Tag Archives: Reportage

‘Americans’: Christopher Morris Captures a Nation Divided

My latest book, Americans, is the second in a series about America, even though I had no idea it would become a series when my first book, My America, was released in April 2006. That book examined Republican nationalism in the country during George W. Bush’s two terms as president. But in Americans, I’ve taken real pains to make sure there’s no political photography. There aren’t any portraits of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, and no pictures of rally signs. Instead, I sought to make an anthropological study of America—not for this week, or for this past election cycle—but a body of work that future generations could look back on to get a sense of the country’s mood.

What I found, in the eight-year period during which these photographs were made, is an America severely divided. With two long-running wars and an economy slow to recover, there is a real sense that the country is in a depressed state. Traveling across America in several road trips, I found that the mood among citizens wasn’t upbeat or lively; people are really polarized in their political positions, yet everyone is concerned about the economy and what that means for the welfare of their families.

The book contains only a handful of formal portraits. The rest is reportage—pictures taken when people were alone, pensive in thought. I looked for these moments to convey this feeling of loss and depression that I felt across the nation.

Americans recently headed to the polls to elect their next president, and on Election Day eve, there wasn’t a clear frontrunner. In fact, many polls showed voters divided near evenly between Obama and Romney—a poignant indicator that despite the winner, Americans may very well continue to be divided.

Christopher Morris is a contract photographer for TIME and represented by VII

Americans, published by Steidl, will be available in early December.

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 Street Gangs of Caracas

“There has never been a shortage of bereaved mothers in the sprawling, violent Caracas barrio known as Catia,” writes correspondent Tim Padgett in last week’s issue of TIME International. Caracas, he notes, usually suffers some 50 homicides a week, making it one of the world’s deadliest capitals. As many as a third of them occur in Catia, where gunmen even use hillside garbage chutes to more efficiently dispose of corpses. Few of the killers are ever prosecuted.

The black-and-white photographs of Oscar B. Castillo, a Caracas-based photojournalist, accompany Padgett’s bleak dispatch. Documenting the violence of the barrio put Castillo at immense risk—from both gang members and the police.

“I felt safer when I was with the gangs than when I hung around the city by myself,” he told TIME. Although never far from the shadow of gratuitous violence, Castillo acknowledges that codes of respect and solidarity run deeply through the community.

“The people took care of me and protected me in risky situations,” he said. “When I told one of the guys involved in gang violence about the story, he told me to talk about their bad situation…to tell the kids that inside gang life, there’s no life at all.”

Castillo began photographing the street gangs of Caracas almost three years ago. Since then, he’s endeavored to use his photography as a way to explain to outsiders the complex layers of life in Catia.

“I would like to share a more complete and sincere vision of this moment in Venezuelan history. I am focused on this because it is my hometown, my country, my family—it is my people that are wounding and killing each other.”

Oscar B. Castillo is a member of the Fractures Photo Collective. View more of his work on FracturesPhoto.com.

Tearsheet of The Day | Brent Stirton’s Blood Ivory in the National Geographic magazine

The latest National Geographic magazine issue, October 2012, has a cover story called Blood Ivory, written by Bryan Christy, an investigation linking religious art and ivory smuggling. The photographs are by the always brilliant Brent Stirton. The photo seen in the below spread is one of the most harrowing images of the series. You can view the entire edit online on the magazine’s website here.

pp. 34-35. National Geographic magazine, October 2012.
Photo © Brent Stirton
Caption on the spread: Bodies are what remain in Cameroon’s Biuba Ndjidah National Park after one of the largest mass elephant slaughters in decades. Armed with grenades and AK-47s, poachers killed more than 300.

Brent Stirton is a South African photographer based in New York and a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. He is represented by Reportage by Getty Images. Stirton won a First Prize in the Nature Stories category in the 2012 World Press Photo for his Rhino Wars  series, which was also photographed for the National Geographic magazine.

Tearsheet of The Day | Refugees’ shoes in South Sudan by Shannon Jensen in Newsweek

Shannon Jensen has a terrific work in Newsweek Int’l 3 September 2012 issue from South Sudan. Jensen travelled in the country June-July this year, and photographed shoes belonging to refugees who had travelled by foot  across the border from Sudan’s Blue Nile state over to neighbouring South Sudan to escape Khartoum government’s military campaign against Southern liberation movement.

Newsweek has dedicated four pages for the series showing overall 18 pairs of shoes. The photos are accompanied by a short text  providing background, written solely by the photographer*.

“How to represent a journey in an image?” asks Jensen in the opening sentence of the piece titled ‘A Long Walk’. I think she found a pretty good way to do just that. The idea and its execution reminded me little of Alejandro Cartagena’s Car Poolers.

You can see Jensen’s photos on the Newsweek website here.

Photos © Shannon Jensen

Shannon Jensen is an American photographer based between USA and East Africa. She is part of  Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent.

*In June I wrote about Newsweek often showing photo projects solely accompanied by photographer’s text. See here.

