I don’t remember Romania’s Lenin statues. I was too young to remember. But I do remember streets that had his name. The statues quickly disappeared after the revolution, and the names of the streets changed as well. To me, this getting rid of symbols was and still is fascinating. It is as if someone has been moved out of the apartment, throwing away all his stuff, which include personal items in the form of photos and statues, and his name on the door bell. Making these things disappear is the supreme post-regime clean-up and makes you realize just how deeply involved into the fabric of everything the regime really was. It took Ukraine a long time and some scandals around it, but here is Niels Ackermann’s photo series documenting where the ‘Lenin-toys’ go.
All posts tagged photojournalism
Serge Bouvet first went to India in 2012 with the plan to make a photo project about the hijras – a term used in Southeast Asia to define transgender people. But while documenting this story he discovered something else: the openness and beauty of the Muslim community living in the Turkman Gate old city in Delhi. Bouvet decided to photograph the Muslim men he met. And I talked to him about this project, about how he got the idea and about the way he approaches the people he photographs.
It looks romantic but it’s actually a really tough harsh life. So tough and so harsh that it’s actually disappearing. The Dukha people live in the North of Mongolia and they domesticated reindeer but the current population is now estimated between 200 and 400 people. Many moved to the cities and the herds diminished. The remaining people make most of their money from tourists buying their crafts and riding the reindeer. Hamid Sardar-Afkhami documented the life of this shrinking community in these beautiful and poetic images.
I don’t like jokes about husbands and wives, and I don’t like comments about dreadful Monday mornings and happy Friday afternoons. Yet, here I am, pretty sleepy and confused on a Monday morning, sitting in my office, dragging myself through the hours, wanting to be somewhere outside instead of here. And it’s in this kind of moments – sometimes powerful, sometimes just a thought – when opting out sounds free and romantic and natural. Sounds like the way it should be. And I’m not alone in this.
Home in an unfriendly place: a photo portrayal of life in the city of Norilsk, close to the polar circle
Here it is: Norilsk – photographed by Russian photographer Elena Chernyshova. You’ve probably never heard of the city, and there’s no particular reasons you should have. Its list of achievements include being the 7th most polluted city in the world. That’s no surprise, Norilsk is a mining city, the closest to the polar circle. Its mines and metallurgical factories were constructed by prisoners of the Gulag. All together, there’s no happy story there, and yet, there’s something charming in these photos looking into life there and, in Chernyshova’s words, looking at ‘human adaptation to extreme climate, ecological disaster and isolation’. I love the photos, their details, hidden symbols and atmosphere. But life there must be really tough.
The reasons why I find this series interesting 10 years after it was made go beyond the fact that I am 1/4 Moldavian, that I am interested in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, and that photographer Jonas Bendiksen traveled to every single place I want to travel to sometime soon. It is actually about how these photos manage to capture the feel that all these very different places have in common, the feeling of a shared soviet past. It’s also about a certain awkwardness I am familiar with, an awkwardness he seems to have looked for in all the obscure corners. And about the fact that 10 years later, some of these places are less unstable than back then, and yet, not much has changed. ‘Many of these places are quaintly obscure, but as I came to discover, they offer stark proof that the breakup of the Soviet Union is still a work in progress’ said Bendiksen long ago. And 10 years later it still is work in progress.
They might have a special connection, get the same grades and have to same dreams, but to me these airy photos of Erna and Hrefna, twins from Iceland… well, they’re rather creepy. I don’t even have to explain why, I mean we’ve all seen enough horror films. Of which one do they remind you?
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a 30 km area surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The estimated levels of radiation there are really high and living there is not safe for any living being. But still, there are three categories of people who do go into that zone. Some of them are workers, who risk their lives to construct a new sarcophagus to isolate the melted core of the reactor. Their work has been documented by Gerd Ludwig in his long term project about Chernobyl. In the second category are the people who couldn’t say goodbye to their homes, and I previously wrote about Diana Markosian’s bittersweet story of Lida and Mikhail, a couple who chose not to abandon their village, if though they were advised to do so. And the last category is the one documented by Donald Weber, in his Stalker photo series. This category is made of people who transgress the border of the forbidden area and enter Pripyat, the abandoned Chernobyl city to strip it of its remaining valuables.
