Tag Archives: Degree In Sociology

Vacationland: Rural Maine Chronicled in the Photography of Steven Rubin

Twenty-five years old with a single camera body and lens in hand, Steven Rubin hitched a ride in 1982 to rural Somerset County in northwestern Maine and embarked on a project that would continue for more than 30 years.

Now a selection of the images Rubin captured during his decades-long project in this little-visited region of the U.S. will soon get a rare showing in Los Angeles. “Vacationland” goes up at the drkrm gallery from April 28 through May 26.

A graduate from Reed College with a degree in sociology, Rubin had originally come out to the East Coast from Oregon to enroll at the then Maine Photographic Workshops (now the Maine Media Workshops) in Rockport. After documenting the effects of the early 1980s recession on families nearby, he wanted to see how the economic downturn was being handled by locals far from the highways, historic lighthouses and second homes of the Maine coast. On a tip from a friend, Rubin headed inland and settled upon an abandoned shack as his home base and a schedule of hitching four to eight hours between the countryside to take pictures and Rockport to develop them.

Taking prints back to his subjects as a thank-you for their time and trust, Rubin was eventually let into the lives of local families—as well as some of their homes to crash on floors and couches—as he continued his work throughout Central Maine.

What he has witnessed is a part of the country largely unbuffeted by the usual economic ups and downs seen elsewhere. For many in the area times are always tough. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita income has been increasing in Somerset County but has ranked at or near the bottom among Maine’s 16 counties throughout the many years of Rubin’s project. Residents get by through resourcefully cobbling together seasonal and part-time jobs, hunting, fix-it know-how and the support of their communities.

“When I met some of these families, I was completely in awe of them in many ways,” said Rubin, now an assistant professor of art in the Photography Program at Penn State University. “I think as an outsider and someone who didn’t have the background that they did, I was really quite taken by how they survived, by their strength, by their resourcefulness.”

Rubin sought to avoid the stereotypes of people broken by their struggles or heroically pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Influenced not only by legendary photographer Dorothea Lange but also anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Rubin aimed at creating a body of work that functioned as a “thick description,” a finely detailed document for understanding the context of human actions. Achieving that goal required time.

Since 1982, Rubin has returned to this project 10 times to capture daily rhythms and rituals and how the people he’d come to know changed, grew up, forged intense family bonds and frequently returned home despite finding good jobs elsewhere.

“I think so many of us—who move around different parts of the country, different parts of the world—we spend a lot of our lives looking for that sense of community. And these people have it,” Rubin said.

He’s planning to return again this summer to Maine, this time possibly shooting digitally rather than on his trusty Kodak Tri-X.

Steven Rubin’s photography has appeared in magazines including National Geographic, The New York Times, Stern and TIME. The series is on display at drkrm in Los Angeles, April 28 – May 26.

Critical Mass: Sebastian Liste

Looking at portfolios from Critical Mass 2011…

Sebastian Liste was born in Spain, raised in Barcelona and is now based in Brazil. He received a Bachelors degree in Sociology at the UNED, and a Masters in the Arts in Photojournalism at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In 2010, Sebastian won the Ian Parry Scholarship for his long term project “Urban Quilombo” about the extreme living conditions that dozens of families face who have set up home in an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. At the same time he was given a place on the Emerging Talent page of the Reportage by Getty Images, and since then became a Featured Contributor in Reportage by Getty Images in October 2011.

Urban Quilombo: This project is a testimony of a place that no longer exists.

Eight years ago sixty families occupied the “Galpao da Araujo Barreto”, an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Prior to establishing in this place, these families lived throughout the dangerous streets of the city. They came together to seize this deserted factory, which lay in ruins, and they transformed it into a home.

Since 2009, I have been documenting Barreto. This vast sub culture within the greater city became one extended family. They created a microcosm in which the problems of drugs, prostitution and violence tackled with the support of the community. Barreto was a place where the exchange of ideas, goods and services created a bond of identity that allowed the survival of its members in a society that marginalizes them. Thus, community life is a form of struggle and resistance. Resistance to a society that considered they as a dysfunctional organ. I came to Barreto to explore how communities formed within fragmented societies as a mechanism of survival. During the years, I have witnessed almost everything that one can live: love, despair, betrayal, lust, passion, unity, friendships, empathy, conflicts, forgiveness and a sense of family.

In March 2011 the government evicted these families from the factory, as one of the many attempts to clean up the visible poverty of the center of Brazilian cities. This is mainly due to the upcoming international events to be held in Brazil in the next years, like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. By the time, these families relocated, there were around 130 families living in Barreto, an area approximately the size of a football field.

This community was a metaphor for a place where the tragic decomposition of human life combines perfectly with the magic realism of Latin America.