It's that time of the year again. The winning images of the Sony World Photography Awards have been revealed. It's the eight edition of the competition and, as usual, the Italians made a killing and take a large portion of the awards, there is a fair deal of suffering, at least one of the awards goes to an image featuring Palestinians being bullied by soldiers with sophisticated weapons (this year however, the photos are joyful), and it is always strange to look at the photos and realize that the main events of the year before have almost already been erased from consciences.
I've received the press images this morning, selected the ones i found most striking, made my community proud and copy/pasted the description and then i hit publish:
In the summer of 2014 Monrovia, Liberia became the epicenter of the West African Ebola epidemic, the worst in history. Although previous rural outbreaks were more easily contained, once the virus began spreading in Monrovia's dense urban environment, the results were described by Medecins Sans Frontieres as "catastrophic". With a tradition of burial rites that include the washing of the dead bodies of loved ones, Liberians became infected at alarming rates. Only a decade after a long civil war, Liberia's fragile health system was unable to cope, international agencies were slow to react, and the country struggled.
Molotov Cocktails have been the weapon of choice for the EuroMaidan protestors in Kiev. Using fire to their advantage, the protestors were able to defend their barricades, extend their lines and fortify their positions. In order to set fire to tanks, armoured vehicles, buses, and tires in opposition to local cops, Kievís protestors used thousand and thousands of Molotov Cocktails, inspiring and mobilizing people throughout the city to collect as many bottles as possible.
It is usual to see scenes like this because people spend all day along at the beach and all the usual activities, like playing, eating, sleepping, etc., are done outdoors. All kind of people are seen, and it is a pleasure to contemplate at the same time so much of humanity enjoying and relaxing under the sun.
35% of Mongolians are living a nomadic life and depend on their land for survival. This is increasingly difficult due to serious changes: 25% of the Mongolian land has turned into desert in the past 30 years. Potentially 75% of the territory is at risk of desertification. These environmental changes directly threaten the Mongolian nomadic way of life, which has been passed from generation to generation. This project attempts at recreating the museum diorama with actual people and their livestock in a real place where decertifying is taking place. It is based on an imagined image that these people try to go into museum diorama for survival in the future. This is accomplished with printed images on a billboard placed in conjunction with the actual landscape horizon.
Discotheques, the symbol of 80s and 90s hedonism, were fake marble temples adorned with Greek statues made of gypsum, futuristic spaces of gigantic size, large enough to contain the dreams of success, money, fun of thousands people. And then the dreams are gone, people disappeared and nightclubs became abandoned wreck, cement was laid on large empty squares, places inhabited by echo and melancholy. The grass is growing in the crack, the Discobolus is hiding under a porch, priggish Venus lurks behind the bars. The Paradise Discotheque, contemporary monuments of our civilization, are waiting to be burned to the ground, and in this expectation made of vacuum, only the memory of a former glory remains.
These fire lines I have drawn indicate where the front of the rapidly disappearing Lewis Glacier was at various times in the recent past; the years are given in the titles. In the distance, a harvest moon lights the poor, doomed glacier remnant; the gap between the fire and the ice represents the relentless melting. Relying on old maps and modern GPS surveys I have rendered a stratified history of the glacier's retreat. Mount Kenya is the eroded stump of a long-dead, mega-volcano. Photographically, I hope to re-awaken its angry, magma heart. My fire is made from petroleum. My pictures contain no evidence that this glacier's retreat is due to man-made warming (glaciers can retreat when the don't get sufficient snow, or if the cloud cover thins, for example,) but it is nonetheless my belief that humans burning hydrocarbons are substantially to blame.
