Tag Archives: Girls

The Girls of Chechnya

In 2010, when she was working for a news agency in Moscow, Diana Markosian asked to be sent to Chechnya. The photographer, who is Russian but studied in the United States, was 20 years old and curious about the history of the embattled region.

“They wouldn’t send me so I decided to go by myself,” she remembers. “Grozny became my destination and later became my home.”

Markosian went back repeatedly after that first visit and soon became a specialist in covering a region where, she says, many of her colleagues don’t want to go. She moved to Chechnya last November to live there full-time. But, she says, her close relationship with the area doesn’t mean that it’s not a risky place to live and work—kidnappings are frequent, she says—or that such risk does not affect her photographs. Although Russian leaders declared the region normalized and peaceful three years ago today, following more than a decade of wars against rebels, life is still fraught. They may not appear in the frames, but Chechen authorities are the unseen presence in the work shown in this gallery, a personal project through which Markosian addresses the lives of girls growing up in Chechnya.

“It’s one thing to come here for a week like I used to do. It’s another to start living here, and not only hear what these women are going through but actually experience it yourself,” she says.

Markosian says that Chechnya has experienced a wave of Islamicization since the collapse of the Soviet Union: religious dress codes are mandatory, young (and polygamous) marriages are frequent and gender roles are increasingly conservative. The president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has said publicly that women are the property of their husbands. And at the same time, high unemployment has meant that many young women who are already becoming mothers still live with their own parents.

For Markosian, this has meant that—after she was told by security officers that her belt full of lenses made her look like a suicide bomber—she carries a handbag rather than the photographer’s gear bag to which she was accustomed, and that she has gotten used to being questioned or having her photographs deleted by officers. “As a regular citizen I don’t feel danger,” she says, “but just because I’m doing something a little out of the ordinary, especially for a woman, I’m looked at more carefully.”

It has also changed her working process. Because of what she says is widespread but justified distrust, people are wary of being shown doing anything that could be perceived as unusual. Something as seemingly innocent as a photograph of a woman smoking a cigarette could have dire consequences. The fear of being different has been a particular obstacle for photographing teenagers, as their parents are worried about what might happen if their children are seen as nonconforming.

But Markosian says that, by spending weeks with her subjects before taking a single photograph, she has been able to gain the access necessary for the project. And, in doing so, she says she has found these women to be a mirror for Chechnya as a whole. “That entire idea of a generation building itself and the resilience these girls have really motivated me,” she says. “They are trying to make something of themselves at the same time that this region is trying to build after almost two decades of war.”

Diana Markosian is a photographer based in Chechnya. See more of her work here.

Colleen Plumb, Outdoor World

Colleen Plumb, Outdoor World

Colleen Plumb

Outdoor World,
Portage, Indiana, 2008
From the Animals Are Outside Today series
Website – ColleenPlumb.com

Among other projects, for the past fifteen years Colleen Plumb has been working on a series of photographs about animals and the myriad ways that we’ve integrated them into our lives. Her photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally and are held in public and private collections such as the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Milwaukee Art Museum, Southeast Museum of Photography, Fidelity Collection in Boston, and the Girls' Club Collection in Florida. Plumb’s work has been widely published. Her first monograph, Animals Are Outside Today (Radius Books, 2011), was named a 2011 Notable Book by PDN. She teaches in the Photography Department at Columbia College in Chicago.

Review: Valerio Spada, Gomorrah Girl

Valerio Spada, Gomorrah Girl

Valerio Spada, Gomorrah Girl

I caught up with Valerio Spada after missing the book launch of Gomorrah Girl at Le Bal in Paris in early March. The tallest Italian I have ever met, his enthusiasm and heart-on-his-sleeve sincerity are infectious and endearing (check out his Tumblr for a nice example of this). Spada explained how Gomorrah Girl had initially come about as a shoot on adolescence in Naples, during which he had discovered the story of Annalisa Durante, a 14 year-old girl who was killed, shot in the head by a stray bullet in an assassination attempt, as she was talking to a young Camorra mobster. It was when Spada heard Annalisa’s story from her father Giovanni Durante, that he realised that he had found the heart of his project. After the excellent film, Gomorrah by Matteo Garrone (based on the Roberto Saviano novel), Spada’s book also focuses on adolescence but more specifically on the plight of the teenage girls living in this fiercely masculine world.

