Tag Archives: Documentary Projects

Cédric Gerbehaye’s Belgium: A Country in Flux

Photographer Cédric Gerbehaye has spent the past nine years working on long-term documentary projects, often in underreported regions including South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A project in the latter country, which opened Gerbehaye’s eyes to the long and conflicted relationship the DRC has with its former colonial occupier, eventually led him to turn his lens back home, to Belgium.

In June 2010, Gerbehaye’s own country fell into turmoil and transition when the two leading political parties in the country – the New Flemish Alliance and the Socialist Party – were unable to reach a consensus on a coalition to form a new government. Belgium broke the record for being a nation without a government for a consecutive period of time, clocking in at 541 days before a new Prime Minister was appointed in December 2011. It was a period of immense political and social tension for the people of Belgium—a country comprised mainly of two distinct cultural groups.

“The idea of a separation of the country was more present than ever,” Gerbehaye said. “Belgium is a state assembling two people which initially have nothing in common—they speak different languages, they do not have the same economy and vote in opposite ways.”

The Flemish-speaking north and French-speaking south largely keep to their separate sides, differentiated by a linguistic border that slices the country from east to west.

Seeing the issues he had spent so many years exploring abroad bubble to the surface at home, Gerbehaye set out to document these two communities and the friction that is created from people who separate themselves as distinct groups that gather together under the same flag. The resulting series — simply titled Belgium — digs into the tensions inherent in the mixing of these communities and to the new identities that emerge from such co-mingling. The first chapter of the work, which was completed during this spring and summer, was produced for the International Festival Photoreporter in Saint Brieuc and will be on view from Oct. 19 to Nov. 11.

Weaving together images of workers on the brink of losing their jobs with countrymen engaged in religious traditions, Gerbehaye sought to convey the social and political dynamics within the small nation’s borders. But Belgium also serves as an exploration of physical space, and the photographer zig-zagged the country in order to document steelworkers in the French-speaking region and fishermen in the Flemish-speaking north. For work grappling with what it means to be Belgian, viewing the country from its outer limits was key.  “For the fishermen, it was a way of speaking of a job that is disappearing now, but it’s also a way to give some limits to the work, to give a border,” Gerbehaye said. “They are in the sea, at the border of the country, on the coast of the country.”

Gerbehaye does not attempt to make a definitive comparison of his country’s two linguistic regions. Rather, he seeks through his photos of Catholic devotees, night revelers, and farmers — ordinary Belgians living their everyday lives — to create a “partial and personal inventory of the human territory.”

 Cédric Gerbehaye is a photographer with VU. LightBox previously featured Gerbehaye’s photographs of Birth and Death in Sudan.

Ellen Wallenstein

New York photographer, Ellen Wallenstein‘s ideas and interests navigate in and out of all sorts of interesting arenas, and maybe that is just part of being a New Yorker where inspiration is never an issue.  Her bodies of work reflect a broad range of approaches and subjects from projects such as Dead Men from New Fairfield, CT, Ellis Island Self Portraits, Pocketbook of Drag Queens, and the project I am featuring today, Respecting My Elders. Ellen is an engaged photographer, teaching photography and book arts at School of Visual Arts and Pratt and writes articles and book reviews for PDNedu and Fraction magazines. She received  a B.A. in art history from SUNY Stony Brook and an M.F.A. in photography from Pratt Institute and was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize in 2011.

Her project, Respecting My Elders, Ellen was supported by UnitedStatesArtists.org, a “micro-philanthropy” which supports artists projects across the country. She raised funds for an upcoming website and a first catalogue of (26) portraits of creative elders, which should be in print by the end of the year. She will be giving a public talk on her portraits at the Center for Alternative Photography/Penumbra Foundation  in NYC, on October 23rd. (It will be streamed live, as well)

Respecting My Elders:
I most often work on long-term documentary projects that mesh into the fabric of
my daily life. For the last few years I’ve been making portraits of older people in
their environments.”

Respecting My Elders” is a collection of color portraits of creative individuals over the age of eighty, photographed in their homes and studios. They are artists and intellectuals born at the turn of the last century, whose wisdom and insight are important to our nation.

