Tag Archives: VII

‘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.

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.

Red Thistle: The Rhythm of Life in the Caucasus

Davide Monteleone traces the genesis of his new book of photographs, Red Thistle, to 2007, when he heard about a film festival going on in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. At the time, Chechnya had been locked down for nearly a decade under a special security regime. Known as the KTO, the Russian acronym for “counter-terrorist operation,” the regime had meant years of martial law, curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military. Not exactly the place for something like Sundance–the region’s film festival was a fluke, a rare chance for some foreigners to have a look around, and Monteleone took it. With his companion, Lucia Sgueglia, who would end up writing the text for Red Thistle, he would sneak out of the guarded hotel to explore Grozny.

“We did this until the Russian troops would catch us and take us back,” Monteleone said. “Then we would go out again.”

What he found was a region slowly restoring the rhythm of life—a weird, entrancing, pensive rhythm—after two devastating wars with Russia fought between 1994 and 2000. After the second war, the U.N. had deemed Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth,” but with billions of dollars in postwar Russian aide, the city had been rebuilt and revived. Over the next five years, Monteleone would return to Chechnya and the surrounding regions of the Caucasus Mountains as often as once a month.

“A lot of work had been done on the wars and the human rights abuses,” he said. “We wanted to study everyday life.”

In 2008, the KTO regime was lifted in Chechnya and travel there became easier, but life was still colored by Russia’s shadow and the legacy of the Soviet Union, which ruled this predominantly Muslim region for almost 70 years. So the settings of Monteleone’s photographs—from the beat-up old Zhiguli cars to the destitute apartment blocks—have a distinctly Soviet texture, a drab, heavy latticework that seems to press against the people inside it. Smiles are not common on the faces in his photos, but they seem to have a stubborn glow amid the grayness that surrounds them.

A common theme, predictably, is death, which is so insistent that it approaches a dulled ubiquity. If there is a kind of music to life in the Caucasus, mortality is its drumbeat in Monteleone’s work. In one frame, a woman in a black headscarf hurries along the sidewalk, not seeming to notice a stream of blood flowing toward her from a bull that was slaughtered in the street. There are weddings and funerals, and both seem to occasion equal measures of melancholy and warmth. At one wake in Chechnya, a group of men perform the Dhikr, an Islamic ritual which, in the local Sufi tradition, involves hours of rhythmic dancing and chanting until the men fall into a collective trance.

“You know that you’re in Russia,” says Monteleone. “But at the same time, life is structured in such a way that you feel closer to Persia or the Middle East.”

That is part of the duality of the Caucasus, which remains a world between worlds. The ongoing insurgency against Russian rule creeps in to remind you that the war goes on—a house stands demolished in one frame after Russian tanks moved in for a counter-insurgency strike—but there is also reconciliation: a group of men from one family walk down a mountain toward a mosque, where they resolve a blood feud with another family that had caused generations of strife. The overall picture is sad but not despondent, and there is resilience in almost every frame.

The unifying image of The Red Thistle comes from the opening scene in Lev Tolstoy’s novella Hadji Murat, which begins with a man trying to pluck a crimson thistle from a ditch in the Caucasus mountains. The thistle fights back, stabbing his hand with its brambles, and only gives in when he has frayed the stem and mangled the flower. “What energy and tenacity!” the man thinks. “With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life.”

Simon Shuster is TIME’s Moscow reporter.

Davide Monteleone is a photographer with the VII agency. See more of his work here. Monteleone’s latest book, Red Thistlewas recently released by Dewi Lewis publishing.

Change in the Gobi: Mongolia’s Economic Boom

Photographer Davide Monteleone and I may have had one of the only drivers in the Gobithat forbidding expanse of gravel and sand in southern Mongoliawho had no sense of direction. Granted, the instructions we received were pretty vague: at the second (or was it the third?) livestock path, we should take a left. What counted as an animal thoroughfare, we wondered? Was it that little indentation in the gravel? Or the line of hoof prints heading east?

