Tag Archives: In Progress

Santa 24/7: Portrait of a Year-Round Father Christmas

For most of us, he’s that cheerful, rotund guy who drops by for a quick visit on the same night every December. For others, though, he’s a year-round presence. Or so Touko Hujanen found out in the summer of 2011, while working as a photojournalist for a Finnish newspaper. On assignment in Helsinki and looking for quirky stories, he came across a fully-costumed professional Santa named Timo Pakkanen sitting in a park, waiting patiently for tourist cruise ships to dock.

“It’s 140 days to Christmas!” Pakkanen exclaimed as Hujanen approached. Hujanen photographed the red-coated, bearded Pakkanen for his newspaper. The two hit it off pretty quickly, and so began a seven-month documentary relationship between Santa and photographer.

Hujanen hitched a ride as Pakkanen toured Japan, a country where he is popular, and also hung out with him in Finland. The resulting work he calls, simply, Joulupukki — Finnish for “Santa Claus.”

The portraits that came out of the collaboration are as playful as they are unexpected. After all, we’re not used to seeing Santa powdering his eyebrows, taking a dip or enjoying a cigar. This is Christmas at its most elemental, without the tinsel.

That said, Pakkanen is no novelty act: 68 years old, he has been playing the part since 1961 and has an office in downtown Helsinki. What started as a small gig for local Finnish families eventually saw him become the de facto national Father Christmas — a significant honor in a country that, by some accounts, is St Nick’s home.

“My job for me is bigger than life,” Pakkanen told TIME, speaking on the phone from Japan. “It’s much, much more than work.”

Touko Hujanen

Touko Hujanen

Pakkanen in the Saitama prefecture of Japan. In 2011 he met with children evacuated from Fukushima.

In some ways it was an obvious career, he adds. His mother, Kaija Pakkanen, was a prolific children’s author who told him stories as a child; his sister, Outi, is a writer, as well.

“I lived all my childhood in a fairytale world, and that is very good grounds to be a Santa,” he says, laughing.

Pakkanen often works 12-hour days during the holiday season, and for many years has spent Christmas Eve in a Tokyo hotel room, tired but fulfilled after weeks of hearing Christmas lists and visiting kindergartens. He likes to celebrate with a can of Yebisu beer and a cup of warm sake.

The best thing about his job? It allows him to not only see joy on people’s faces, but to experience it himself. He may seem old, but he claims he feels like a kid.

“First we are children, then we get older, and we return to our childhood,” he says. “That’s the circle of life.”


Touko Hujanen is a co-founder of Finland-based collective Yksitoista. Joulupukki is part of the Suomi/Finland exhibition and runs until Feb., 1o, 2013 in Tampere and May, 5, 2013 in Helsinki

Santa and Timo Pakkanen can be found year-round at santaclausforever.com



Fernando Moleres and the Empathic Eye

Rampant overcrowding plagues prisons across the globe, even in the world’s most developed nations. In Sierra Leone, one of Africa’s poorest countries, and one struggling to emerge from a decade of civil war, prisons are cauldrons of violence and neglect, where death and disease stalk inmates at every turn. In the nation’s capital of Freetown, the crumbling Freetown Central Prison was built to hold 220 adult inmates but houses 1,300, including dozens of children as young as 14 years old.

In 2010, Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres traveled to Sierra Leone determined to document what he describes as “disastrous” conditions at the penitentiary. Inspiration for the trip, he says, came after viewing the work of French photographer Lizzie Sadin, who has spent time capturing prison conditions around the world. The result of Moleres’ work could not have been more fruitful in a purely professional sense. He has won several international prizes for his work at the notorious Freetown Central Prison, better known as Pademba Road, including a 2012 Lucie Award and a 2011 award from World Press Photo. His series, additionally, has been published by some of Europe’s most prestigious publications.

Yet Moleres refuses to call his work a success. He remains haunted by something his photos were not able to convey — the uncertainty that reigns at the penitentiary. Dozens of boys, Moleres explains, have spent up to six years in prison without knowing anything about their judicial case. Many boys, abandoned by their families and with no support to speak of, believe they will die incarcerated.

“It’s very difficult to reflect this neglect through photography,” Moleres tells TIME. “In Sierra Leone, a prisoner is nobody, and a young prisoner is nothing.”

Faced with this disregard, and frustrated by photography’s constraints, Moleres resorted to his previous profession as a nurse, which he practiced as a youth in his native Orduña, in northern Spain’s Basque Country. During his first visit to the prison on Pademba Road, Molores snuck in with medicine to help prisoners where photos could not. And Moleres insists that the images of acute neglect — dehydration and scabies plague most inmates — cast a constant cloud over the professional accolade he has received.

“Photography has its limits,” says Moleres, who worked as a nurse in Spain before turning to photography. “I’m very happy with the project, it has received a lot of attention, but it’s just a drop in the ocean. Nobody has moved a finger to help these boys.”

