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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.

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.

Stefano de Luigi Photographs the Cinema of Iran

With Iranian cinema in the news after A Separation took home the prize for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars—and after last week’s announcement that, in Iran, the planned celebration of that win had been cancelled by government authorities—LightBox takes an opportunity to revisit a 2007 project by Stefano de Luigi, in which he went behind the scenes to document the country’s filmmakers. These works, taken from the larger project Cinema Mundi, have until now never been published in North America.

At this year Oscars, there was no more poignant speech delivered than the one by Asghar Farhadi, Iranian director of the film A Separation, which won the prize for Best Foreign Language Film. “At this time many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy,” said Farhadi, the writer and director of the film. “They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture. A rich and ancient culture that has been under the heavy dust of politics.”

Stefano de Luigi—VII

Posters from national movie scenes are displayed Tehran’s Cinema Museum.

Amid the bluster of Washington neo-conservatives, hawks in Tel Aviv and messianic diehards in Tehran, Farhadi stood out, a voice of reason, a voice of art. His film is hardly propaganda: it deals with the travails of a middle class family in Tehran, which is torn apart by the desire of one member to escape what seems to be the shackling, limiting conditions of life in the Islamic Republic. Indeed, if anything belies the demagogic sheen of Iran’s image in the West, it is the irrepressible sophistication and class of Iranian cinema. Veteran filmmakers like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarastomi grace Cannes and are adored by cognoscenti the world over. In an era of 3D blockbusters and faddish directors, Iran’s cinema luminaries remain auteurs in an almost classical sense, the descendants of various New Waves that palpably reach back into the smoke-filled cafes of 1960s Rome and Paris.

The photographer Stefano de Luigi’s long-term project Cinema Mundi, which addresses changes to global cinema over the past decade, has taken him to filmmaking stories from around the world. His photographs from Iran are featured in the gallery above. The magic of Iranian cinema can transform stories of a missing goldfish or a wayward ostrich into profound allegories of faith, society and politics. Invariably, though, censors get in the way. Most recently, director Jafar Panahi was thrown into jail for his alleged collusion in the peaceful 2009 pro-democracy protests that rocked the powers that be in Tehran; his last film, Offside, related the struggles of a group of girls desperate to attend an Iranian national team soccer match—a spectacle from which they are barred under law. That awareness of a story suppressed, a “rich and ancient culture” under firm watch, suffuses much of Iranian film. It is up to the courage of its actors and artists to make sure the “dust of politics” that settles can be easily brushed off.

Stefano de Luigi is a Milan-based photographer represented by VII Photo Agency. See more of his work here.

Chasing Ice: Could Time-Lapse Photography Save the Planet?

The Extreme Ice Survey, an artistic and scientific project founded by award-winning photographer James Balog, has 27 cameras pointed at 18 glaciers around the world. Together, they snap 8,000 frames worth of time-lapse footage per year. Thus the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is able to capture alterations to the arctic environment—changes that might seem to be slow, glacially so, are rendered dramatic. Almost equally dramatic was the organization’s beginning, which is documented in a film called Chasing Ice, now screening at South by Southwest.

© 2010 Extreme Ice Survey

© 2010 Extreme Ice Survey

Rappelling into Survey Canyon, looking down at moulin channel dropping meltwater 2,000 vertical feet into crevasses through the Greenland Ice Sheet. EIS director James Balog is shown.

Between equipment unable to withstand the icy conditions and a faulty timer in an early camera, the project had a difficult start. “I thought I was going to buy off-the-shelf parts and I was naïve about the hardware. I ended up designing custom stuff,” Balog says. “We had a lot of money on the line, we had a lot of plans on the line, a lot of people on the line.”

It took months of trial and error, but their system of Nikon D200 DSLR cameras, solar panels, batteries, heavy-duty tripods, waterproof cases and wind-proof anchors is now reliable. Some of the cameras are checked on and their images downloaded only once a year.

Balog’s initial attraction to the ice was one of aesthetics—“the sculpture, the beauty, the light, the form, the color,” he says—and a forthcoming photo book from EIS will showcase those facets of the glaciers. But the technology innovated by Balog and his team doesn’t just allow EIS to take those pictures: the Survey aims to put them to good use. Balog, who had been a skeptic about climate change until about 20 years ago, says that seeing the evidence of climate change may make a difference where human stubbornness otherwise persists. He takes a zen perspective on change, believing that whatever landscape is underneath the glaciers, to be revealed by their melting, will also be perfect in its own way, but says he is disheartened by the extent to which people refuse to recognize their place in causing that change and its inevitable climatic, political and military consequences.