After much bumping along, we finally reached our destination, a traditional Mongolian circular tent called a ger, surrounded by a crowd of camels, goats and other livestock. I wanted to talk to the herders, who were unhappy with the compensation they had received from Oyu Tolgoi, the copper and gold mine that is Mongolias biggest foreign investment project to date and which may add one-third of future value to the countrys GDP. Davide was photographing the forbidding panorama and the hardy nomads who live there. And then, just as he was trying to compose a picture that would convey the aridness of the landscape, it began to rain. Fat drops fell, landing on the camels eyelashes. Here we were in one of the driest places on earth, in the middle of a freak rainstorm.

Mongolia is a land of improbable contrasts. It is the most sparsely populated country on the planet, with fewer than 3 million people. squido lense . Yet it is also, by some estimates, the worlds fastest growing economy, powered by at least $1.3 trillion in untapped minerals. The natural-resource boom is remaking the capital, Ulan Bator, which now boasts shiny new skyscrapers and luxury malls that contrast with the citys decrepit Soviet architecture. Yet one-third of the country remains impoverished. Democracy, which the countrys citizens embraced after a peaceful revolution in 1990 that displaced the long-ruling socialists, gives people a voice through regular elections. But corruption has eroded the life-changing potential of the rush of foreign investmentvalued at $5 billion last year in a country with a $10 billion GDP. Mongolia, today, is increasingly a land of haves and have-nots, a land of both wind-chapped nomads and mining executives who power Hummers, not horses. For anyone in Mongolia, our off-course driver included, its hard not to feel disoriented.

Hannah Beechis TIMEs China bureau chief and East Asia correspondent.

