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Wheelchair Bodybuilders Muscle Their Way to the Top

When he was 16, Nick Scott was in a near-fatal car accident. He was left paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, Scott, now 30, is also known in certain circles—namely, the wheelchair bodybuilding world, a universe in which his is perhaps the most recognizable face—as “The Beast.” The Beast isn’t sure of his bench press limit, only because he hasn’t yet stopped reaching for more weight. The metaphor’s an obvious one, but true: ”If you want something bad enough, nothings gonna stop you from not getting it,” he has said.

And The Beast wants to spread the word: he was instrumental in the creation of the first-ever competition for certified International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) Pro Wheelchair Bodybuilders, which was held last fall. The 2012 IFBB Pro Wheelchair championships took place Oct. 13 in Houston, an event open only to Scott and the dozen other men who have qualified as pros. Harold Kelley was named the winner in 2011 and 2012.

Photographer Lauren Fleishman has been documenting the sport for over a year, including that first competition. She first heard about wheelchair bodybuilding via a phone call from her cousin, who works in a hotel where a bodybuilding event took place. “I got so excited that I hung up the phone and began researching the sport,” she says.

Fleishman says that when she first began exploring the topic, she noticed that almost all of the photographs of bodybuilders, at least the ones that she could find, portrayed the participants in an almost grotesque manner. She wanted to avoid that look. “In showing a different side to it, it’s a way of connecting people, a way of changing their perceptions about the sport.”

Wheelchair bodybuilding competitions date back about 15 years, and both amateurs and professionals compete in worldwide events throughout the year. After following the participants for months, Fleishman says that, besides the normal suspense that comes with any competitive event, there’s another layer to it. “Seeing what being on stage does for them, they really, really shine,” she says. “You have a whole range of reasons why they compete, but the dedication and perseverance is really inspiring.” And it’s not just on stage: last May, in a Wal-mart in Texas, Fleishman accompanied Scott—the de facto spokesman for the sport—when he went to purchase batteries for his wheelchair, which is rigged to light up when he performs. Outside the store, a teenage boy, also in a wheelchair, approached Scott to say that he hoped one day to be like him. “You can obviously see that Nick has muscles,” says Fleishman. “The kid was impressed. It was a really nice moment to see that.”

But there has been one drawback to immersion in the wheelchair bodybuilding community during her year of photographing the project—and, as the work continues, it may only get worse. “It’s really hard,” Fleishman says, “because you want them all to win.”

Lauren Fleishman is an award-winning photographer based in New York City and Paris. See more of her work here and or on LightBox here.

Pictures of the Week: September 14 – 21

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From continued anti-American protests around the world and the Pope’s visit to Lebanonto the honoring of Aung San Suu Kyi in the U.S.and the Duchess of Cambridge’s tour of the South Pacific, TIME presents the best images of the week.

Carrie Mae Weems: A Look Back on Three Decades

The cover image of Carrie Mae Weems’s engaging book finds the artist and photographer wearing a long black dress as she stands at the shoreline with her back to the camera, looking at the ocean. It looks as if she is contemplating the morning. We, the “reader” or “viewer,” wait in anticipation to open the book and look into her world. The cover image is our invitation! The photograph is from Weems’s Roaming series from 2006. She becomes our narrator to history. She states: “This woman can stand in for me and for you; she leads you into history. She’s a witness and a guide.”

Weems is an art-photographer, performance artist, activist and videographer—well known for her photographic series and multi-screen projections relating to themes focusing on family, beauty and memory. For the last 25 years, she has relied on stories from the ‘kitchen table’ and of life in the low country of South Carolina, antebellum New Orleans, cities in Senegal, Cuba, Ghana and Italy to create a body of work that engages in history. An artist concerned with iconography, she has constructed a series of works questioning black women’s presence in popular and material culture as well as art history. Throughout her 30-odd year career, Weems has re-staged historical moments and created images that re-imagined everyday life from family stories to political history. Weems focused her camera on her own body to create multiple conversations. She interrogates and assembles old stereotypes and disassembles them.

In 1992, she refused to accept the scientific racism that prevailed in the 19th century circulating about black Americans. In re-imagining the photographed experiences of some of the blacks enslaved on a South Carolina plantation photographed by J. T. Zealy, a daguerreotypist commissioned by zoologist Louis Agassiz, Weems used the narrative of slavery and re-purposed the images. The title of her series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried is a text and image installation of large scale framed images printed with a red tint, possibly to signify the life’s blood still flowing through the memory of their enslaved experience.

