Tag Archives: Inspirations

Interview: Nicole Tung on covering the battle for Aleppo

Earlier this month, TIME published A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror, a series of images shot by freelance photographer Nicole Tung. The images, shot in Aleppo as the Syrian city was under attack, portray civil casualties, highlighting how the war has torned apart families. For the past four months, Nicole has been documenting the uprising in Syria. Months before, she was in Libya, covering her first violent conflict at just 25.

Nicole started taking pictures when she was 15, living in Hong Kong, her hometown. “A good friend of mine, who also became a photographer, also served as one of my inspirations,” she says. “He showed me the first book in contemporary photojournalism that I clearly remember today, Winterreise by Luc Delahaye.” She studied journalism and history at New York University, and has since been published by The New York Times, TIME and Global Post among many other magazines and newspapers.

In an interview with Photojournalism Links, she tells us more about her work in Syria, how she gained access to the country and what she’s seen there.

Men carry the body of Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al Qasr in Aleppo, Syria, on Monday, August 6, 2012 which claimed at least eight lives including five children from the same family. Hatem later died at the field hospital. His father, mother, younger brother and sister and two younger cousins were also killed. Bustan al Qasr, a Free Syrian Army controlled district in south west Aleppo, has consistently been shelled and attacked by helicopters and planes over the last two weeks after the FSA entered Syria’s commercial capital and its most populated city. According to the UN, over 200,000 civilians have fled the city, whilst many other displaced remain inside, seeking refuge in mosques, parks, and schools. Bustan al Qasr remains almost fully populated by its residents who chose not to flee. Image © Nicole Tung.

Mikko Takkunen and Olivier Laurent: Why did you decide to go to Syria?

Nicole Tung: I decided to go to Syria because I felt that the coverage was lacking from the inside. But I was also personally curious and I wanted to fulfill something that the late Marie Colvin once said: “Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.” Marie was a friend and I felt that her death could not, should not, cow journalists from carrying out their missions. She would have been disappointed to know that her death was the reason so many decided to turn off from directly covering Syria. I admired her deeply, and felt the best way to honor her, and other colleagues killed in the past year was to continue working.

MT & OL: How did you manage to enter the country?

NT: I entered the country through Turkey, like many journalists do. Up until a few weeks ago, all the crossings in to Syria via Turkey had to be illegal. It involved some running across border areas with gear in hand, to avoid the Turkish military police.

MT & OL: How did you make your way to Aleppo?

NT: I first went to Aleppo city a week before the fighting began on July 20. I was in the Reef Aleppo (the country side), spending time in the towns there that were experiencing frequent helicopter and shelling attacks by the government forces. At that time, Aleppo was still in full control of the military, intelligence, and police units and getting in meant sneaking through back roads, avoiding the plentiful checkpoints, and high tailing it in to a safe house in the city. One could not really work as a photographer in Aleppo just four weeks ago– spies were everywhere and you were busy focusing on not sticking out, so having a camera in public, even out in the car, was absolutely out of the question.

The brother of Abdul Latif Qureya, 33, reads the Koran near his body after he was killed in an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al Qasr in Aleppo, Syria, on Monday, August 6, 2012 which claimed at least eight lives including five children from the same family. Abdul Latif Qureya’s wife Wahiba, two sons, Hatem, 15, and Mahmoud, 14, and his 8-year-old daughter Bara’a as well as a neice, 7, and nephew, 1, were killed in the same airstrike. Image © Nicole Tung.

MT & OL: Was sending your work back to your editors a struggle? How did you manage it?