The Palestinian Circus School was established in 2006. In 2011 it moved into its own premises in Birzeit near Ramallah. Around 150 young people participate in regular circus classes which accommodate different age groups and ability levels. The school's policy affirms that no student will ever be turned away if they cannot pay the tuition fees. Gender equality is considered an intrinsic aspect of the circus school's structure and practice. Weekly workshops are held in refugee camps and cities across the West Bank for people unable to attend the school in Birzeit. The school has implemented performance tours in various European countries. Exchange programs have been established with European circuses to host qualified trainers and performers in Palestine. The Palestinian Circus School fuses contemporary culture with Palestinian storytelling and identity. The first production, Circus Behind the Wall, explored Palestinian separation from family, land and water by Israel's Wall.
These pictures were taken in June-July near the city of Luhansk (Luhanskaya village). I arrived there half an hour after Ukrainian army airstrikes. Buildings were destroyed and blazed, some locals were dead, while others were escaping in fear. In 2014 the conflict between rebels and the government army in Ukraine led the country into full-scale hostilities. The local residents of the strategically located city of Luhansk were left without water and electricity for three months over the summer, while constant gunfire could be heard above their heads.
According to the Federal Migration Service, more than 800 thousand Ukrainian citizens had to be relocated as a result of the conflict.
In a Flemish village, surrounded by nature, Laura and Maurice live together with their daughter Eva. In the garden, Eva plays with her dog or meets with her classmates. Friends and family come along and fill the house with activity. But when Eva is at school, Maurice and Laura shoot what most people prefer to keep to themselves. The porn they make is not populated by Barbies or muscled superheroes. Ordinary women play with men who are also dad or neighbour. A humanity that not only exists in the porn they make, but also emerge behind the scenes and in their family life. In recent years, Laura has built strong bonds with a number of like-minded people: every one of them confident women who have consciously chosen this lifestyle and only depend on themselves with respect to their work. On a regular basis, they go to erotic fairs, rendez-vous evenings or an erotic nightclub: to make money or to have fun - or both.
Romania joined the European Union in 2007, the whole prison system went through major revamp and the biggest reform was to introduce the right to private visits. This means that a prisoner who is married or in a relationship has the right to receive, every three months, a two-hour private visit which takes place in a separate room inside the prison compound. Plus, if a prisoner gets married in detention he or she can spend 48 hours with the spouse in the special room and is allowed visits once a month in the first year of marriage. I started photographing the private rooms in 2008 and I have now photographed the private rooms inside all Romanian penitentiaries (35 penitentiaries).
Bolivia is proud of being the Latin American country with the highest the number of actively working women. Bolivian women no longer are the subject for the ìweaker sexî prejudice, they are rather associated with the outstanding physical stamina, the inclination to struggle and the great brute strength. Then must not be surprising the fact that, in the poorest neighbourhood of La Paz (4000 mt), a bunch of female farmers from the countryside get together every Sunday in the ring for a public fight. Wearing the traditional cholitas (the term originally refers to the ìindigenous mixed raceî people) clothes and bowlers, Bolivian Valkyries deal with even more demanding fights once they get off the ring, raising their children all by themselves and working between the fields and the urban street markets.
I started visiting different hair salons to capture the moment where we let other people get intimately close and shape the way the world sees us. When I meet ordinary people, I'm intrigued by the fact that they have so many fascinating stories and interesting personalities. Meeting strangers and getting to hear a chunk of their lives really gets me. In this case the stories were found at the local hairdresser. The project is not yet finished - there is still so much to discover in Copenhagenís smaller hair salons.
Lidos were perhaps at their most popular between the wars when people took their holidays here in England. Many of them were built in the 1930s or earlier and were naturally located on the English south coast, which was a favoured holiday destination for those living in London and the home counties. However there were many that were built in towns and cities to cope with the demand that once was and many of these remain. However, when the affordability of overseas holidays started to emerge in the 1960s many of these lidos fell into decline and have never recovered. Some have survived and have benefited from investment and so have taken on a new lease of life as popularity has started increasing again. Most have been left to decay or lost under modern developments, such as Ramsgate's once booming pool which is now under a car park.