Born in Portland, Oregon, and now living in Syracuse, N.Y., photo-artist Weems interweaves a narrative of black female subjectivity, black beauty and the gaze in her work on beauty. Weems’s photographs are ‘performing beauty’ through lighting, posing, acting and fashion. Weems confronts historical depictions and restages them with ‘what if…’ questions. In her series, Not Manet’s Type, Weems critiques the white male art “masters,” and how beauty is defined through their paintings. The ironic series of five self-reflexive photographs with text, questions not only Manet but also Picasso, DeKooning and Duchamp.

Weems is the ideal model and she is well informed about the history of art, using her own partially dressed and nude body. The posing reveals her formal training as a photographer, and her choice of props is influenced by her sharp observation as a builder of ideas. The series’ power lies in her narrative voice and her ability to create a scene. At first glance, it looks as if the photographs are all the same because of the square format and the centered art deco-style vanity dresser. The setting is the bedroom, a private but inviting space. We, the viewer, peer through the square mat into the round mirror that frames her body, which lends an effect of peeping at a private moment. Her sensitivity to the historical gaze is quite evident, the time of day, the lace on the brass bed, the large white vase holding dried flowers, and the art work framed on the wall offer a sense of reality, as the bright sun bleaches the lower half of her body and the bed. Weems stands with her back to the viewer; the bold red text reads:

“It was clear, I was not Manet’s type… Picasso—who had a way with women only used me & Duchamp never even considered me.”

The series’ text clearly shows her vulnerability as she attempts to empower her image. The next images states: “Standing on shakey [sic] ground I posed myself for critical study but was no longer certain of the questions to ask.”

Women artists like Weems, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Renee Cox and Carla Williams challenge ideas of beauty and desire, which are both critical components in Weems’s work. All of these artists dare her viewer to rethink their understanding and the positioning of contemporary art practices. Mirrors are often found in Weems’s self-portraits; she’s gazes at her statuesque frame which is reflected in the mirrored image. Gates states, “An artist does not make a work called Not Manet’s Type (1997) without a keen sense of her own authority, a respect—not reverence—for those artists who came before her, and an ability to laugh in the midst of serious thinking.”

Deborah Willis is a photographer, photo historian and professor at New York University. Her recent work includes a book and exhibition of the same title Posing Beauty in African American Culture on exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Willis’s writing is featured in Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, which will be released by Yale University Press in October.
A retrospective exhibition of the same name is also on view at the Frist Center in Nashville from Sept. 21, 2012 to Jan. 13, 2013.

It will then travel to the following locations:
Portland Art Museum:  Feb. 2–May 19, 2013
Cleveland Museum of Art:  June 30–Sept. 29, 2013
Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University: Oct. 16, 2013–Jan. 5, 2014
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York: Jan. 24–April 23, 2014

A Photo Student Update

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But you can find me at The New Yorker’s Photo Booth or hanging out at http://jamespomerantz.tumblr.com

 

 

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Pictures of the Week: September 7 – September 14

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From ceremonies commemorating September 11th and attacks on U.S. linkwheel . Embassies around the world to the Pencil Nebula in space and playtime weightlifting in North Korea, TIME presents the best images of the week.

Remember Me, My Ghost: Documenting Ireland’s Notorious Ballymun Neighborhood

Ballymun was meant to be a new start. Ireland’s largest social housing complex, built in the 1960s on a sprawling expanse of farmland just a half an hour from the center of Dublin, was built to clear out the last vestiges of Dublin’s inner-city tenements.

But the under-floor heating, constant hot water, elevators and large apartments were shining achievements for only a short time in Ballymun’s history. With no amenities in the area and no infrastructure development, Ballymun became isolated, it’s population booming and nowhere for the people to go. Over the subsequent decades, the area became Ireland’s most notorious public housing complex, immortalized in U2 songs as a tragic and grim place, rife with crime and drug addiction. The buildings were poorly maintained, the elevators often broken, the open land between the flat blocks foreboding and dangerous after dark. A main road divided the community into factions around which criminal gangs organized. By the end of the 1990s, enough was enough. The government and community began Europe’s biggest urban regeneration scheme, dedicated to demolishing all of the existing houses and redeveloping the area completely.

Ross McDonnell

From Joyrider. A boy stands before a bonfire.

My new film Remember Me, My Ghost came out of my experience photographing Ballymun for a project called Joyrider. That project began in 2005, in the middle of this regeneration scheme, when I stumbled upon a scene of post-apocalyptic abandon one Halloween night. Witnessing the transition of a group of rebellious young car thieves into a fully-fledged drug gang seemed somehow alien to Ireland, a quiet and at the time prosperous European outpost. But social alienation breeds these conditions in communities like Ballymun the world over. That truth inspired the project, on which I worked until 2008. In 2010, when the Joyrider photographs had gained recognition and I had completed my first documentary, I was encouraged to think about making a feature-length dramatic film. I went back to the area to gather material, with a commission from the Irish Film Board.