NT: When I went back to Aleppo as the fighting started, sending work back to editors was and is, certainly a struggle. Many of the activists there were caught off guard, I think, by the actual fighting having finally reached Aleppo. I saw a steady decline in the quality of communications over a three-week period. Phone networks in the city started to fail, and the 3G Internet the activists often relied on began to shut down too, besides the fact that it was very difficult to buy credit. Only a few, highly skilled activists could set up satellite Internet quickly enough, or run DSL connections out of still-government controlled areas of the city. Added to that was the severe electricity cuts that about 70% of the city was experiencing. I managed to send images out because of the Syrians, who would often go to the ends of the Earth to help me. They worked tirelessly to get a car, to get fuel for the car, to make sure the roads were safe, then worked to get you to a physical location in order to connect to the Internet. And then they stayed with you, drank tea and coffee with you, for hours on end while your files were beamed halfway across the world. It is a cumbersome way, but often the only way, to work in Syria. I have never experienced such patience and generosity from people who are themselves going through the darkest hours of their life.

MT & OL: Where you working with other photographers/journalists while there?

NT: I was working with one other videographer whilst I was there. It’s difficult to work in Syria in big groups because of the logistics. Also, in a dangerous situation, having too many opinions from too many colleagues often causes more problems.

MT & OL: Did you have an assignment before you left for Syria or were you confident you were going to get published once you were in the country?

NT: The first time I went into Syria at the end of May this year, I did not have an assignment. I was there to establish contacts and get a better idea of what things looked like on the ground. I went back several times, selling images to various publications before getting an assignment in June to go back in with Die Zeit. When I was not on assignment — I want to say I was confident, but in those situations you just never know — I knew for a fact that there were very few journalists covering Syria from the inside because of the dangers it posed and for logistical reasons. I thought that having a view from the ground might be somewhat valuable in itself.

Demonstrators shout slogans as they carry the bodies of nine civilians killed the night before by mortars fired on the city of Maarat Al Noman by the Syrian Army on Sunday, June 10, 2012. Estimates put the death toll between 20-30 people as many died on their way to Turkey for further medical treatment, and over 100 people were injured. Image © Nicole Tung.

MT & OL: Your work for TIME in Aleppo has received particular attention. Can you tell us about your experience on the ground in Aleppo?

NT: I witnessed the situation in Aleppo both before and after the fight for the city began on July 20. It was incredible to see the changes because the neighborhoods which are experiencing the heaviest fighting now, and which have been hardest hit, were the most defiant in terms of staging almost nightly demonstrations against the government even in a very tightly controlled city. When I first went there, checkpoints had been set up on all the main arteries of Aleppo. I moved around with doctors and activists who took incredible risks to do their jobs and added more risk by having a foreign journalist in their car. I couldn’t have my camera out at all, because there were pro-government militias known as ‘shebiha’ all around, and informers for the regime, as well. The only time I could take my camera out briefly was when I was at the demonstrations, running the risk that the protest would be broken up at any given time if the security forces open fired on the crowd, which they did very often.

I saw the Aleppo Underground as it was. There were doctors clandestinely treating injured protestors at private and sometimes public hospitals, and falsifying their medical reports (taking care not to write ‘gun shot wound’ or any other violence related injuries) to avoid scrutiny by security. There were pharmacists shuttling medical supplies in and out of the city to other affected areas around the country. Women who left the comfort of their middle-upper class life to deliver clothes, food, and formula to families who sought refuge in Aleppo from places like Homs and Hamah. One woman even counseled girls who had been raped. There were teenagers, all high school students, who dared to protest and were arrested, often tortured before being released and they were back on the streets the very next day protesting again. And then there were the Aleppo University students who became the heart of the uprising in city, through their shows of multiple, daily demonstrations in front of their faculties. They paid a high price for it, often getting beaten, shot at, and arrested by the security forces on campus. No less than one dozen students were killed on university grounds over the months of protests, and in June 2012, three medical students were found bound, shot, and their bodies burned for attempting to treat an injured protestor. The revolution was very much alive, and it was conducted almost completely through peaceful means. But finally, the war came to Aleppo, and since then, overcrowded neighborhoods have become ghost towns, the chatter and noise of daily life and children has given way to the sound of incoming mortar rounds, tank shells, the drone of helicopters and furious sound of diving fighter jets. Shelling in the contested areas of the city has no pattern and it is indiscriminate, often hitting civilians in their own homes. The Free Syrian Army has continued to pour in to the city. They have the advantage of knowing the streets and urban warfare is their forte. But they still lack weapons to make any real gain on the government forces. Civilians in some neighborhoods have fled to other parts of the city, to parks, university dormitories, and mosques whilst others have gone to Aleppo’s countryside. Some families have been displaced twice over as they left Hamah and Homs, only to be leaving their refuge in Aleppo. That was my experience in Aleppo: the situation was fluid, and working around it was incredibly difficult.