“The deeper I got into it, the more I realized that our aesthetics were the pathway to communicate the science effectively, the knowledge base that the scientists had,” Balog says. “The visual information can only be part of the puzzle but that’s the piece of the puzzle that I know how to put in the board.”

© 2007 Extreme Ice Survey

James Balog hangs off a cliff by Columbia Glacier, Alaska, to install a time-lapse camera.

The footage from Chasing Ice dates back to the very beginning of the project. At the time, Balog predicted he would want to have it on film but had no definite plans in mind. It was not until 2009 that Jeff Orlowski, who had begun as an unpaid assistant cameraman for EIS, asked Balog for the rights to put the video to use. The resulting film, directed by Orlowski, was given the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and has been acquired for TV broadcast by the National Geographic Channel.

Although Balog was not involved in the film’s production, he sees it as a part of the larger mission of EIS. “I hope this becomes part of the wake-up call that will jostle people out of their intellectual hibernation,” he says, “and at the same time, if you stand back from all of that and you just look at the incredible beauty of what we’ve been shooting the past six years, it’s mind-boggling.”

Chasing Ice is playing at South by Southwest on March 15 and March 16. Find out more here.

James Balog, founder of the Extreme Ice Survey, is a recipient of the Leica Medal of Excellence, International League of Conservation Photographers Award, North American Nature Photography Association “Outstanding Photographer of the Year” award and others. Read more about him and the Extreme Ice Survey on their websites.

The Loving Story: Loving v. Virginia and the Photographs of Grey Villet

More of Grey Villet’s LIFE photographs of Richard and Mildred Loving are presented in a special gallery at the new Life.com.

Nancy Buirski and Elisabeth Haviland James, the team behind HBO’s The Loving Story, were secretly hoping to get a little more material when they went to show an early trailer of their documentary to the family of the movie’s subjects in the summer of 2010. The film tells the story of Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Loving, the serendipitously named couple behind the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, who were exiled from Virginia for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. (The case overturned all such laws, making interracial marriage legal nationwide.) Buirski, the film’s director and writer, and James, her co-producer, already had a treasure trove of video footage of their subjects, but they thought a few more family snapshots would provide a nice touch.

Peggy Loving, the couple’s daughter, was impressed by what she saw. She told Buirski that she did have some family photographs, left the room and returned carrying 70 10-by-13 prints taken by photojournalist Grey Villet in 1965 for LIFE magazine.

Buirski, who has worked both as a photo editor at the New York Times and as the director of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, immediately recognized what she saw. “Elisabeth and I just looked at each other,” she says, “and I think we might have even had tears in our eyes.”

It’s not unusual for a documentary film to rely on photographs to illustrate history, but The Loving Story demonstrates a unique way of doing so. Because Buirski had unearthed Villet’s photos, she was able to use the work of a single photographer to tell the story. And, for the most part, the photos used in the film are scans of the actual vintage prints owned by the Loving family. Buirski says that consistency allowed her to escape from the constraints of documentary style: rather than show a picture to go along with a specific point in the narrative, she was able to set a consistent mood and even, in some cases, to let the images speak for themselves without help of a voiceover.

The photographs also allowed the filmmakers to show the human side of the Lovings’ story, something that was not as present in the video footage. Most of the video used in The Loving Story was filmed by Hope Ryden, a cinema-verité filmmaker who had taken an interest in the case. The Lovings were initially reticent to participate. They were living in Virginia illegally and, rather than attempt to cast themselves as Civil Rights heroes, they were, as Mildred Loving puts it in one of Ryden’s interviews, just “trying to get home.” The couple was convinced by their lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, that Ryden was trustworthy; even so, Buirski feels that the Lovings put up walls when confronted with movie cameras and microphones.

Not so with Villet’s still camera. “A photojournalist like [Villet] tends to be able to disappear in a story like that,” says Buirski. As such, the photographs he took are more intimate than the video was. Rather than answer questions about legal matters, the Lovings kiss, hold hands and play with their children.

“[The photographs] opened up a window on their love,” says Buirski.

The Loving Story premieres on HBO on Feb. 14, at 9 p.m. ET.

An exhibit of Grey Villet’s photographs of the Loving family that were discovered in the course of filming is also currently on view, through May 6, at the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Two Photographers’ Mission to Retrace a Lost Liberia

Jeff and Andrew Topham were five and three, respectively, when their father’s job moved them from the Yukon, Canada to just outside of Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, in 1976, four years before a military coup and two subsequent civil wars would devastate the West African nation. The boys lived in what they remember as paradise: endless beaches, thick jungles and countless adventures with their pet chimp named Evelyn. Their father, John, documented this time with thousands of photographs, inspiring a love for photography and filmmaking in both brothers.

