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Monika Bulaj June 29, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Belarus.
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Tartars Mosque. Minsk, Belarus 2004

Monika Bulaj (b. 1966, Poland) studied  Philosophy at Warsaw University. She has explored the world of nomads, minorities, immigrants and outcasts in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Monika has published six books of the photography and creative non -fiction reportage and has participated in numerous exhibitions. Her photographs have been published in: La Republica, Corriere della Sera, GEO, National Geographic and others. Her work has been awarded by: The Aftermath Project Grant 2010, Bruce Chatwin special price for photography “The Absolute Eye” 2009, and the TED Global Fellowship 2011. She is based in Italy.

About the Photograph:

“The Belorussia Tartars are an incredible synthesis between Christianity and Islam. They read the Koran in Slavic, written in Arabic letters. They make use of incense in their Mosques, and spread it with the same passion as the Popes. They sing the Salah, the Muezzin prayers following the Byzantine polyphonic music. They cover the bodies of the dead with fragments of their Sacred Books, challenging one of the strictest Islamic taboos, that forbids  one to set the Koran under the ground. But there is more: the sins of the dead can be alleviated by the living, with the same Catholic logic of indulgences. Once a year they visit the graves of their dead to share food with them. They cry and talk, as the Byelorussian farmers of the good old times. They pray only on Fridays, but for hours, much longer than any other Muslims. They have survived the darkest years of Stalinism. They paid unaffordable taxes to the regime and have managed to always keep their Mosques open.”

Giuliano Camarda June 27, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Israel, Palestine.
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Bedouin village in East Jerusalem 2011

Giuliano Camarda (b. 1978, Italy) is a freelance documentary photographer focusing on Palestinian-Israeli issues. He spent one year in Bosnia and Herzegovina, working on several projects related to the consequences of war in the Balkans. Giuliano also cover news and collaborates with humanitarian NGO’s as a photographer and photography teacher. He has been selected for the Manuel Rivera Ortiz Grant in 2011. His works have been published on National Geographic Italia, La Repubblica, Zoom Magazine, Witness Journal, among others.

About the Photograph:

“This picture was taken in the Bedouin village of Wadi Abu Hindi, one of the most difficult communities in the area of East Jerusalem. The village is nestled in the desert, between the biggest rubbish dump of Jerusalem (Abu Dis), a military area used by Israeli army for training, and the illegal settlement of Qedar. People of this area live in miserable shacks, without electricity or running water, grazing their sheep between debris, being subject to demolition and attacks by settlers. Despite this, the communities have shown determination and unbelievable resilience that led the Israeli military authorities to draw up a relocation plan last October. Ignoring the aspirations, needs, traditions and the system of relations inherent in the Bedouin culture, the plan provides the deportation and a forced establishment of the Jahalin tribe a  few meters far from the rubbish dump.”

Thilde Jensen June 25, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
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Jess at School, Syracuse, New York 2009

Thilde Jensen (1971, Denmark) attended the  European Film College and K.U.B.A. School of Fine Art Photography. After moving to New York, she attended the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been exhibited at the Society of Contemporary Photography in Kansas City, the New Century Artist Gallery and The Back Room Gallery in New York City, and the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. A solo exhibition of Canaries was previously represented at Light Work in Syracuse in July, 2011. Thilde’s photographs have appeared in: The Observer, Contact Sheet, The New York Times Sunday Review, Double Take Magazine, Newsweek Magazine, Details Magazine, and Blender Magazine among others.