MT & OL: You concentrated a lot more on civilians rather than FSA fighters. Was this something you had decided beforehand or did it just happen?

NT: I did not decide beforehand that I would cover specifically civilians, but it became very apparent to me, once I was there, that it was necessary. The war is fought by two sides with particular, sometimes varying, agendas. Photographing combat is dangerously addictive to some people. I have a one-day tolerance for it when I’m there before I find that most of those images end up looking the same and provide little scope for what else is happening. Certainly the FSA is up against a violently disproportionate use of weapons but the civilians are the quiet sufferers of what happens on the battlefield. Assad’s forces don’t hesitate to kill them if they peacefully demonstrate or harbor FSA fighters in their neighborhoods. Often, the FSA base themselves there to try and protect the civilian population or use it as a point from which to attack the Syrian Army. But it’s the civilians who pay the price because they lose their lives and lose their homes. Sometimes there’s no reason at all for killing civilians. The worst is seeing children getting injured, or dying. For what, though? When I witnessed an airstrike last week that killed five children from the same family, it occurred to me that it was something beyond comprehension, beyond reason. At that point, agendas don’t matter at all.

Men gather at a graveyard on the outskirts of Anadan, Syria, on Friday, June 8, 2012 to bury Fawaz Omar Abdullah, 30, a civilian who was shot and killed by a Syrian Army sniper the day before as he was walking near a checkpoint in the village. Image © Nicole Tung.

MT & OL: How widely have your images been published?

NT: Certainly the advantage of having published with TIME is that many people see those images, and I have the editors there to thank for their support when I was working in an extremely difficult situation. They have since gone on to CNN, Human Rights Watch, Paris Match, other European publications and will also be screened at Visa Pour l’Image in September.

MT & OL: How different was covering Syria compared to Libya?

NT: Syria is far more dangerous and complicated than anything I ever experienced in Libya. Libya was the first combat zone I’d ever been to and I was lucky to have so many veteran journalists around who looked out for me and guided us younger photographers. We also shared rides with them and listened to (or more correctly, noted) their advice, followed them as they worked, and learned from them. I was fortunate to have security consultants lend me body armor and give me crash courses in first aid. Syria has none of those luxuries. I’ve since picked up my own body armor, took a combat medical training course, and made a fair number of my own contacts inside. You are on your own from beginning to end, and you cannot rely on anyone but yourself. The government’s use of fire power is unlimited. At least there was a no-fly zone very quickly established in Libya, but in Syria, anything goes. The people of Libya and Syria are not so different, though. I have met some of the most generous, warm hearted people working in both countries and their hospitality often knows no bounds.

MT & OL: Now that you are out of the country, what are your plans? Are you going back? Or will it prove difficult to go back?

NT: I will continue to go back to Syria because, like Libya, I have become committed to the story and the path of where the country will go. It will prove difficult going back only because of people’s concerns about my safety, which I certainly understand.

MT & OL: How do you see the situation evolving in Syria in the coming weeks?

NT: In the coming weeks, the fight for Aleppo will still be going on. The rebels there are no match to the forces of Assad, especially when they continuously run low on ammunition. The country is already in chaos when you think about how many millions are displaced by fighting, how many thousands of lives have been lost, and the amount of destruction this war has wrought, physically, financially, and emotionally. Added to that is the lack of unity from both political and military groups from the opposition. While Damascus and Aleppo become the biggest news stories, other cities near Idlib and Hamah continue to get pounded by government forces. And let’s say Assad were to be finished off tomorrow, what will a new government look like? Will minority groups be proportionately represented? And what about the regional implications of this war? These are all questions the Syrians are still wrestling with. Most don’t have answers that would satisfy the international community.