In a way I can only partially explain, this photo series reminds me of home. I’m not from the Caucasus and I never owned a sheep in my life, but this is more than just facts, it’s more about a feeling. The nature, the snow, the sheep all remind me of home because my home is a little bit like that too, and I have seen the men who live with sheep since I was small. I’ve seen the mud too, and the difficult life. And now I miss seeing it again.
I can bet that if I give you a map of Africa right now, you won’t be able to show me where Botswana is. I can also bet that after seeing these eye-candy photos you’ll want to fill this gap in your knowledge. Marcel Proust’s famous quote – the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes – may apply. American photographer Zack Seckler got new eyes from 150 meters above the ground and discovered just this: a mix of patterns and out of this world beauty.
Some months ago I traveled to the Danube Delta, in Romania. I spent a week in Sfantu Gheorghe, a small and beautiful fisherman village at the very point where the Danube arm with the same name goes into the Black Sea. I went there to learn about the community and to write about them and about the Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania conservation initiative that is being implemented there. My article on this subject has been published in Guernica Magazine.
But I feel I haven’t told the whole story yet. And there is something magical about Sfantu Gheorghe that I feel people should go see and experience and enjoy. Something that is beautiful in itself, but incomplete without knowing just a bit more about the life, the past and traditions of this place.
I know, this is totally out of place. Unless you’re living in Australia, you now look outside your window and it’s still summer. But I cannot help posting these amazing photos of winter and snow. Their feeling of immensity and quietness makes me homesick and makes me long for those winter days when I’m back to my parents’ place and I look outside the window in the morning and it’s cold, white and quiet. You must understand.
Photos from within 1000 meters from my home: a photo project looking at ‘the familiar’ with new eyes
There are thousand of details in our close environment, thousands of things happening every time we walk out our house. But most of them we no longer notice, because they seem to common and everything is just too familiar. We take the familiar for granted and no longer pay attention. We look for the new and the exciting and in this way we often miss the stories and the beauty of the space we live in.
Meet Lida and Mikhail Masanovitz, a couple living in the desolate ghost town of Redkovka, Ukraine. The town is located 35 km away from the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986, causing the worst nuclear catastrophe ever known. Lida and Mikhail are some of the few residents of the town, a place classified as ‘zone two’, meaning a place too dangerous for anyone to be living there.
There are three issues I am critical about when I look at photojournalism. One is making suffering look aesthetically pleasing and pretty. Even if contextualized well, such photos contribute to a visual imaginary that’s distorted. And I have an ethical problem with that.
When I first saw Eugenia Maximova‘s ‘Little Maggie’s Sweet Home’ photo series, I questioned whether it romanticizes poverty. And for a good reason. In black and white, little Maggie hiding here and there, a lost house in between flats. It almost seems like a game, like an alternative to the flats that surround the ruined house. And the truth is that the story behind the photos is anything but romantic.
Some weeks ago, the picture below went viral. In it, a 4 year old Syrian boy named Marwan being greeted by U.N. officials after supposedly crossing the desert all by himself. Andrew Harper, the U.N. Relief Agency’s representative in Jordan, posted the image saying the boy had been ‘temporarily separated’ from his family. He later clarified that ‘separated’ didn’t mean he was alone. He was simply walking at the end of the refugee group. Before he clarified this, the image had already gone viral.
‘The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees’ is a collection of black and white portraits of people and the one thing they got to take when they left their home. Each story is written in a direct style. And looking at the photos and reading those stories somehow show without telling everything someone from far away needs to understand about vulnerability and uncertainty and being far away from home.
Every now and then, someone (re)discovers photos of the traditional yearly whale fishing in the Danish Faroe Islands. He or she posts the link or the photo(s) on a social media channel, and then, the reactions begin. They are always the same, always emotional and always predictable. The truth is that the photos are quite intense, super bloody to be more specific. The truth is also that a discussion about this practice seems necessary. But never in the years since I came to learn about this practice myself have I seen one decent discussion based on arguments.
There are certain mental images associated with the Roma. There is the romantic view, the dreaming and eternally free gypsy traveling the world with his horse and caravan. Then there’s the victim view, the Roma always mistreated and abused. And last there is an image of aggressiveness, the dirty Roma, the Roma criminals. (Something worth mentioning is that if one portrays them romantically, it seems acceptable to call them gypsies – while if they’re portrayed as victims or criminals there’s the politically correct name – Roma. Adding to this, I find it quite interesting that if I google ‘gypsy’, the images I see are of that romantic view, while if you google Roma/Romani I get all the misery in photos. Try.).