Tearsheet of the Day | 25 May 2012

Ed Ou on the front page of the International Herald Tribune (Europe edition) today with a photo from the village of Tannourine in Lebanon for an article  about Iran trying to increase its influence over the country. Iran has for instance offered to build a dam in Tannourine, an idea that hasn’t pleased everybody in the solidly Christian village. You can read the article here.  Obvious symbolism with the cross on the foreground, but I think it really works, making a photo of an otherwise seemingly unremarkable scene interesting. Certainly caught and pleased my eyes.

Photo by Ed Ou for the New York Times

Caption in the newspaper: Tannourine, Lebanon, site of a proposed dam to be built with Iranian money. Many residents of the mainly Christian area are wary of Tehran’s effort to widen its influence in the country.

Ed Ou (b.1987, Canada) is represented by Reportage by Getty Images. His portfolio on the agency’s website. You can follow Ou on Twitter here.

One Morning at Home with John Irving

Whether on a grand-tour TV show or in an architectural magazine, it’s not too hard to see what a famous person’s house looks like. It’s also, thanks to paparazzi and tabloid photos, easy to see a picture of a famous person. But it’s less easy to capture iconic cultural movers and shakers truly at home—in both senses of the phrase.

That’s what photographer and videographer Shaul Schwarz aims to do with a new series of videos for TIME, debuting today with Schwarz’s visit to the home of author John Irving. “The environment sets you up to meet a person you already know,” says Schwarz.

The photographer asks his subjects what they do when they’re alone at home, really relaxing; for Irving, that question revealed a room devoted to wrestling, the author’s version of what Schwarz calls an “away-from-the-world zone.” Not that it’s automatically easier to access that intimacy when you meet a person in his own space. “Even if you have a new friend and you go to his home,” says Schwarz, “it takes a little bit to break the ice.” But when it does break, the end result is an intimate look at a celebrity, tending more toward a Sunday-morning-coffee-with-a-friend feel than a red carpet one.

“The location is, at the end of the day, some kind of reflection of the person. It’s all a vehicle to show a different look at the person,” says Schwarz. “We all know you can tell a little bit about a person from where he chooses to live.”

Read more about John Irving in this week’s issue of TIME: The Wrestler

Click here to see TIME’s archive stories about John Irving

Shaul Schwarz is an award winning photographer and filmmaker. Schwarz is represented by Reportage/Getty Images.

The Dark Side: Roger Ballen’s ‘Asylum’

Roger Ballen’s photographs are as much alluring as they are unsettling. For nearly 50 years, Ballen has used photography to explore some of the most upsetting parts of the psyche—and, in that period, he has created some of the most exquisite and unique images of everything from people and skeletons to animals and nature.

Born in New York in 1950 and based in Johannesburg since 1980, Ballen originally started as a documentary photographer. His mother worked at Magnum Photography, and later opened one of the first photo galleries in New York. Ballen recalls that, as time passed, he moved away from street photography toward work that was more conceptual. “My early work was somewhat documentary, but as time went on, the world became increasingly intense, increasingly more abstract, so my work became more complex in all sorts of ways,” he says. Since moving to South Africa, Ballen has left behind his early reportage style, instead choosing to stay within the frame of the camera to create an image.

Roger Ballen

Complex Ambiguity, 2009

Working strictly in black and white, Ballen creates unique pictures that explore, and then revisit, imagery of people, skeletons, animals, nature and faces. He has always taken an interest in animals in his photographs, and is curious about how the animal kingdom interacts with nature and humanity. Perhaps most striking in his photographs are the faces that always seem to be looking at the viewer. Taking inspiration from South African mythology and ancestor worship, Ballen says, “There’s faces everywhere, and I guess at the end of the day, who are the faces? Who’s telling you what to say? Who’s producing the dreams that come out of the night? There are mysterious third parties that govern our behavior in all sorts of ways.”

Ballen’s most recent project, and the subject of a solo show at the Manchester Art Gallery, stems from two other bodies of work: Boarding House, 2009, and Shadow Chamber, 2005. In each, Ballen found his way into an old South African mining house and former warehouse. It was while exploring these buildings for many years that Ballen found the location for his current body of work, Asylum.

Right near the boarding house building, Ballen came across a house in which the owner allowed people to stay for very little money under one condition: he insisted that the birds he collects be allowed to fly all over the house, and that they don’t stay in cages. “The house is full of birds, ducks, chickens, pigeons, doves, whatever, different birds and they’re all over the house, flying from one room to the next,” Ballen recalls. “The people that live in the house are people from different aspects of the streets in South Africa—some people come from other places in Africa, some are unemployed, some are products of poverty, violence and anything else. I interacted with these birds and animals to create these photographs.”

It is through this interaction that the photographer explores what he refers to as the dark side of one’s psyche. For Ballen, the problem begins with how the Western world defines dark. “In American culture, or western culture, dark means evil, scary or something you stay away from, something you don’t want to confront you,” he says. “You want to live your life in a very light way. I think the pictures deal with an aspect of the so-called dark side.” In Ballen’s mind, it’s through the dark that one finds the light. “The dark is what people actually refer to as the side of themselves that they’re scared of,” the photographer says. “The dark side is the side of themselves that they don’t want to work through. Dark is really fundamental to the work.”

Asylum is on view at the Manchester Art Gallery from March 30 – May 13. More of Roger Ballen’s work can be seen here.