Nicole Tung’s images can be seen on TIME’s Lightbox here and here.

For more information about Nicole Tung, visit her website at www.nicoletung.com.

Photographer #448: Rania Matar

Rania Matar, 1964, Lebanon/USA, is a documentary photographer who was born and raised in Lebanon and moved to the USA in 1984. Her career started as an architect before studying photography at the New England School of Photography. She concentrates mainly on women and women’s issues as identity and religion both in the US as in the Middle East. In 2009 she released the book Ordinary Lives and this spring her second monograph, A Girl and her Room, will be coming out. This series, inspired by her eldest daughter, focuses on teenage girls within their own private spaces. Both the forthcoming book and her younger daughter were the inspirations for her latest body of work entitled L’Enfant-Femme (the Child-Women). She portrays young teens and pre-teens without giving them instructions apart from not smiling. Due to the freedom the girls have to pose in their own way; they portray an array of emotions and clues to their true self. The angst, confidence and/or body language reveal their sense of selfhood and the developing sense of womanhood. As the teenagers still fluctuate between being a child and a women, Rania asks herself whether “they are meant to see themselves as little girls, teenagers or as young women?” Since 2002 she has also been taking photographs of her four children showing the various stages of their lives. The following images come from the series L’Enfant-Femme, Christian Arabs and Family Moments.

Website: www.raniamatar.com

Works on Paper by Ina Jang

During her last year of college at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, photographer Ina Jang began weaving paper cutouts into her images as a way of problem solving. “I started it because I was struggling to make images at the time,” the Brooklyn-based photographer says. “I was forcing myself to like everything—from the people I was working with to locations where I was shooting, so I started getting rid of the elements I didn’t like in the picture.”

Among her inspirations is Martin Margiela, a notoriously private fashion designer who avoids being photographed. “I admire how he visually deconstructed the language of fashion,” says Jang, who wanted to create her own language through the series featured here. “I liked the idea of using optical illusion and the two-dimensional quality of photography. I always go back and forth in experimenting with the combination of analog and digital manipulation in photographs. While working on the series, I enjoyed making images that allowed me to explore both approaches to photography. Additionally, having an anonymous character in the images have given me more freedom to relate myself to them. I wanted the images to effortlessly create its own language.”

From portraits to still-lifes, Jang covered up faces, shapes and spaces that she didn’t like and used paper to make new images. “I started with white space and filled it with stuff I like, such as painting or illustration,” she says. Jang graduated in 2010 with a B.F.A in photography, and though she’s no longer working on this particular series, Jang says she’ll continue incorporating layers into her photographs. Some of her new work is included in the gallery above, and her more recent work with paper cut-outs will be exhibited at the Hyères Festival of Fashion & Photography beginning April 27 in Hyères, France. “I’m still really into shapes and cutouts and collages,” she says. “So I think you’ll always see part of that in my work.”

Ina Jang is a Brooklyn-based photographer. Read more about her here. Her work will be exhibited at Christophe Guye Galerie in Zurich March 29 through June 2 and at the Hyères Festival beginning April 27.

Paolo Ventura: The Funeral of the Anarchist

“Invented worlds” or “ir-realities” are what Paolo Ventura calls the elaborately constructed dioramas that fill the frame of his brooding, dream-like photographs. The Italian-born artist, of the Aperture monograph Winter Stories (Fall 2009), has a new exhibition The Future of the Anarchist opening Saturday, February 25, 2012 at Obsolete Gallery in Venice, CA showcasing his fantastical, moody and meticulously staged images.

In the clip above from 2009, Ventura explains the origin of his project as well as his various inspirations. He also shows the different steps of his work leading to the final photograph–from sketching, to crafting the characters and sets, to setting the lights and taking the polaroids.

A deluxe, limited edition book and print set of Winter Stories is still available for purchase at Aperture. The clothbound collection features 65 four-color images and one unique drawing tipped in, signed and numbered by the artist, alongside an 11 1/2 x 14 in. signed Digital C-print of The Show.