In Iraq, life expectancy is 67. Minutes from Glasgow city centre, in Calton, it is 54. I looked at this community and the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants. My intention was to juxtapose Glasgow with the vastly different setting of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Being from Glasgow and familiar with the landscape, I am moved by what I perceive to be missing chunks of life and the bleakness of those shortened lives lived in the Calton compared to those lived in Kensington and Chelsea. The difference in fortunes is not only apparent in mortality but in the cut of their suits and coats, the accessories they carry, the way the women apply their make-up, even their expressions tell a tale, confident and haughty vs downtrodden and malnourished.
I walked along with enormous macaque troop on Sulawesi tens of hours and learned many about their behavior. At one moment the troop rested all around me, babies played each other while adults checked surrounding if it is safe enough. I noticed there is one male in dark shades nearby.
Image on the homepage: © Marcin Klocek, Poland, Sport, Shortlist, Professional Commpetition, 2015 Sony World Photography Awards.
I've just spent a long weekend in Berlin to attend the Drones event organized by the Disruption Network Lab. The talks, panels and screening were engaging, informative and quite mind-blowing. I'll be back with a report as soon as i've managed to give some intelligible form to whatever i scribbled on my notepad.
Since the event was taking place at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, i got a chance to see one of the exhibitions running at the space this month: Boys and their Toys. Zur Omnipräsenz von Krieg und Waffen - auch in der Kunst... (which, according to my ultra rudimentary knowledge of German might mean something like Boys and their Toys. On the omnipresence of war and weapons - also in the art....) As the photos i took will easily demonstrate this is a very entertaining show with some moments of gravity.
The photo groupie that i am was particularly interested by Julian Röder's series World of Warfare. Thrilling copy/paste action follows...
In February 2011, while popular protests were rising in the Arab world, the young photographer traveled to Abu Dhabi for the International Defense Exhibition and Conference. 50,000 military officers and arms dealers attended the fair. Some represent dictators. Others are mortal enemies: India, meet Pakistan. But here they meet and mingle, shopping for missile systems, assault rifles, and attack helicopters.
On a sunny morning, combat helicopters flew in attack formation over Abu Dhabi. Tanks rumbled through the streets, and commando teams launched assaults on barbed-wired encampments. But this display of military might wasn't designed to start or suppress a rebellion. It was a sales pitch.
The copters, the tanks, the troops--all were part of a carefully choreographed spectacle designed to impress 50,000 military officers, arms dealers, and government representatives from 150 nations. It was the start of the biennial International Defence Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX, the Middle East's largest arms fair. There were media presentations to be seen, VIPs to schmooze, and plenty of speculation about the ongoing Arab spring. One could see a wide range of weapons and riot-gear that are not suitable for the battlefield but for street fights against the own revolting population. But mostly there were guns. Lots of guns.
Boys and their Toys. Zur Omnipräsenz von Krieg und Waffen - auch in der Kunst... is at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien until 26 April 2015.
I'm drowning in really good books this year. Unsurprisingly, half of them are photography books. And because i'm short on time and these publications deserve a review, i'm going to take the lazy road: a sweeping and speedy overview of 5 of my favourite photo books of the moment. In one post.
Here we go...
The Earth is a living organism. Our escalating energy demands are interfering with the carbon and nitrogen cycles and altered the metabolic balance of the planet. Authored by two photographers and a scientist, the book uses images and essays to investigate the landscape in relationship to sources & sites of energy, energy extraction, energy use and climate control.
Gina Glover's work exploits atmospheric weather and ambient lighting conditions to draw attention to such energetic places and artefacts as coalfields in the Arctic, nuclear installations in France and hydraulic fracturing sites in the USA; Jessica Rayner observes how theories of the sun have varied according to the symbolic or scientific precepts of the day, drawing comparison between manufacturing, properties of the sun and changing theories of energy; and Geof Rayner constructs an accompanying textual narrative which shows how the energy transition has profound evolutionary consequences, not only for external nature, but how we see and interpret the landscape.