Until recently, that is. Moleres returned from another excursion to Freetown just last month, where, with the help of the NGO Free Minor Africa, he gave birth to an organization that will help boys navigate through Sierra Leone’s penal and judicial systems. When fully up-and-running, Moleres hopes to help up to 20 boys, whether they need legal assistance or help with rehabilitation once they are freed from prison. Moleres will also provide them with the option of returning to school or retraining so they may enter the workforce.

Moleres, nonetheless, has no intention of abandoning his photography. He’s currently working on a book that will capture the boys of Pademba Road at various stages of their prison experience, from incarceration to rehabilitation to life on the street.

“If you don’t do anything to follow it up, photography is not worth much,” says Moleres. “We become very conscious of everything but there is little action. I’m more interested in dedicating myself to photographic projects in which action follows close behind.”


Fernando Moleres is a Barcelona-based photographer. He was awarded second prize in the Daily Life category of the 2011 World Press Photo competition for his work in Sierra Leone.

Alfonso Serrano is a senior editor at TIME.com.

 


My Belarusian Brides: Katherine Wolkoff’s Search for Family and Familiarity

In college, one professor regularly told photographer Katherine Wolkoff that she looked like the Belarusian woman whose face represented the nation on a 1975 National Geographic map that hung in a history department office. Her father’s family had in fact emigrated from Belarus in 1906, but growing up, Wolkoff had never considered it part of her cultural identity.

That changed after her father, whom she had always looked like, passed away in 2010. Suddenly, Wolkoff became interested in traveling to Belarus in search of other women who looked like her. “It was inspired by the idea of tracing this abstract family tree,” she says. “Sort of like finding this extended family that didn’t exist.”

In July, Wolkoff spent 10 days in Belarus photographing more than 50 women who shared her physical traits. With the help of a 25-year-old Belarusian guide and social media—and the sole stipulation that the women have blonde hair, be it natural or dyed—the photographer made a series of minimal but captivating portraits collectively called ‘My Belarusian Brides,’ a title that touches on family and the nation’s booming mail-order bride business.

Katherine Wolkoff / Courtesy Sasha Wolf Gallery

Katherine, 2012

Wolkoff traveled with a digital Hasselblad HD40 camera, which allowed her to see the images instantly. “I photographed a woman in front of these trees, and it became so clear that this was the image I’d intended to make,” she says. And to bring the idea of family full circle, Wolkoff even created a self-portrait for LightBox, capturing herself in the same light and setting seen in the series.

Some women showed up all dressed up and in full makeup, and many brought their friends or boyfriends. “In part, I think the shoot was a moment of fantasy for them—like the Hollywood fantasy of being photographed,” Wolkoff says. “Belarus is a pretty repressed society, particularly for women, and I think this was a moment of expression and excitement for them”

Wolkoff says she saw a piece of herself in each of the women she photographed, from the tenderly awkward teenager eating an ice cream cone, to the older, self-assured Svetlana who arrived in coral lipstick. “It was an incredible look at aging process—to see these women who weren’t my relatives, but looked very much like me,” she says. “It’s as if we were an ephemeral family.”

Katherine Wolkoff is a photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Sandy’s Aftermath: Devastation in Staten Island by Eugene Richards

TIME assigned photographer Eugene Richards to document the devastation on Staten Island following Superstorm Sandy. Over four days, Richards recorded the total destruction in the communities along the island’s South Shore, illustrating the storm’s deep impact across the entire borough.

Richards spoke to LightBox producer Vaughn Wallace about his experience on assignment. Their conversation has been edited.

Vaughn Wallace: Talk to me about first arriving on Staten Island.

Eugene Richards: The first set of pictures that we had are out in a swamp. It was a very surreal marsh, covered with what looked like totally submerged houses. About a half mile into this area, we found this woman — totally alone — standing there. Her name was Susan. I didn’t want to intrude — I think she was trying to contemplate the tragedy, the same way everybody is. She proceeded to kneel down on what was the roof of her father’s house…over one of the rooms.

Little American flags were appearing all over the place on Staten Island — I think out of desperation. Also I think it was a protest, because people were getting very angry at what they felt was a lack of services. I’d say 30% of the homes had flags on them in some capacity. They kept popping up – people would try to find flags and raise them on broomsticks in the middle of the street.

VW: You saw the flags as symbols of protest?

ER: As symbols of defiance. We were talking constantly with people about how the mood was so scarily positive. Everyone else said it was just positive, but we thought that underneath it was a level of shock that will settle in — people were working to help each other non-stop.

This area seemed like a neighborhood of particularly hardworking and professional people — they set to work right away, tearing out the insides of their houses with an energy that was amazing. They reminded me of worker bees. They were working very, very hard until the homes ultimately became shells.