Editta Sherman, b. 1912 photographer, nyc 2009

Known as The Greatest Generation, and coming of age between the two World Wars, the effect of their contributions upon future generations is evident in their productions. These include books, poems, paintings, photographs, plays and performances, as well as important breakthroughs in education, philanthropy and the sciences. I believe these persons deserve to be celebrated: my photographs are meant to capture their spirit and beauty, and to inspire admiration by future generations.
A. R. Gurney, b. 1930, playwright, roxbury, ct 2010
The photography sessions become collaborations between my sitters, many of who pose with objects of significance, and myself. I work alone, with a handheld camera in natural light. 
David Vestal, b. 1924, photographer, bethlehem, ct 2008

This endeavor builds upon a previous project, “Opus for Anne,” which documented three years of weekly visits to an elderly Hospice patient who became a close friend. After she died I felt inspired to contact others of her generation who had influenced me artistically and intellectually.

Dr. Billy Taylor, b.1921, jazz musician-educator, riverdale, ny 2009

I began in a “sixdegrees- of-separation” manner, starting with my mother and her circle, asking friends and colleagues for suggestions and introductions, as well as contacting strangers I was interested in meeting. This led me to some fascinating people who in turn recommended me to their friends and colleagues.

Edward Albee,b. 1928, playwright, NYC 2010
I’ve been taking these portraits slowly but steadily, as I continue my teaching. I feel that this project is going to be my life’s work.

Francine du Plessix Gray, b. 1930, writer, warren, ct 2010

James Earl Jones, b. 1931,actor, nyc 2012
Joan Copeland, b. 1922, actress, nyc 2010
Milton Glaser, b. 1929, graphic designer, nyc 2009

Ned Rorem, b. 1923, composer/writer, nyc 2010

Richard Howard, b. 1929, poet, nyc 2010
Romulus Linney, b. 1930, playwright, nyc 2010

Rosalind Soloman,b. 1930, photographer, nyc 2011

Will Barnet, b. 1911, painter, nyc 2010

Wolf Kahn,b. 1927, painter, nyc 2010

Review Santa Fe: Carolyn Drake

Over the next month, I will be sharing the work of photographers who attended Review Santa Fe in June.  Review Santa Fe is the only juried review in the United States and invites 100 photographers to Santa Fe for a long weekend of reviews, insights, and connections.  

Carolyn Drake ‘s project, Uyghur, documents Xinjiang, China in a variety of ways–by photographing objects as a way of visually journaling her thoughts and feelings, collaborating with the people she encountered in the province and asking them to reinterpret her photographs through drawing and text, and by showing us what was and what is.  This three tiered way of capturing place gives us a rich tapestry of a province in transition.

“When I was young, people were poor.  Now they are getting richer from jade and from the government  A lot of people are looking for jade on the Black Jade River and the White Jade River, looking for luck.  If they can’t find a good piece of jade, they can sell it for a lot of money.  The Chinese people love it.  Digging is a hard job.  It’s like gambling.  If you have luck you can find it, if you have no luck, you just dig.”

Carolyn received her BA in Media/Culture and American History from Brown University, and later studied photography at ICP and Ohio University. She now splits her time between self-driven documentary projects and the magazine editorial work from which she makes a living. Carolyn is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship, and the Lange Taylor Documentary Prize, among other awards, and is currently putting together her first book, Two Rivers. She is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

Uyghur:Xinjiang – China’s vast far western province – has changed drastically since I began photographing Uyghurs there in 2007. Traditionally living in agricultural villages and trading towns on the edges of the Taklimakan Desert, many Uyghurs have been forced off of their land and out of their courtyard homes into urban housing projects. They are displaced by millions of Han workers migrating west from the Chinese interior as government policy tightens its grip on this province which borders several newly independent, Islamic leaning countries.  

While Uyghurs continue to aspire to cultural and political autonomy, their language and way of life are transforming. Ive been drawn back over and over. The attraction comes partly from a sense that these changes ought to be viewed from more perspectives, especially ones that consider Uyghur interests. Its also a personal attraction to the desert landscape, communal culture, vivid streetlife, and hospitality I saw there. 

Feeling the limits of what could be expressed with my camera, I eventually began to look for meaning other ways. I learned about the significance of dreams in Islam and asked people to describe their own remembered dreams. I collected and photographed objects left in the dust of demolition. I carried a journal which I asked people to leave messages in.

And I made prints of my photos, asking people to draw their own pictures on top of them, and recording interviews with those who were willing to take the risk. The project has become a narrative collage of these disparate elements.

“This is a picture of my son.  Its the street I was born on. It is a beautiful street. My son drew his dream.  A person running after a thief.  My wife wanted to draw but she thinks she didn’t draw it well.”