About the Photograph:

“The Canaries series is a personal account of life on the edge of modern civilization – as one of the human canaries, the first casualties of a ubiquitous synthetic chemical culture. Since World War II the production and use of synthetic petroleum derived chemicals has exploded. We live in a world today where man-made chemicals are part of every breath we take and where electromagnetic emissions are beaming at us from every corner. As a result it is believed that more than ten million Americans have developed a disabling condition referred to as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or Environmental Illness (EI). MCS is a condition in which the immune and central nervous systems go into extreme reactions when exposed to small amounts of daily chemicals like perfume, cleaning products, car exhaust, printed matter, construction materials and pesticides.” (more…)

Marc Shoul June 21, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in South Africa.
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George’s Boxing Club. Hillbrow, Johannesburg 2005

Marc Shoul (b. 1975, South Africa) graduated from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 1999. Since then, he has been a freelance photographer, having worked for various publications such as Time, Colors, and Monocle etc. His works have been exhibited in Australia, Switzerland, Italy and South Africa. His ‘Brakpan’ series won first prize in the Winephoto competition in 2011. Marc has worked on stories ranging from HIV to energy solutions to Rhino preservation. He is represented by Panos and is based in Johannesburg.

About the Photograph:

“This image forms part of a series called ‘Flatlands’, which concentrates on the inner city of Johannesburg. Once a cosmopolitan area reserved for whites, the city center is now home to residents from all over Africa looking for opportunity in the “City of Gold”. Hanson and Derrick were photographed in George’s Boxing Club. I got there early one morning; many of the boxers who live and train there were still getting out of bed and washing up. Their day begins with a prayer session before they start their laborious training session. The gym’s infrastructure is minimal and basic. It has a few boxing bags and old equipment scattered around. George, the trainer, promoter and owner, runs the place during the day and works night shifts as a security guard to keep the gym operational. He was a boxer in his day and once lived on the streets. For many of the boxers here, this is their only chance to make it in a very competitive business. They are literally fighting for their lives.”

Jerome Lorieau June 18, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Morocco.
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Essaouira, Morocco 2011

Jerome Lorieau (b. 1971, France) focuses on the cultural relationship that people have with their environment and how it affects and influences their everyday life and that of their community. In recent years he has mainly traveled in Morocco and Nepal working on two separate long term projects about the Medinas of Morocco and the Gurung people in Nepal. His last exhibition was in June 2011 at the Nepalese festival in Paris. His photographs have been published in: Le Monde Voyage, Real Travel, Chine Plus, Amateur Photographer, National Geographic books, among others. He is currently based in Bristol England.

About the Photograph:

“This photograph is part of an on-going long term project called Medinas of Morocco: Between Tradition and Modernity. It aims to explore the Medina’s culture and traditions while trying to understand how the modernization of Morocco impacts them over the year. At sunset, Moroccan people and tourists usually gather to enjoy the view over the Atlantic sea from La Skala, a fortified part of the Medina. This part of the city was built in the 18th century as part of the modern city to extend its commercial position in Morocco and internationally. Essaouira used to have important trade links with European countries which has been replaced by tourism in recent years. This in part has resulted in foreigners buying Moroccan Riads, traditional Moroccan houses, inside the Medina at prices most Moroccan’s can’t afford.”

Interview with John Vink June 14, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia.

Residents stand on a barricade to confront the police moments before the final eviction of the Borei Keila community. Phnom Penh 2012

Editor’s Note:

Earlier this year I had the chance to talk with John Vink, a Magnum photographer based in Phnom Penh. John is a seasoned professional but he epitomizes the new breed of documentary photographer. He felt the need to be closer to the projects he was reporting on, so he picked up and relocated to Southeast Asia in 2000. John has also been an early adopter of digital technology to better tell the stories that are close to his heart. Sure enough, when we got together he was in the midst of developing a photography App about land issues in Cambodia and was enthusiastic about sharing his ideas about the potential for publishing on the iPad. “Quest for Land” was developed by Robert Starkweather and includes over 700 images and extensive text by Robert Carmichael. Each of the 20 sections also features ambient audio and music.

