Tag Archives: Projects

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.

Lost and Found

It will soon be the first anniversary of the huge earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region. Hundreds of thousands of images have been taken since the disaster and most of these naturally focus on documenting the scale of the devastation. In my view, little interesting work that goes beyond straightforward visual description has emerged as yet. One of the strongest projects started up immediately in the aftermath of the disaster when the photographer Aichi Hirano decided to distribute disposable cameras to the people in the shelters in the devastated region. He retrieved the cameras, developed the film and published the results at www.rolls7.com. I have written about the Rolls Tohoku project before on the blog and Hirano has continued to add new images to the Rolls website since then.

This week, I discovered another project which is a fascinating companion to Rolls Tohoku. The Memory Salvage Project was started two months after the earthquake by a team of young researchers from The Japan Society for Socio-Information Studies who felt the need to return the photographs which were swept by the tsunami to their owners. A group was set up to gather photographs that were retrieved after the tsunami, to clean them, digitize them, and to attempt to return them to their owners. This could seem like a herculean and perhaps misplaced undertaking given the scale of the problems that people face in the affected areas, but I think it is a wonderful reminder of what photographs can mean to people and how closely they are linked to our memories.

An exhibition of some of the retrieved images took place at Akaaka’s gallery in Tokyo earlier this year and, for any readers in Los Angeles, a second exhibition at Hiroshi Watanabe’s studio is taking place from 8-25 March. Details are on the Lost & Found website.

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Cruel and Unusual @ Noorderlicht

© YANA PAYUSOVA - Holy Trinity - Holy Ghost, 2004

© YANA PAYUSOVA – Holy Trinity – Holy Ghost, 2004

The Cruel and Unusual exhibition that opens at the Noorderlicht Gallery in Groningen tomorrow is a rare breed. This is a project that started out (and still lives) on the internet, became a road trip across America, and is now both a newspaper and an exhibition. With work by eleven different artists, Araminta de Clermont, Amy Elkins, Alyse Emdur, Christiane Feser, Jane Lindsay, Deborah Luster, Nathalie Mohadjer, Yana Payusova, Lizzie Sadin and Lori Waselchuk, the exhibition focuses on prison photography, a subject that receives very little exposure. The show is co-curated by fellow photo-bloggers Hester Keijser (Mrs Deane) and Pete Brook (Prison Photography) who write two of the most dynamic and esoteric blogs that you will find on the web (aside from the dozens of other writing, curating and photographic projects). To state the obvious, prisons are not exactly a sexy subject and the fact that they have managed to put this show together is very impressive. Instead of a ‘traditional’ exhibition catalogue, the curators have put together a newspaper (print run of 4,000 / 1.50 € per copy) in an attempt to reach more readers than an expensive photobook could (they lay out their reasons for this choice in detail here). The world of photography online can be an exasperating, sprawling mess, but the fact that it can lead to projects such as this one makes it genuinely worthwhile. I’m providing a few visuals of the work on show with this post, but if you can make it to Noorderlicht before the exhibition closes on 1 April, don’t miss this.

© AMY ELKINS - 6/44 (Not the Man I Once Was)

© AMY ELKINS – 6/44 (Not the Man I Once Was)

 

© CHRISTIANE FESER

© CHRISTIANE FESER

© NATHALIE MOHADJER - Detention cell in Muyinga, Burundi 2009

© NATHALIE MOHADJER – Detention cell in Muyinga, Burundi 2009

© ALYSE EMDUR - Anonymous Backdrop Painted in Shawangunk Correctional Facility, New York 2005- 2011

© ALYSE EMDUR – Anonymous Backdrop Painted in Shawangunk Correctional Facility, New York 2005- 2011

 

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What’s Next?

I’ve just written a piece for the magazine European Photography in which I touch on the lack of substantial online discussion on current trends in photography and where things are going. I’ll be posting the piece on eyecurious soon, so I won’t go into detail here, but in general my feeling is that although online activity on photography is growing by the day, it is becoming commensurately shallower as a result. Fortunately there are examples which buck the trend. Foam, the Amsterdam photo-museum, has recently added What’s Next? to its expanding range of content. What’s Next? is a supplement to Foam’s quarterly magazine but also an online discussion forum which is designed to spark discussion on current trends and how they are affecting the development of photography. The museum recently organised an expert meeting in Amsterdam around the What’s Next project with an impressive line-up including Charlotte Cotton, Fred Ritchin, Thomas Ruff, Joachim Schmid and many others (you can see a number of the presentations from the meeting on Foam’s youtube channel). Although the design of the site messes with my eyes and head a little bit, there is some terrific content on here running from photobooks to photojournalism. As a blogger I find that the most satisfying experiences writing online are those which spark a discussion, debate or even an argument. If you are interested in any of the above, I highly recommend a visit to What’s Next?

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