“Twenty years ago it was very nice, there were a lot of springs, clean water, grasses, and a lot of trees.  I was always going swimming.  It was a very beautiful place.  But now it’s all buildings, and not much green.  There are so many people living here now, it’s like flies.”
” All of my brothers and sisters and my mother were at the village killing a camel together for the Kurban festival.  I was the butcher, taking off the meat. I work as a tour guide.  I miss home when I go to the other provinces.  Because I’m a Muslim.  Not a really good Muslim, but I’m a Muslim and I believe one day I will become a really good Muslim.  In other provinces you can’t find good Muslim good and people are strangers, they are speaking a different language and you can’t understand them.  I can understand Chinese, but it’s kind of tiring.  I get homesick very easily.”
“A man who regards himself as a Muslim should learn to ride a hourse, to shoot an arrow, and learn to swim.”
“I didn’t study at school because I love my mother. Life wasn’t good for her because my father left. We had six children in my family and I am the youngest so I had a lot of pressure on me.  I got some money every day and gave the money to her.  Then she spent the money for my brothers and sisters to study at school. The whole time, I was a shoe brusher in front of the mosque.  In front of the mosque, one small chair.  If anyone came, I’d brush their shoes.  Then I’d give the money to my mom.”

Public Assembly: The Photographs of Mike Sinclair

For this week’s issue, we combed countless archives in search of the perfect photograph to accompany a history of the American Dream, the subject of the cover story by Jon Meacham. In the end, we turned to photographer Mike Sinclair, who’s been rigorously documenting America’s heartland near his home in Kansas City, Mo. When asked about his photos, he modestly says, “I never really set out to photograph the American Dream or western culture. These are not projects. The edits come out of thinking about themes. I like going through my work and then figuring it out.”

For more than 30 years, Sinclair has documented places where people gather, like state fairs, sporting events and parks. “I grew up in the heyday of LIFE and photojournalism. I realized early on that I was better at visual things,” he tells TIME.

Sinclair decided to pursue journalism at the University of Missouri, but after one year, he realized that it wasn’t a great fit. “I came under the spell of Winogrand and Friedlander and found them more interesting as a budding photojournalist. I eventually went to Southern Illinois University, where they had an undergraduate program in fine art photography. Once I got there, I was in heaven—it combined my interest in the fine arts and photography.”

“I just like everything about taking photos and going to these events. It’s a great counterpoint to photographing modern architecture,” says Sinclair, who does the job professionally to make a living between his documentary projects. All of his images reflect the rigor of an architectural photographer with the straightforward style of masters like Walker Evans, Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore.

“I switched to architecture because I thought after 30 or 40 years I’d have some kind of record of this time and what happened,” he explains.

Sinclair’s understated and introverted approach to documenting an event feels easygoing, placing viewers in the shoes of a local rather than an outsider. He photographs on trips he plans and usually goes with his family. “I kind of plant the camera in front of people and spend time with them,” he says. In all his images, he almost feels invisible.

Sinclair has no real plans for his work except to keep making it. In the beginning, he says, “I first shared the work to the owner of the Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City and was encouraged by him to show it [elsewhere]. Eventually, through them, my work found its way into collections around the country.” These collections include The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, also in Kansas City.

Sinclair disagrees when people label him as a certain type of photographer. “I don’t think of myself as a Midwestern photographer. I think the same sort of things happen everywhere I’ve been.” His image of the Fourth of July (featured above) speaks to his claim—it feels like it could represent almost anywhere in America.

“Part of what I’m interested in is this idea of public space and the preciousness of it. It’s something that we all need,” he says.

Mike Sinclair is a photographer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His current exhibition ‘Public Assembly’ is on view at Jen Bekman Projects in New York City until June 24. 

Jana Romanova, Untitled

Jana Romanova, Untitled

Jana Romanova

, 2011
From the W series
Website – JanaRomanova.com

Jana Romanova was born in 1984 in Russia, and earned a degree in journalism from Saint-Petersburg State University. Her long-term documentary projects have been shown in several exhibitions in Russia. In 2011 her works were included in the Backlight Festival exposition (Finland). She has been awarded several international prizes, including PDN's Photo Annual (USA) in 2011 and Blurb's Photography Book Now 2011 in the documentary category. Currently she cooperates with Russian Reporter magazine in Russia and Anzenberger agency worldwide. In 2011 she became a teacher of photography at the Faculty of Photojournalists in Saint-Petersburg.