Next is Some Things are Quieter than Other by a young Polish photographer called Jacek Fota.
Fota made several trips to the U.S.A. between 2012 and 2013, consciously avoiding the mega cities and landscapes we are already too familiar with. Instead, he turned his lens to the 'peripheries of civilisation' and condensed his personal experience of the big country into a small travel diary.
His photos show the U.S. but on a less grandiloquent, less cliché and more mundane angle than we might be used to. His images look effortless, they are both dream-like and very real, very down to earth.
Over a year ago, i saw Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power at the Imperial Warm Museum in London. The photo exhibition brought together five geographical locations that are interconnected through the apparatus of military surveillance.
Steidl has collected into one slipcase three of these photo series. British Watchtowers (2007) studies the surveillance architecture built at the height of The Troubles. The network of watchtowers and observation posts was erected by the British army to control cross-border smuggling and paramilitary attacks but also to maintain an intimidating presence. The watchtowers were dismantled between 2005 and 2007, as part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. As Whyle documented their final days in the countryside, British troops were deploying to Afghanistan, taking with them elements of these Northern Ireland watchtowers.
The second book, Outposts (2011), charts NATO observation posts in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Built on natural promontories, the outposts offer a fascinating parallel with the British Watchtower, as both networks ensured oppression and control in the name of a "war" against terrorists.
The last book in the set, North Warning System looks at a radar station that is surveying a less clearly defined threat. The extreme environment of the Canadian Arctic is home to cyber radar stations unmanned and operated electronically to detect any presence seeking out lucrative natural resources along Canada's Arctic frontier made more fragile by global warming and the new routes though the Northwest Passage it enabled.
Happy Famous Artists beat me to the review.
The term "PIGS" was coined by the financial press as a shorthand for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain . Never doubting the suitability of reducing over 100 million people to a bunch of clichés, the neoconservatives and the mainstream media quickly adopted the acronym.
Photographer Carlos Spottorno attempted to portrays "Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain through the eyes of the economists". The parody starts right with the design of the Pigs: the book cover is modeled on the front page of The Economist, and even the back page of the publication features a fake advertisement for WTF Bank.
Spottorno's photographs show European countries squeezed between a glorious past and far less glamorous contemporary realities.
I'll always have time for war photography. And since i enjoyed the exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography so much, i had to get my greedy hands on the catalogue of the show. The show (and thus the catalogue as well) looks at over 150 years of conflict around the world, since the invention of photography. Instead of organizing the photos according to themes, geographical area or chronology, the curator orchestrated them according to the length of time that elapsed between the conflict and the moment the photographs were taken. The result is fascinating. You start with images taken almost straight after a disaster occurred and as you proceed, the duration between image and event grows into days, weeks, months, years and decades. One of the last series was shot almost 100 years after the start of WWI. Chloe Dewe Mathews photographed some of the exact spots where British, French and Belgian soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1914 and 1918.
I'd definitely recommend the book if you can't make it on time to see the show.
Publisher Black Dog writes: Staging Disorder brings together work that considers the contemporary representation of the real in relation to photography, architecture and modern conflict.
The concept of 'staging disorder' looks not to how photographers have staged disordered reality themselves, but rather to how these artists have recognised and responded to a phenomenon of staging that already exists in the world.
Military simulations of rooms, houses, planes, streets and whole fake towns in different parts of the globe provoke a series of questions concerning the nature of truth as it manifests itself in current photographic practice.
Everything in this book is fake: fabricated streets that barely look real, sculptures of airplanes that look like cheap overblown toys, American soldiers who pretend to be the enemy and paint anti-US slogans on the walls, etc.
The photos presented in the book are astonishing and often spectacular but they also make us reflect on a society that fears and feeds on threats and catastrophe. Staging Disorder also invites us to consider the role of photography, a medium which relation to truth is routinely being questioned, when it comes to documenting a reality that is fabricated.