Opening reception:
Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:00-9:00 pm

Exhibition on view:
Saturday, February 25-Saturday, March 24,2012

Obsolete Gallery
222 Main Street
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 399-0024

Ventura has also been featured in Aperture magazine issues 203 and 180.

‘On Hollywood’ and ‘She’: New Work by Lise Sarfati

Since 2003, Lise Sarfati has been traveling across the United States, particularly on the west coast, photographing adolescents and women against the vernacular of the American landscape. The exhibitions On Hollywood and She, opening Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at Rose Gallery in Los Angeles, juxtapose subjects against an allegorical landscape that shifts between the real and the fictional. On Hollywood focuses on Los Angeles, while She explores Oakland, but both touch on the notion of fluidity within feminine identity. “I wanted to represent a woman who is both vulnerable and strong, oscillating between promise and despair,” Sarfarti said of her inspirations. “I wanted to give these women a voice, or rather, an image.”

Created from 2009 to 2010, On Hollywood features young women against the backdrop of Hollywood—a fabled place that during its golden era represented the hopes and dreams of aspiring stars. The girls are often pictured in classic Hollywood spaces, dressed casually, but they appear as if caught in an off moment.  Sarfati is very precise about who she photographs. The girls juggle multiple jobs—most are dancers. “They are always in motion, and have a particularly difficult life where dependencies on men and drugs merge,” Sarfati says. “[They are] women at the mercy of a strange fate.”  The landscape of Hollywood is barren. The women appear lost, unaware of the viewer’s gaze and immersed in their own illusions of the Hollywood myth.

Sarfarti’s earlier series, She, created between 2005 and 2009, is an exploration of two sets of sisters: Christine and Gina, as well as Christine’s daughters, Sasha and Sloane. The series documents their relationships during a period of transition. At the time, Sasha and Sloane had moved from the conservatism of their grandparents’ home to an alternative lifestyle in their mother’s Oakland loft. In an period of re-invention and under the careful gaze of Sarfati’s lens, the girls try to find their identities—Sloane often changes her appearance and seems to enjoy being photographed whereas Sasha, when pictured, is pensive and almost melancholic. “The sisters are isolated, they are alone,” Sarfati says, “It’s the fusion of these four solitudes that creates the series and the story.”

The two older sisters, Christine and Gina, are also also searching. “The mother, Christine, as she appears in my photographs, is threatening, terrifying, but also mysterious and fascinating. She is no longer protective. She is strong. She is independent,” Sarfati says. The older pair of sisters change their hair styles and jobs. Christine is pictured gazing absently in a wedding dress—all four women are constantly in flux. “The women in She reflect one another until you can no longer tell them apart. The only gaze possible is the gaze of the images between themselves,” Sarfati said. “I don’t particularly like mises en scènes. I prefer the search for truth.”

Lise Sarfati is a French artist living and working in the United States. Her two new exhibitions On Hollywood and She open on Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at the Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.

Meaninglessness of the Muse: Artist talk by Gueorgui Pinkhassov

JAPAN. Tokyo. 1996. The new metro. © Gueorgui Pinkhassov / Magnum

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm

A conversation with Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Russia’s only Magnum photographer. He photographs color and light to translate his impressions of reality in a poetic way which creates for the viewer the experience of a daydream. At Aperture, he will discuss his inspirations, current projects and new ideas, and answer questions from the audience.

Born in Moscow, Pinkhassov studied cinematography and later worked as a set photographer at the Mosfilm Studio. His work was noticed by the prominent Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who invited Pinkhassov to the set to make a reportage about his film Stalker.

Pinkhassov moved permanently to Paris in 1985 and joined Magnum Photos in 1988. He works regularly for the international press, particularly for Geo, Actuel, and the New York Times Magazine and has two books of his photographs published. His work is also included in the new book, The New York Times Magazine Photographs (Aperture, 2011), edited by Kathy Ryan, the award-winning photo editor of the magazine.