Interview with Jane Hilton: DEAD EAGLE TRAIL

My father was a cowboy, born and raised in Arizona, so when I spent time with Jane Hilton’s terrific monograph, Dead Eagle Trail, it resonated with me completely. Published by Schilt, Dead Eagle Trail: Portraits of the American Cowboy looks at contemporary cowboys who are still engaged in century old traditions. Inspired by a commission in 2006 to photograph a 17 year old cowboy, Jeremiah Karsten, who travelled 4,000 miles on horseback from his native Alaska to Mexico, Jane set off on her own four year pilgrimage, criss-crossing the cowboy states of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming to capture America’s 21st century cowboys which has culminated in this monograph.

A London photographer, Jane has a website and a resume that reflects a long history of exploring culture and society around the world, but in particular, the American West. In addition to her photography, she also creates films about about the people and communities she encounters. “My work is about the extraordinary realities of ordinary people’s everyday lives, revealing their individual characteristics and ways of being that one so often overlooks”. She started out as a classical musician, graduating in 1984 with a BA (Hons) in Music and Visual Art from Lancaster University. Her love of photography brought her to London, working as an assistant for numerous fashion and advertising photographers, before going it alone in 1988. Early work included both fashion and editorial alongside her documentary projects, which is the mainstay and passion of her work today.

DEAD EAGLE TRAIL – Portraits of the American Cowboy
Since 2006 Jane Hilton has ‘collected’ this series of cowboy portraits, from the buckaroos of Nevada to the cowpunchers of Arizona and Texas. They have all been photographed in their own homes, which they have filled with western artefacts. The need to hold on to their heritage and culture is clearly visible: stuffed animals, belt buckles, spurs, John Wayne memorabilia, guns, boots, and saddles, it’s all there. There’s a craving to collect and preserve their way of life as the ranches struggle to survive in the face of new technology, and the rising costs of feed and petrol. Dead Eagle Trail is a document to the cowboy of the twenty first century.

Interview with Jane Hilton

It was a complete pleasure to mine your website, and I came away wanting to ride along with you on your visual adventures. Your enthusiasm for what you shoot is so evident! When did you first come to the states to make work, and what draws you back again. Why the west?

I first came to the states in 1988 when I was an assistant on a fashion shoot. We were based in Tucson, Arizona and I fell in love with it from this moment on.

Can you tell me how the book Dead Eagle Trail came about?

The book came about after I was commissioned by the Times to photograph a young cowboy called Jeremiah Karsten after he had taken 2 and a half years to cross the United States on horseback. He was 19 years old and had travelled from Alaska to the Mexican border – he represented the American Dream and the older cowboys loved him for that. I ended up going for supper one evening with one of these old cowboys, and when I saw his home I realised there was something incredible about how the wild west had ended up being in his living room. So after photographing Jeremiah I went back to take the portrait of Johnny Green at home in an environment not seen before. And so my new project started…….

What have you learned about the contemporary cowboy?

He is refusing to join the modern world with our social networking and computers, however, he does now reluctantly have to follow new regulations health and safety wise for keeping cattle. Also the cattle drive nowadays is very scarce as cowboys now put the cattle in trucks and drive them from state to state as it is cheaper and quicker. However, the cowboy still exists because they can ride to areas on the land that you can’t reach by a truck. He also carries a cellphone but he still works mostly in areas with no cellphone service !

The cowboy portraits are wonderful, but I was also drawn to your landscape work. I think it’s interesting that such colorful people live in such desolate places.

They all have a passion for the countryside and nature. In general they are all quite spiritual being at one with nature, sometimes not seeing another human being for a few days, and in the winter months a few weeks – so they are used to their own space.

The people you photograph, in all of your series, seem very at ease. Can you share your insights into working with people you don’t know?

I love meeting new people, and am genuinely excited about learning new things from a new person. So maybe being interested helps them to relax. I also try and spend as much time as possible with them before getting my camera out. Time is what you need with people.

You are both a photographer and film maker–how do you decide which medium to approach a project with?

Some things are fairly obvious, for example, where the photographs can’t possibly tell the whole story and the story is amazing, then filming is fantastic. I ended up filming because I came across such incredible people with the most incredible stories.
The still photograph is an art form that requires everything within that frame to be perfect. When you get it right it can sometimes be more poignant.

Are you working on something new–I know you are back in the west at this time?

Yes am very excited about the new project I am working on. Although it is too new to say anything more, except that it is based in Nevada which is my favourite state, so I couldn’t be happier !

What would be your dream project?

The projects that I have done to date, and am doing at the moment. They are all my dream projects

Lenscratch readers are interested in knowing more about your photographic journey. What advice can you give emerging photographers, especially on presentation, on networking, on consistently producing excellent work?