In military lingo, killing with direct contact is called a "personal kill." Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann visited a place in Bavaria (Germany) where American soldiers are trained to do so. The settings are not the usual battlegrounds. They are mundane, civilian spaces where, increasingly MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) are taking place.
An-My Lêtraveled to a Marine base called 29 Palms, in the California desert. This where soldiers train before being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The series show the American soldiers both rehearsing their own roles and playing the parts of their adversaries.
Public Order is a series of photos of the Metropolitan Police Public Order Training Centre, a simulated urban environment where officers rehearse responses to football riots, protests, acts of terrorism and other acts of civic unrest.
The fabricated training locations look a bit like the fake backdrops used to shoot Western movies. The largest of these, Denton, is a huge network of fake streets and cinder-block facades, with all of the hallmarks of a midsize British working-class city, including a football stadium, a nightclub, and a Tube station.
Pickering's images demonstrate better than any newspaper article the omnipresent anxiety and fear of terrorism that pervade our society. "My work explores the idea of imagined threat and response, and looks at fear and planning for the unexpected, merging fact and fiction, fantasy and reality," she states.
In military context, Red Land-Blue Land are terms that define a site divided into the territories of friend (blue) and enemy (red.) The military training ground of Senne in Germany is one such site. Claudio Hils documented a ghost town that looks normal until you start to identify cartridge cases, overgrown graves, human-shaped targets, wooden backdrops that represent streets, etc.
At the time of the work, an estimated 25,000 private military personnel were stationed in Iraq, collectively forming the second-largest fighting force in the country after the US Army. Mostly funded by US tax dollars, these armed security services handle tasks that include training local forces, surveillance, fighting but also 'clearing' domestic houses in war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. The mercenaries aren't trained in US boot camps but in places like the one located in a vacant area of Arkansas and depicted in Christopher Stewart's photographic series Kill House.
The Chicago series documents a fake Arab town built in the middle of the Negev desert by the Israeli Defense Force for urban combat training. "Everything that happened happened here first, in rehearsal," write Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin. All wars led and to be led by Israel in the future get a test run in the streets of Chicago, where the only traces of human beings are photographs of Arab militia used for target practice. Chicago comprises different settings that reflect the terrains where the IDF might have to strike: a fake refugee camp, a fake downtown neighbourhood, a fake rural village, a dense market area, etc.
Staging Disorder is also an exhibition currently open in the galleries of the London College of Communication. The show runs until Thursday 12 March.
Conflict, Time, Photography, an exhibition which opened in November at Tate Modern, looks at over 150 years of conflict around the world, since the invention of photography. It could have been one of those shows that organizes the photos according to themes, geographical area or chronology. The curator, however, orchestrated the exhibition according to the length of time that elapsed between the conflict and the moment the photographs were taken.
The first room in the show, "Moments Later", contains thus images taken almost straight after a disaster occurred. The most compelling example of it is the mushroom cloud photographed 20 minutes after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Toshio Fukada was then a 17-year-old student. He always carried a camera with him and took the images from his window, 2.7 km from the hypocenter.
As you walk through the exhibition rooms, the duration between image and event grows into days, weeks, months, years and decades.
The last gallery shows the series i found most moving. Almost 100 years after the start of WWI, Chloe Dewe Mathews photographed some of the exact spots where British, French and Belgian soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1914 and 1918. The photos of Shot at Dawn were also taken at approximately the same time of year the men were killed.
The quiet landscapes evoke incidents which memory has been suppressed for decades. Although there is no visible trace of what happened in these locations, the photographer managed to convey the sadness and anxiety these young men must have experienced in those early mornings.
I've seen countless books and exhibitions of images taken by photojournalists reporting from the battle fields. Some of the images were truly frightful and depressing. Yet, frequent exposure to war photography have almost numbed my feelings. I go from one image to the next one and, at best, only a fleeting memory of what i've just seen remains. Conflict, Time, Photography revitalized a sense of horror and dismay that war images (should) provoke. By forcing me to reflect on the impact that conflicts have on people, culture and places over time, this show will haunt me for years to come.