Hearing Spada talk about this book it is clear that after discovering the story of Annalisa, she became a constant presence that accompanied him in the background to every one of his shoots in the city. What I found ingenious in Gomorrah Girl is that it succeeds in translating this duality into the form of the book. It is essentially two intertwined books, the first simply presenting straight photographs of the police report on Annalisa’s shooting and the second containing Spada’s photographs of different aspects of the city’s adolescent life. By interweaving these two books page by page, Annalisa’s story, as embodied by the police report on her accidental murder, becomes a constant backdrop to the portraits of the young girls that make up the second book. This structure gives the book a certain ominous feeling, as if Annalisa’s fate is hanging over each of the girls pictured in the book and could become theirs at any moment. The design by Sybren Kuiper (what is it with the Dutch photobook mafia?!?!) is intelligent and turns this otherwise straightforward documentary project, into something more interesting and multi-layered.

In a way, what I enjoyed most about the book is the way the object is so important in telling the story. Another example of the intelligence of the design is that, in addition to the two-book structure, the paper used for the police report section of the book is very flimsy, and, if you spend enough time with Gomorrah Girl, it’s likely that its pages will resemble those of the police report that it depicts. Although Spada’s portraits of Neapolitan adolescents are quite strong, I found myself wanting a more in-depth into their world rather than just a glimpse of each of their individual stories. I found that the book fell a little short of presenting a more complex and developed picture of the world in which these adolescents live. There are some fascinating threads to follow however, such as the neomelodico girls, which would be worthy of a book project in itself. In one caption Spada explains that the neomelodico “can make up to 200,000 euros per year for singing at weddings and other various ceremonies … Through some of these songs and ceremonies the Camorra families send messages to each other.” In a portrait of one of these young singers, tears roll down the girl’s face but her expression betrays no emotion… if anything her face shows how hard she has had to become to live in the world that surrounds her.

Valerio Spada. Gomorrah Girl. Cross Editions (self-pub., soft cover, 40 + 40 pages, colour plates, 2011). Limited edition of 500 copies.

Rating: Recommended


Related posts:

  1. Review: Andrew Phelps, Not Niigata
  2. Review: Hijacked Vol. 2, Australia/Germany
  3. Review: Adriaan van der Ploeg, Mont Purgatoire

Photographer #267: Angela Strassheim

Angela Strassheim, 1969, USA, has worked as a forensic photographer for several years before focusing on her conceptual photography.  Her experience from the forensic background and a violent crime involving a student where she was teaching at the time were the triggers for her latest project. She used BlueStar, a reagent whose purpose is to reveal blood stains, at places where crimes had been committed, to take photographs of the interiors. These houses, often inhabited by people unaware of the violent history, showed evidence of past crimes. In her series Left Behind she concentrated on her childhood and adult memories. The domestic narratives show an unsettling world. Pause focuses on significant moments in a girls and womans life. Her images are sharp and hold a deeper layer. Angela received an MFA at Yale University in 2003 and has exhibited extensively. The following images come from the series Evidence, Left Behind and Pause.

Website: www.angelastrassheim.com

– Film & Photography: Getting Your Non-Profit’s Message Across

During my latest bout of Stumbling around, I came across a relatively new non-profit organization called The Girl Effect. Their mission is admirable: enabling the powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate in their society. Like most groups that support women, I was hooked from square one, but what surprised me about the way the The Girl Effect presented their organization was that their website wasn’t filled with words.

The group’s mission is found within a simple dictionary entry introducing the term “Girl Effect”. There are only three sections on the site: Learn, Change and Share. Thus, there are very few chunks of text to get lost in. Instead, their website is filled with photographs and videos.

You’ll find their message within the introductory video, detailing how change begins with a girl. You’ll also find the scale of how you can help women across the world and you’ll see the stories of several women who have already been helped by the organization. Within the Learn section you’ll meet four women. And each time you navigate through the site you’ll see photographs of more women that have been Effect-ed. The Share section offers supporters the ability to share and network the website itself and also several ways to “fly the Girl Effect” via banners, posters and other graphics.

Is this the wave of the future for non-profits? Will we see more and more groups embracing the internet as a tool and putting their message out by using video and photography? Will the next big thing in social change, or any other field, be the result of an emotionally charged photograph?