I might not be the best person to answer that as I really just follow my heart, and am aware that is a privilege. Presentation is obviously crucial. I love C-type hand printing and ironically all the old fashioned ways of presenting work. There is nothing better than a photograph that is beautifully printed, and framed and hung on the wall. However, I am aware that the internet is the way forward and in getting the work to a wider audience there is nothing better.

What opportunity took your career to the next level?

Actually this project – ‘Dead Eagle Trail’

And finally, what would be your perfect day?

Taking a great photograph, or filming the perfect sequence, of course !!

Photographer #240: Franky Verdickt

Franky Verdickt, 1971, Belgium, graduated with a masters degree from the St-Lukas academy in Brussels in 2007. In his personal work he searches for the ideal society, a utopia. Even though his work shows real places and real people, there is an ironic criticism of the ideology and the search for perfection. His series Fantasma was created in the self-pronounced republic of Transdnistria, an area between Moldova and the Ukraine. It’s a non existing country in which the people want to believe in their own ideas of reality. In his personal work there is a certain stillness, which is also visible in several of his documentary projects. He travels the world to places as Georgia, China and and Albania for his photographs. The following images come from the series Totem II, Fantasma and Work.

Website: www.frankyverdickt.be

Photo Project Documents: Adam Patterson’s Another Lost Child and Who Cares by Rosie Barnes

© Adam Patterson, Another Lost Child, London, 2008

© Rosie Barnes, Who Cares

© Adam Patterson, Another Lost Child, London, 2008

There’s a sense of the overlooked and dislocated in the titles of two documentary projects on show or touring the UK. The first is photographer Adam Patterson’s series, produced in collaboration with Jean Claude, Another Lost Child, on gangland culture in South London, which is currently on show at Photofusion Gallery in London until 24 March. Rosie Barnes tackles the other end of the age continuum with Who Cares focusing on the carers in the capital. The project has just finished showing in South London, but you can still take a peek at some of the work. Barnes may be familiar for her tenderly observed and highly personal ongoing project documenting her son’s diagnosis and subsequent life with Autism Understanding Stanley (1998 -2007), which is highly recommended, and explores “what it might be like to have autism”. See more…


© Adam Patterson London, 2008

© Adam Patterson London, 2008

Photographer Adam Patterson documented gangland culture in South London for over a year to produce Another Lost Child, click on link for Photofusion post. During this time he befriended one of the gang members 19-year old, Jean Claude, aka Vipoh and the two collaborated on the project. It’s on until 24 March, so there’s no reason not to catch it.


© Rosie Barnes, Who Cares

© Rosie Barnes, Who Cares

© Rosie Barnes, Who Cares

From Rosie Barnes’ statement: “The brilliant thing about cameras these days is that everyone can take pictures. There’s no mystery to that. What matters is what you do and say with those pictures. Giving people the ability to express themselves in a visual way is an incredibly powerful thing.

“I encouraged Willard, Jessica, Lyn, Audrey and Anees to look at the things around them and to think about how they feel and cope and let those things speak visually so that we can learn something of their lives, their stories as carers.

“In this fast-moving, celebrity-obsessed, wealth-acquiring world, something as unglamorous, as fundamental as caring, is something rarely thought of by the majority, but to those who are living as carers, it is the everyday reality. Their work is at the very heart of ‘The Big Society’, so often mentioned these days.

“It is estimated that there are 6 million carers in Britain – 12.5% of the adult population. That figure doesn’t include the more than 1 million young carers and those caring for someone with a substance dependency. Carers save the UK economy £87 billion a year. In Wandsworth there are more than 17,000 carers meaning that Willard, Jessica, Lyn, Audrey and Anees are, together with their fellow carers, contributing to saving the economy – in Wandsworth alone – more than £290 million a year.

“The sheer human effort that the carers put in – mostly unthanked, unpaid and unnoticed, often putting their own lives on hold (tho this is rarely something that the carers themselves would consider), is a tremendously moving thing to witness. This effort is not something that will win an Olympic gold medal, but that level of time, energy, effort and commitment, fuelled by love, is what is required on a daily basis.

“The images that we have made together are starkly honest, sometimes desolate, but ultimately made from love. They express the reality of caring, together with the loneliness, worry, stress and sadness and are a testament to the incredible inner-strength of the carers in our society.

“I have found this project incredibly moving and inspiring. I hope you do too.”

Filed under: Documentary photography, Photographers, Photography Shows Tagged: Adam Patterson, Another Lost Child, documentary photography, Photofusion, Photofusion Gallery, Rosie Barnes, Who Cares