VW: In some of these photographs, we see what you’re referencing. But what can we not see?

ER: What you can’t see in the photographs is the language. One of the more revealing pictures is of a man named Kevin working on Cedar Grove Ave. We went up to his house and there was a flag out front and a note about the marathon to people in the neighborhood — everyone was very mad that the marathon was going to happen.

And then out of the basement came this guy. We were very shy about approaching him — covered with dirt, steam coming off his head in the cold, with he and his wife cleaning out their entire house onto the pavement. He chose to write ‘Thanks Sandy’ on his house rather than the profanity that many would have written.

This is the way everyone was — [an attitude] you can’t see in the pictures. To feel the graciousness of everyone was surprising. Nobody was telling jokes, nobody was laughing, but there was much kindness. That’s what doesn’t show here: the calm utility of the people.

VW: How would you describe the disaster you witnessed over the weekend?

ER: In many cases, I think it’s the end of a way of life — the innocence is gone. Cedar Grove Beach — it was kind of a secret. You were close to the beach and it was beautiful…a very special opportunity for people who aren’t particularly wealthy to live a pretty good life.

Maybe that’s what speaks to us all. I don’t know about you, but the dream of all of us is to have a house on the beach. It’s my dream. I think that’s what speaks to a lot of people — these residents in their own way managed to live this dream and this is the result of it.

VW: You’ve photographed conflict and sadness throughout your career. How does this disaster compare to things you’ve witnessed elsewhere?

ER: It was different. Acceptance, first off, that this was nature — not a man-made tragedy. On the other hand, the difference is that people in other places I’ve gone to have nothing. These people [on Staten Island] had 20 to 30 years of things they’ve worked their asses off to have…the bulk of people were concerned with their photographs and irreplaceable personal things. The prom pictures, the family pictures, the few things they had left over from their heritage, their parents. That kind of thing was gone — much more devastating than anything else.

VW: One of your more powerful images is a pinboard of family photos that people had pulled out of the rubble.

ER: Curiously, I think in a way that the photographs have taken on another meaning, like proof that they exist in a certain way as people. Photographs have taken on a totem quality in our society, maybe more than they should. The photos do have a significance — that we exist and we have roots.

We were there when a man found a picture of his friend who died in 9/11 – a little snapshot. So he was very exceedingly happy.

VW: So in some ways, these photographs are proof of existence and proof of what used to be. Your photographs, then, amplify what these found objects are already saying.

ER: I think they were pleased that someone recognized they were alive.


Eugene Richards is an award-winning American photographer. LightBox previously featured his project and book, ‘War is Personal.’

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

More photos: The Toil After the Storm: Life in Sandy’s Wake



Haunt Me: The Scare Houses of Lisa Kereszi

Why do we like haunted houses? Wars, terror, drones, pandemics, rising sea levels, killer bees, fungi in pain meds—isn’t the world scary enough? Yet we line up for what the industry calls HHA’s—haunted house attractions (as opposed, presumably, to actual haunted houses)—hoping to be freaked out. And if we believe the current web meme Scared Bros in a Haunted House, it works. Totally freaky, dude.

In fact, scaring people is a growing industry, rapidly gaining on Hollywood in revenues. Forty years ago, haunted houses were limited to scary carnival sideshows. Now there are magazines, websites, and trade shows for operators of haunted attractions, providing info on the latest trends: zombie runs, animatronics, 3-D, screamparks. In fact, Haunted House magazine boasts: “The haunted house industry is an American export.” We have no trade deficit in fear.

On one level, this is easy to understand. It’s all about death—that undiscovered country our culture keeps off the thought-map. Death, death, death, coming at us in the form of ghosts, monsters, maggots, snakes, killer clowns, necromancers, headless horsemen, slime crawlers, banshees, and all manner of rotting flesh and decay, aiming to infect us with its fate. The haunted house takes us to death’s door: sewers, graveyards, mortuaries, abattoirs, bottomless pits and of course, hell itself, yawning wide to receive us. Abandon all hope and enter at your own risk!

But of course, there is no risk: the journey allows us to brave death and make it out alive, the very thing we wish—oh man, do we wish—we could do for real. Every scream, every start, every time we nearly pee our pants is a shot of Red Bull to our love of life, a reminder that we hate to leave it.

Once, while on assignment together at Niagara Falls, Lisa Kereszi and I went to Ghostblasters, a haunted house crossed with a laser tag game. It was around the time that Lisa started shooting haunted houses, and secretly she was afraid every time she went to one. She thought she might get killed and end up as a haunted house display, but she didn’t tell me this. We climbed into a jerky little cart and got yanked through a maze of semi-scary dioramas. When the ghosts popped up, I shot them with a pistol and Lisa shot them with a Mamiya.