Conflict, Time, Photography is an intense and powerful show. I wish i could mention every single work i saw there but i'll just stop at this brief selection:
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have a couple of works in the exhibition. One of them is People In Trouble Laughing Pushed To The Ground which uses fragments of images of Belfast Exposed, a collection of images taken by professional photo-journalists and 'civilian' photographers who documented life under the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Whenever someone selected an image in the archive for use, it was market by a red, yellow or blue sticker. Broomberg and Chanarin enlarged and reprinted the area beneath the dots, revealing puzzling, romantic, amusing or brutal fragments of life under the Troubles.
70 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Luc Delahaye photographed the forensic exhumation of a mass grave containing the bodies of Republican fighters executed during the Spanish civil war.
In October 2012, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg had the opportunity to photograph the former USSR nuclear weapons test site near the city of Kurchatov in Kazakhstan. The photographs depict the pitiful remnants of a megalomaniacal arms race.
Nick Waplington captured drawings and words left on the walls by the prisoners of a war camp in South Wales where the low and mid level SS where kept before being sent to Nuremburg for trail.
Sophie Ristelhueber traveled to Kuwait months after the end of the First Gulf War to record the physical traces of the conflict. The aerial and ground-level photos depict bombed out terrains, mangled machinery, still-burning oil fields, tank tracks and other "scars" left on the landscape.
Stephen Shore met Ukrainian holocaust survivors in their houses. There are a few portraits but most of the images detail their belongings. From baby pink plastic radio to ordinary kitchen corners.
In the months after the end of the first world war, architect Pierre Anthony-Thouret documented the destruction of the city of Reims.
In one of the pieces of the series A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I - XVIII , Taryn Simon looked for the survivors of the Srebrenica massacre and built up their family trees. Most of the photos show women and children. Missing members are represented by blanks or by dental fragments found in mass graves.
I'll end with a photo that hangs in one of the rooms titled Moments After. Don McCullin's portrait of a shell shocked marine was taken just minutes after he had been engaged in a bloody battle in Vietnam.
"McCullin's picture is very important for us because it's the kind of picture we very rarely see in the era of embedded photographers, it is very hard to take and show this kind of image," curator Simon Baker told The Guardian. "It's taken moments after this marine has been engaged in an extremely serious engagement and you see him completely traumatised, completely frozen by what's happened to him."
Conflict, Time, Photography is at Tate Modern until 15 March 2015.
Photographer Nick Hannes spent four years traveling around the Mediterranean looking for the traces left by mass tourism, migration, financial crisis, political upheavals and other burning issues. "[The Mediterranean] remains unique on the map of the world: a sea at the intersection of three continents, a relatively short distance from each other," Hannes told Flanders Today. "There's a reason why this region is considered the cradle of our civilisation."
History meets very contemporary troubles in his photos. While touring some 20 countries, the photographer saw tourists dancing on beaches while poverty-stricken people at the other hand of the sea were hoping to board a boat and migrate to richer shores, protests by family members of people who disappeared during the Algerian civil war, Gazans smuggling goods through underground tunnels in an attempt to overcome the severe food shortage imposed by the Israeli blockade, etc.
Hannes' series Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man is currently on view at the Photo Museum in Antwerp. I visited the show a few days ago and here are some of the images i found most striking:
Doing prospection for my Mediterranean Project in the port city of Patras, Greece, I bumped into this weird wedding party. Christos Karalis (44), who married Anna (26), decided to have the party in his petrol station, to save on expenses. "This is how we respond to the crisis", a family member said to me. "Please show these pictures to Merkel. A Greek keeps on laughing and celebrating, even when his money is being taken away."
Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man is at FotoMuseum Antwerp until February 1, 2015.
Check also my post on another FoMu exhibition that features Hannes' work: Red Journey, a photo trip across the former Soviet Union.