Davide Monteleone is a Moscow-based photographer represented by VII. See more of his work here.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • The National Press Photographers Association announce “The Best of Photojournalism 2012,” this week. For aspiring hopefuls, the Photo Brigade posts “10 Tips for Photojournalism Students,” and Phototuts+ shares an article on “Building a Narrative Through Photojournalism.” The British Journal of Photography reports that the Carmignac Gestion Foundation is currently calling for entries for its annual Photojournalism Award, which comes with a €50,000 grant.
  • New York Times‘ LENS blog profiles Binh Danh who works with a fascinating chemical-free alternative process known as chlorophyl printing–using sunlight to burn in monochrome images onto leaves, grass and other vegetation. His series “Immortality, The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War” features a decade of work printing images of “suffering civilians, soldiers on patrol and the dead,” in an attempt to recapture the experience of that war.
  • A wide-ranging conversation about the ethics of conflict photography and how images are sold commercially has sprung up around the use of an image licensed to Lockheed Martin. Read Ron Haviv and VII responses to the initial criticism raised by Benjamin Chesterton of Duckrabbit, who takes issue with the use of a Haviv image commercially licensed by the arms manufacturer. Further commentary and assessment on the thorny issues of how to make, sell, and use — or not — images created during conflict are added by Michael ShawColin Pantall, and Stella Kramer
  • Photo District News posts “Favorite Sources of New Photography” Part 1 and Part 2, a feature in which they ask photo editors from publications like The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, New York, Time, The New Yorker, and many more including our own publisher Lesley A. Martin, where they find inspiration for new work.
  • What effect might increased scrutiny or transparency over digital image manipulation have on our visual culture? Poytner reports that a new software suite is in development by the former Adobe product manager for Photoshop that would detect the alteration of digital images. AdWeek explores what effect these attitudes might have on commercial photography in the wake of the pivotal ruling by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus that a certain fashion ad was not “truthful and accurate” and thus a “public health hazard.”
  • More on Richard Misrach this week, whose monograph Golden Gate is soon to be reissued by Aperture on the occasion of the anniversary of the bridge, which turned 75 last Sunday. Time’s LightBox profiles “Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley,” on view at the High Museum from June 2, 2012, as does CNN Photos with a slightly different slideshow edit. The series features images from his other upcoming collaborative photobook with Kate Off, Petrochemical America, profiled by the Huffington Post in “Beautiful Ambivalence: The World Through the Lens of Richard Misrach.”
  • In exploring the future of photography, Hilde Van Gelder looks at its past in “What Has Photography Done?” on Fotomuseum Winterthur’s blog Still Searching. She outlines two dominant tracks–the “autonomous pictorial art,” that gets absorbed into the museum and the canon, and that which “comments on the social and economic reality in which we live and thus actively take[s] part in transformative social processes,”–and opens up a conversation on the public funding of institutions.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • The National Press Photographers Association announce “The Best of Photojournalism 2012,” this week. For aspiring hopefuls, the Photo Brigade posts “10 Tips for Photojournalism Students,” and Phototuts+ shares an article on “Building a Narrative Through Photojournalism.” The British Journal of Photography reports that the Carmignac Gestion Foundation is currently calling for entries for its annual Photojournalism Award, which comes with a €50,000 grant.
  • New York Times‘ LENS blog profiles Binh Danh who works with a fascinating chemical-free alternative process known as chlorophyl printing–using sunlight to burn in monochrome images onto leaves, grass and other vegetation. His series “Immortality, The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War” features a decade of work printing images of “suffering civilians, soldiers on patrol and the dead,” in an attempt to recapture the experience of that war.
  • A wide-ranging conversation about the ethics of conflict photography and how images are sold commercially has sprung up around the use of an image licensed to Lockheed Martin. Read Ron Haviv and VII responses to the initial criticism raised by Benjamin Chesterton of Duckrabbit, who takes issue with the use of a Haviv image commercially licensed by the arms manufacturer. Further commentary and assessment on the thorny issues of how to make, sell, and use — or not — images created during conflict are added by Michael ShawColin Pantall, and Stella Kramer
  • Photo District News posts “Favorite Sources of New Photography” Part 1 and Part 2, a feature in which they ask photo editors from publications like The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, New York, Time, The New Yorker, and many more including our own publisher Lesley A. Martin, where they find inspiration for new work.
  • What effect might increased scrutiny or transparency over digital image manipulation have on our visual culture? Poytner reports that a new software suite is in development by the former Adobe product manager for Photoshop that would detect the alteration of digital images. AdWeek explores what effect these attitudes might have on commercial photography in the wake of the pivotal ruling by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus that a certain fashion ad was not “truthful and accurate” and thus a “public health hazard.”
  • More on Richard Misrach this week, whose monograph Golden Gate is soon to be reissued by Aperture on the occasion of the anniversary of the bridge, which turned 75 last Sunday. Time’s LightBox profiles “Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley,” on view at the High Museum from June 2, 2012, as does CNN Photos with a slightly different slideshow edit. The series features images from his other upcoming collaborative photobook with Kate Off, Petrochemical America, profiled by the Huffington Post in “Beautiful Ambivalence: The World Through the Lens of Richard Misrach.”
  • In exploring the future of photography, Hilde Van Gelder looks at its past in “What Has Photography Done?” on Fotomuseum Winterthur’s blog Still Searching. She outlines two dominant tracks–the “autonomous pictorial art,” that gets absorbed into the museum and the canon, and that which “comments on the social and economic reality in which we live and thus actively take[s] part in transformative social processes,”–and opens up a conversation on the public funding of institutions.

Fighting for Afghanistan’s Future

Out at the Kabul Military Training Center, Colonel Fazl Karim is giving a new batch of recruits his usual pep talk on a hilltop not far from the barracks. It’s two weeks before the graduation of the latest group of soldiers in the Afghan National Army, and the troops sit cross-legged in the dirt, aligned in neat rows. Construction crews build more barracks nearby—another 100,000 recruits are expected to go through the training in the next three years, gearing up for a final tally of 352,000 that will replace foreign soldiers. “You are all going to die one day,” shouts Karim. “You might as well die protecting your country!”

In Afghanistan, fatalism trumps optimism as a rallying cry. But perhaps that just reflects the realities of Afghan soldiering: by the end of 2014 the country’s armed forces will take over security from the international troops that have been stationed here for more than a decade. And yet the insurgency continues. What the Afghan troops lack in equipment, logistics, air support and training they more than make up for in sheer bravery.

But is it enough? Even the U.S. soldiers tasked with overseeing training are skeptical. “As long as training continues when we leave there is no reason to think that Afghanistan can’t continue to grow a professional army,” says Captain Jason Reed. “But it’s going to take generations.”

Adam Ferguson is a frequent contributor to TIME. Represented by VII, Ferguson has covered conflict for several years, primarily in Afghanistan.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East Bureau Chief for TIME.