In May 2010, the Tophams—now photographers themselves—returned to Monrovia to see what had become of their childhood home. “Our original idea was to revisit and re-shoot the influential and iconic photos of our childhood,” says Jeff Topham. What began as a personal exploration of their youth turned into a documentary film project titled Liberia 77 after the Tophams realized that many of the citizens they encountered did not own any photographs. “I was really interested in the connection between photography and memory,” Topham says. “How much my dad’s photographs influence my memory and what was actually real.”

Although they had seen images of the trouble Liberia had experienced in the last 20 years, the Tophams’ understanding changed after hearing stories of the fighting from citizens who had known their family. “You can read about those stories, but when you are actually sitting with someone and they are telling you first hand, it seems to hit a lot harder,” Topham says. “I think the emotional impact was definitely bigger than the physical.”

Exchem ID

John Topham’s Exchem ID. Many Liberians got rid of of their work ID cards to stay alive during the civil war.

The most staggering realization, which became the central focus of Liberia 77, was the absence of pictures. “The fact that nobody we encountered had any photographs, to me, was remarkable,” Topham says. During the civil wars, the possession of photographs—even on job identification cards—meant a person had money, a fact that could cause one to lose his or her life. Many people would get rid of them just to survive. “People hadn’t seen photos of Liberia from before the wars,” Topham says. “We had this stack of photographs from my dad that we were using as reference, and they almost became this stack of historical documents.”

During one part of Liberia 77,  Liberian photojournalist Sando Moore asks, “If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are going?” That poignant questions speaks to the heart of the Tophams’ film: to give Liberian citizens a connection to their past in order to grow and reconstruct their future. “The fact that the country was destroyed over time, but was also built over time—I think to give people just a sense of history and of time passing is important,” Topham says.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was inaugurated for a second term today, also spoke briefly for the documentary. “I wish those who have photographs of our national existence find a way to keep them because at some point we will need to establish, re-activate our museum,” she says. “The only thing that could capture for the young people Liberia’s road from independence to where we are today would be if we could gather good photographs that rarely depict that. I hope those of you who are skilled in this and those of you who have all these years been able to keep these photographs, make sure you able us to copy them so we have our children know their own country.”

Since leaving Liberia at the end of last spring, and on the plea from President Sirleaf, the brothers have done just that. They’ve been collecting photographs from around the world  to help create a photographic archive for the people of Liberia at the National Museum in Monrovia. The Tophams have collected nearly 700 photographs to date, and they are looking for funding to return to Monrovia this fall to stage an exhibit and hand the pictures of peace over to the museum.

Liberia 77 has been shown on Canadian television and film festivals around the world. Read more about the project here. If interested in donating pre-war photographs of Liberia, click here. To learn more about the Tophams’ Indie Go-Go Fund Raising Platform, click here

Tim Hetherington 1970-2011

As most readers will already know by now, Tim Hetherington, the war reporter, photographer and filmmaker was killed on Wednesday 20 April 2011 in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Misrata, Libya, alongside another photojournalist Chris Hondros. The news has clearly shocked and deeply saddened the photojournalism community, but also many people far beyond the confines of that world. Bryan has written a post which provides an interesting account of how the news spread very rapidly through Facebook and Twitter and was then held back by some out of respect for the families of the deceased men, until it finally became official. I am not really involved in the world of photo-journalism or reportage, but I had been following Hetherington’s work for some time and saw his excellent documentary Restrepo only a few weeks ago. My impression was that he was a truly unique figure in his field who seemed to be aware not only of the many potential ethical pitfalls of his profession, but also of the need to break with a burdensome past to try and find genuinely new ways of telling stories. He considered himself an “image-maker” rather than a photographer and seemed to be constantly interested in trying new approaches to getting a message across. It also appears from the many tributes that have emerged in the past few hours that he was a profoundly compassionate man who managed to remain sensitive to the suffering that is caused by the violence about which he made his images. To understand what made Hetherington such a unique figure in his field, I recommend watching the last film, Diary (2010), that the uploaded to his Vimeo account. A “highly personal and experimental film” it shows how deeply and carefully he thought about his profession and its implications for his own life, and illustrates why so many people have recognised that his loss is a tragedy not only for his family and friends, but for anyone interested in hearing those stories that can be so hard to tell.


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