You don’t need to be Susan Sontag to understand that photographing something reduces its fear factor. Lisa’s pictures show us the haunted house as a fail: the paint peeling off plywood, the boom box strapped to the wall, the dust in the corners of the makeshift Bates Motel. “I challenged my fears,” she told me, “but it didn’t totally work.”

That’s because the pictures are somehow scary all over again—and sadder than the haunted house itself. Reality is seeping into these pictures like maggots squirming into a leaky coffin. Walls are cracking open, curtains gape onto the next room, all those plugs and wires takes us right into the mortal hands of the folks we’re paying for this illusion of an illusion, this brief moment of terror we can conquer, unlike the real dread lurking behind it. These fearful fragments we have shored against our real ruins. They’re no match for what really frightens us: blood, as the sign in one picture says, guts, gore. Meat sacs, long pigs, wetware, bags of bones, bleeders. Our horrors, ourselves.

Lisa Kereszi is a photographer based in New Haven, Conn.

Ginger Strand is the author of Flight, Inventing Niagara and Killer on the Road, which traces how violence followed construction of the interstate highway system.

In the Eye of the Storm: Capturing Sandy’s Wrath

As Sandy drew near, TIME asked five photographers — Michael Christopher Brown, Benjamin Lowy, Ed Kashi, Andrew Quilty and Stephen Wilkes — to document the hurricane and its aftermath via Instagram.

Image: Ben Lowy's photograph appears on the cover of the Nov. 12, 2012 issue—the first TIME cover via InstagramWorking from different locations across the Atlantic seaboard, they captured ordinary people getting ready to greet the superstorm. And when Sandy made landfall the night of Oct. 29, they braved rising floodwaters, high winds and driving sheets of rain to photograph the storm’s impact on several communities.

Keep following @TIME on Instagram for the latest photos filed by our photographers, and check back on LightBox for more of our storm coverage throughout the week.

For the latest news on superstorm Sandy, follow TIME’s live coverage.

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.

The Green Book Project by Jehad Nga

Following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime last year, photographer Jehad Nga set out to explore the former dictator’s political and military philosophies within the framework of an underlying and contrasting Libyan culture. Here, Nga he writes for LightBox about his project, The Green Book, which depicts the conflicting values of reality through gathered images broken down into binary code.

The Green Book, first published in 1975, is a short tome setting out the political philosophy of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Intended to be required reading for all Libyans, the 24 chapters were constructed simply, containing broad and basic slogans rendered in a rudimentary writing style easy to understand by all. Gaddafi claimed to have developed the book’s theories in order to resolve many contradictions inherent in capitalism and communism thereby—by his logic, freeing its citizens from bondage of both systems. The book, however, proved for most to be nothing more than an inane manifesto used to further reduce the value of a population’s role in the building of a society.

During the revolution that finally brought Gaddafi’s reign to an end last October, it was common for the intelligence arm of the government, in its heightened state of awareness, to target people attempting to traffic information out of the country.

Employing the similar technological principles, I used a satellite adjusted to intersect varying levels of Internet traffic flow transmitted over Libya. An assigned command allowed for the satellite to look only for photographs and disregard all other associated data traffic.

Without any distinguishable narratives, the constant stream of communication I captured visually grew over time to resemble a hyper-realized paradise, where the borders between the natural and supernatural had been washed away. From the ebb and flow of images being sent between people—the population’s naked, unedited psyche rendered visual—I harvested 24 representative images.

Once the images were captured, I wanted to further explore the meaning of my action. I first reduced each image to its most basic structure, binary code, which singled it out from the other billion bits of data shooting through the sky. This conversion exposed each image’s digital “cell structure”—millions of algorithms mathematically, miraculously unified to produce something of beauty. Code is built in layers, each with a metaphor constructed by its programmer to enact and describe its behavior. Reducing an image to pure binary data strips it of any individual identity, any protection, and any premise.

I was able to exploit this frailty—the structural weakness of each image—by introducing new information into its binary data. Each chapter of The Green Book was introduced into the code structure of each photo, threatening to break the image file past the threshold of recognition. Sometimes the new data caused the complete collapse of the image structure. When my experiment was successful, the text at once contaminated the image and created something new.

The final product is a depiction of how something with “genetic predisposition,” something rigid and fixed, struggles to coexist with additional textual information. The conflicting “values” are evident in the distorted and augmented reality presented by the photographs.

Taken as a whole, The Green Book Study, a collection of 24 images that carries with it Gaddafi’s three-volume manifesto in its entirety, becomes an method for evaluating the process of which a society’s human structure becomes distorted and at time fully collapsed by a command line of one totalitarian vision.

Jehad Nga is a New York-based photographer. LightBox has previously featured Nga’s work about his Libyan roots as well as a photo essay on the world’s biggest refugee complex.

The project will be showing at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York and the M+B Gallery in Los Angeles.