality that hadn’t been seen in fashion photography before so acutely and so consistently. Newton developed that language by playing with that sense of the kind of woman who would intimidate most men. Some people would accuse it of being misogynistic but I think that women are not victims in this photography. It was a time when you can see a sexual revolution and a drug revolution taking place. This was evident in music, reportage photography of the music, the May ’68 riots, the Rolling Stones, the hippy movement, all of that and in this book we can see how those attitudes influenced high fashion (!). What a lot of people miss when they look at Newton is his sense of humour. I was on a shoot with him for Another Magazine and he was very unpretentious. He doesn’t spend ages intellectualising an image or a shoot; he’s very spontaneous and he really gets off on a joke, not a joke at the expense of fashion or at the expense of photography, but something that he feels will disarm the viewer and make them connect on an emotional level with a photograph. He’s influenced such a range of people because he had such an incredible range. He did a classic shoot for Nova, inspired by Dali, of women falling over, smoking cigarettes, where the champagne is still in the air as it spills out the glass. He just caught this moment of high society party collapse and you see that influence in the work
of people like Nick Knight. I think Newton was the greatest fashion photographer of his time and I think he paved a way for a lot more experimentation. My final choice is Patti Smith Complete (Doubleday, 1998). I find her incredibly influential and a powerful role model for lazy people like me who need to understand what a work ethic really is. She has this incredible multi-disciplined work ethic, where she will write poetry, record and perform music, and poetry, collaborate with people, take photographs, produce artwork, paint, and for her, there’s no hierarchy, or there doesn’t seem to be. She puts the same level of energy and commitment into each of those things and they are all brought together in this book. There are photographs of her by Robert Mapplethorpe, taken in the period when neither of them had really ‘made it’ as artists. They had an unusual relationship, because they lived together, they were rumoured to be lovers, well they were lovers, and they stayed friends for their whole life as he became more openly gay. A lot of these photographs show that innocence that comes out when people are experimenting and are able to spend time together, so it’s unusually intimate. This is a cool book because it’s got her diaries, poetry, published material and some great reportage rock and roll photography Right at the end, it has her own photography. She uses an old Polaroid land camera, one of those really complicated ones, with black and white film. You very rarely see people in her pictures, but you see a lot of symbols, like Herman Hesse’s typewriter. She’s got unique eye and she’s a very talented photographer: it’s an oldfashioned style of photography but with a punk spirit. The whole book is totally monochromatic, as is Index, as is Berlin, and then the Newton book is really full-on colourful. Maybe it’s reflective of something – extremes – a certain mood that I’m feeling at the moment. Either way, these are definitely some of my favourite books 8 Jefferson Hack is Group Editorial Director of Dazed and Confused. He was talking to Max Houghton
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14 March – 13 April A uniquely profound record, Paul Fusco’s “RFK Funeral Train” is a chronicle of the tragedy and trauma of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. These emotional photographs, many never seen before in London, document the funeral procession by train as it traveled from New York City to Washington, D.C. in June 1968 HOST is pleased to present the full set of 52 photograph of “RFK Funeral Train”, a Magnum Photos Touring Exhibition
HO ST. 14 March – 13 April 2007 Paul Fusco Funeral Train Free admission. Opening times: Monday – Friday 10am – 6pm Saturdays by appointment
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