I returned to Ballymun happy that my idea had found support but apprehensive. I knew that the infamous ‘block’ where I had shot the Joyrider images was now gone and that the particular incendiary phase of youth that I had been privy to capture was now in the past. In my mind I understood that an audience wanted a film version of the images. But I knew this was impossible.

There seemed to be no narrative in revisiting the subject matter of Joyrider; no beginning, middle or end to the filming I undertook with my subjects. I decided to scrap all of the work I had completed and make a fresh start: in all my time shooting in Balllymun I had never touched on the feminine, domestic perspective of life in Ballymun, something I had always felt I missed out on in editing the hyper-charged, brattish imagery of Joyrider.

Abandoning my camera and using only an audio recorder I began recording interviews with the women of Ballymun.

All of the women I interviewed, more than 12 in total and from many different generations of women in Ballymun, were strong and courageous. Many of the stories I recorded were both heartbreaking and heartwarming. A community like Ballymun has always had its trials and tribulations—crime and drug use in particular were very public scourges in the neighborhood—but behind the closed doors in Ballymun I also heard many similarities in the stories of the women, stories of domestic violence, drug addiction and absentee fathers. In the classic Irish way the interviews were long, drawn out chats over cups of tea.

One interviewee however—Rachel—was able to tell her incredible life history with such clarity, in a way that stood out from everything else I had spent months searching for in Ballymun, that I felt compelled to use her story as the foundation of the film. Her story had narrative, a sense that having been through many terrible incidents in her life she had emerged on the other side to become a stronger person. With the audio edited I began filming again, asking friends and friends of friends to perform vignettes while I directed them. I was looking for moments that carried a feeling of connection to the story itself but also moments that were clearly not documentary images from Rachel’s life, drawing visual tangents between these different elements of the story.

At the same time the demolition company that was in charge of knocking down many of the remaining Ballymun tower blocks granted me access to the empty buildings to photograph and film in the empty spaces before and sometimes as they were being demolished. Each one of these places, although empty, was filled with the personality and the character of the people who had lived there. I felt privileged that I might be the last person to witness these places intact. Most are now gone, returned to dust.

The film Remember Me, My Ghost, by photographer Ross McDonnell, premiered at the Cork International Film Festival in November, 2011, and is screening at festivals throughout Europe this year.

Maggie Steber’s ‘Rite of Passage’ and the Gift of Memory

It was almost a decade ago that photographer Maggie Steber realized that her mother, Madje Steber, was not going to get better. Although her mother had always lived independently, her dementia had gotten to the point where that would no longer be possible.

“I started photographing my mother as soon as I realized I was going to have to move her out of her home in Austin,” says Steber. “She would never let me photograph her before. When her defenses were down—and I’m sure some people will say that’s not right—I started photographing her.”

The project was originally intended as purely personal, a way for Steber to cope during her mother’s illness and a way for her to remember her mother in later days. There was also video, filmed as Madje Steber’s condition deteriorated, which would allow the photographer to remember how her mother moved and sounded. But along the way, says Steber, she realized that the project could be more than something she would dust off and look at when she wanted to remember. After a shorter project created for AARP and then a period of time away from the work after her mother’s death in 2009, Maggie Steber (in collaboration with MediaStorm) made a film, Rite of Passage, which will premiere June 11 at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Steber’s film involves photos and video taken at difficult moments and at beautiful ones—moments when Steber says her mother came out of herself and lost her shyness. Her mother’s reluctance to be photographed was, she thinks, a result of her youth and beauty passing; “it was so lovely to have these pictures where she was happy and beautiful again,” she says. The photographer hopes that those transcendent moments will teach viewers that illness comes in waves, that stages will pass and—perhaps most of all—that if you are willing to be a “warrior” on behalf of your loved one, they can have a positive end-of-life experience. Nobody told her how to navigate doctors and medications, and part of her goal is to help others with the research that accompanies a loved one’s death. “If you can stick with it,” she says, “there’s this rather remarkable gift at the end.”

Maggie Steber

Madje Steber naps with her favorite toy, a stuffed kitty, in her room at Midtown Manor, an assisted living facility, in Hollywood, FL. in 2007.

Part of that gift is knowing that you’ve done what you could. Steber says that she was aware from a young age that her mother, the single mother of a single child, would die one day and that she had a responsibility to be there for it. And she was: “I was able to hold my mother while she took her last breath,” she says.