Presented by Snob Project at Aperture Foundation
547 West 27th Street, 4th floor
New York, New York

(212) 505-5555

FREE

Back in the USSR. Remarkable film posters from Lithuania’s Soviet years

Under Soviet rule, Lithuanian film poster designers had to get their work past the cultural apparatchiks that controlled the ‘Publishing House of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania’, writes John Ridpath. Nonetheless, they produced a body of work that is artistically stunning, visually inventive and laced with cautiously coded counter-propaganda.

From Friday 8 April, London’s Rich Mix will be hosting the first-ever UK exhibition of Lithuanian film posters. The examples on show are from the collection of photographer Marta Ovod, who spoke to me about the posters, their makers and Lithuania.

Top: Games Adults Play (Suaugusių žmonių žaidimai), dir. Ilya Rud-Gerovsky, 1967. Designed by Stasys Kireilis, 1967.

JR What drew you to Lithuanian cinema posters?

MO I was born and grew up in Lithuania as a child and have actively enjoyed its unique culture. When asked to write a dissertation for my MA, I decided to choose something related to Lithuania as I felt that there is little known about its arts in the west. Very soon I was delving into Lithuanian cinema, in which posters played a big part. To me the themes and simplicity hark back to the way my childhood looked, innocent and colourful.

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Above: An Eternal Light (Amžinoji šviesa), dir. Algimantas Puipa, 1987. Designed by Raimundas Sližys, 1988.

Below: Daydreams of Centenarians (Šimtamečių godos, documentary), dir. Robertas Verba, 1969. Designed by Stasys Kireilis, 1969.

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JR Can you share any thoughts about the conditions, inspirations and aspirations of the poster designers?

There is a very informative short film that was made to accompany ‘Declassified’ project, it is currently being translated and subtitled for English speaking audiences (Lithuanian version here). In the film the three graphic artists speak about working under Soviet occupation. They had to go through strict censorship and each poster carries this information as a footnote (which made them easier to catalogue!)

Many of the artists were painters as well as graphic designers, and they saw the film poster as an art form which expressed poetry and the soul of the nation. Many of these ‘canvases’ contain a few hidden symbols that subtly signal a desire for freedom and change, especially in the 1980s. The censors forbade the use of the Lithuanian flag, but it found itself into posters by way of its three strong suggestive colours: yellow, green and red, splattered in a non linear composition.

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Above: Our Small Sins (Mažos mūsų nuodėmės), dir. Henrikas Šablevičius, 1979. Designed by Miroslavas Znamerovskis, 1980.

Below: Game Without Trumps (Lošimas be kozirių), dir. Algimantas Kundelis, 1981. Designed by Vidas Drėgva, 1984.

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Above: The first semi-nude poster to pass the censors. Ovod comments: ‘When it came to receive a censorship stamp, eyebrows were raised and it was suggested that some elements should be added to make it less shocking. In came in the smoke, and blades of grass. The poster rarely saw the street: such was its value, it ended up being used for bribes, with many ending up in the offices of various officials in Moscow.’

JR There aren’t any post-1990 independence posters amongst the images I’ve seen. Do you have (or have you seen) any posters from this period? Does a similar visual language continue after this point?

MO I own very few post 1990 posters, but have seen some around. Many of the artists that worked under the Soviet occupation continued to do so after 1990, and have often continued with a similar style ethos. They do feel that the time spent over a poster has shrunk and so has its quality, but the short film ends on a positive note: it is never a chore to create a poster but always a celebration. The designers say that creating a poster is like eating a dessert, always a delight!

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Above: Feelings (Jausmai), dir. Algirdas Dausa and Almantas Grikevičius, 1968. Designed by Vytautas Valius, 1968.

Below: That Damned Humility (Tas prakeiktas nuolankumas) dir. Algirdas Dausa, 1970. Designed by Miroslavas Znamerovskis, 1971.

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8 > 30 April 2011
Lithuanian Film Posters (part of ‘Declassified’)
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London, E1 6LA
www.richmix.org.uk
www.lfc.lt/en

More about Marta Ovod on her website.

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