The other part is meeting your parent all over again, with all the barriers down. Steber says that, as her mother lost touch with the past, they lost touch with the mother-daughter relationship. “They don’t recognize you anymore. They fall in love with somebody else. They think the caregiver is their daughter,” she explains. “That’s a little startling, it hurts a little bit, but I started to see her as Madje.” It’s difficult for children to see their parents as individuals separate from themselves, but Madje became a whole woman to Maggie, someone who told marvelous stories, someone who had been a scientist and would have wanted her last days to help ease medical confusion, someone who could have become a friend if they had started out as strangers. “I just fell in love with her,” says Steber. “I know I would have just really enjoyed knowing this woman.”

Steber’s photographs and videos were made in order to preserve just one woman’s memory of a mother, but she says she hopes that her decision to share will help other people decide to look for those gifts of memory. “It doesn’t come easily, but it’s worth it,” she says. “You have to live with that for the rest of your life and I just think if you can live with the happier memories, the discovery and seeing somebody blossom even as they’re disappearing right in front of you, you have that to hold onto. And maybe it is the best thing you’ll ever do.”

Maggie Steber’s Rite of Passage premieres June 11 at Galapagos Art Space, along with Phillip Toledano’s A Shadow Passes, another film from MediaStorm about the loss of a loved one. More information about the event is available here.

Three War Photographers: Feel Fear, Keep Going

Clichés are tricky things. They convey a kind of truth — but can ring hollow. They can sound profound — but once uttered, they’re utterly forgettable. And while often employed to pay tribute to an individual, or to describe a specific profession, some clichés can be applied to a litany of vocations.

When other people run away from danger, they run toward it. They go into battle armed with nothing but courage. Like everyone else, they experience fear — but unlike everyone else, they keep going.

Ultimately, though, there’s one especially odd, defining characteristic about clichés: they endure for a reason. And while some of the assertions above — about running toward danger or experiencing fear — could easily pertain to any number of pursuits, from firefighting to mountain climbing, very few occupations in the world can make those platitudes sound new and meaningful again quite like the job of war photographer.

Ralph Morse—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Here, in a short film by Will Wedig, Jonah Weintraub and Bill Shapiro — made to honor recipients of Time Inc’s prestigious Briton Hadden Lifetime Achievement Award — the profession and the passion of war photography, as practiced across decades by acknowledged masters, get their due.

One of the honorees, LIFE’s Ralph Morse, was sent to the Pacific in World War II as the youngest war correspondent working in that theater. All he managed to accomplish during the conflict was to survive the sinking of a cruiser off of Guadalcanal; make dozens of the most celebrated (and shocking) pictures to come out of the global conflagration; chronicle the liberation of Paris in 1944; and record the German surrender to Eisenhower in 1945. (Morse went on to so devotedly and inventively cover the early days of the Mercury Seven and the Space Race that John Glenn dubbed him the “eighth astronaut,” while LIFE’s long-time managing editor George Hunt once declared that “if LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.”)

Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The late, British-born Larry Burrows distinguished himself covering Southeast Asia from 1962 until his death in 1971. His work, from the searing single image, “Reaching Out” (featuring a wounded Marine desperately trying to comfort a stricken comrade after a fierce 1966 firefight in a landscape that might have given Hieronymus Bosch nightmares) to his great photo essay, “One Ride With Yankee Papa 13,” not only captured the war in Vietnam. For millions of people around the world, Burrows’ pictures encompassed and defined the long, divisive catastrophe.

He and three fellow photojournalists died when their helicopter was shot down during operations in Laos. Larry Burrows was 44.

James Nachtwey for TIME

Finally, there’s James Nachtwey, who has covered civil strife, natural disasters and armed conflicts around the globe for more than three decades. He has seen fellow photographers and friends injured and killed while doing their jobs. He has been wounded himself (in Iraq in 2003, when an insurgent tossed a grenade into a Humvee that he and TIME’s Michael Weisskopf were riding in). He was the subject of the 2001 Oscar-nominated documentary, War Photographer, and is widely regarded as the greatest living photojournalist.

“To see life,” Henry Luce wrote in his now-famous 1936 mission statement for LIFE magazine, delineating what he envisioned as his new venture’s workmanlike method and its lofty aims. “To see the world; to eyewitness great events … to see strange things — machines, armies, multitudes … to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.”

Across decades, Morse, Burrows and Nachtwey have seen, and have helped us see, the very best and the absolute worst that humanity can offer.

When other people ran from danger, they ran toward it. They went into battle armed with nothing but courage. They experienced fear — and they kept going. These are war photographers.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.