John Vink (b. 1948, Belgium) studied photography at the fine arts school of La Cambre in 1968 and began working as a freelance journalist three years later. He joined Agence VU in Paris in 1986 and won the Eugene Smith Award that year for his work ‘Water in the Sahel’, an extensive body of reportage on the management of water in the Sahel. Between 1987 and 1993 he compiled a major work on refugees around the world; the book ‘Réfugiés’ was published in 1994. John Vink became a full member of Magnum Photos in 1997. In 1993 he started working on ‘Peuples d’en Haut’, published in 2004, which is a series of chronicles of communities with strong cultural identities living in mountainous areas. He has been based in Cambodia since 2000, a country he has visited since 1989. “Quest for Land”, an iApp about land issues in Cambodia was released in May 2012.

About the Photographs:

“I have been working on land grabbing in Cambodia for the last eleven years, hoping it would stop, that the conditions with which the evictions take place would improve, or that the evicted would at least be compensated properly. It is not happening. Evictions go on ruthlessly as the country develops at a rapid pace. And as the frustrations of the victims increase they turn more violent. Clearly, lessons from the past to defuse social tensions are not being learned here. Photography has to explain again and again…Relentlessly…The people standing on a trunk had barricaded the access road to the Borei Keila community from the police who were going to violently evict them a few moments later. It was the end of what could have been an exemplary on-site relocation. But corruption, deceit and greed took the upper hand. Hundreds of families were ‘offered’ land 45 Km out of town. Others were dumped at the same dry rice field with what was left of their belongings, without even the prospect of being able to remain there.”

Interview With John Vink

Geofffrey Hiller: Take me back to the time when you decided to relocate to Phnom Penh. Where were you coming from and what were your reasons for choosing Cambodia?

John Vink: I relocated to Phnom Penh in 2000 after five years in Paris and decades in Brussels. But Paris and Brussels were merely a place to drop the bags between travels. I was on the road close to eight months a year, the four remaining months being dedicated to the darkroom. The major projects I had been working on during that time made me realize that however hard I tried to get involved in them, there was always a moment when I had to leave them behind. I needed more time spent on a story to avoid superficiality. I needed to STAY in one place. Another reason I found to stay in one place is that you don’t have to waste time in airports and squeeze between the other sardines on planes anymore, that you save money by reducing travel expenses and moreover, you reduce your carbon footprint by not hopping on planes. The choice of Phnom Penh came fairly easily as I had been hovering around it since 1989, that it was a city of less than a million and that it is located in an area recovering from a disaster offering a wide array of stories which lie close to my heart. I’m an aftermath person. I mostly come after a disaster takes place, when things try to stabilize. I am attracted to uprooted things and by their reconstruction. Last but not least, Phnom Penh is where I met my wife in late 1999.

Ceremony by renters who were not included in the on-site relocation of Borei Keila. Phnom Penh 2007

GH: At what point in the project did you think you would spend over ten years documenting Land Issues in Cambodia? That’s a long time to stay with a story. Were there times that you felt the work was losing its freshness? How did you motivate yourself to stick with it? When do you know it’s best to move on?

JV: In fact I might be working on it more than the current 11 years. I am still working on land issues. Some of the stories that are in the app are not over yet. The good thing about an app is that you can update it fairly easily. The future versions of “Quest for Land” will have slightly different content, some stories will be updated, pictures will be added. But anyhow I was not working on land issues continually during those 11 years and did quite a few other stories in between. For nearly one year I covered the Duch trial, the first, and maybe the only, Khmer Rouge to be tried. I was the co founder, manager (well, sort of) picture editor and photojournalist of Ka-set.info , a daily updated website with in-depth information about Cambodia (we ran out of money after one year).

As for the freshness part in your question: yes indeed some of these eviction stories could seem repetitive, but they are so on the surface only. There is always a twist, making the latest eviction a bit different from the previous one. The only thing which stays the same is the disarray of the evicted and the arrogance of the one evicting. But here too things are changing: there is now much more resistance. An eviction is not necessarily a ‘fait accompli’. People fight back, get organized. Spotting all those shifts and differences are sufficient motivation to continue, although the main drive remains the fact that evictions should not happen the way they do. The development of a ruined country is a good thing, but it is the development of people which counts.

I don’t know when it’s best to move on because I am moving on all the time. New story ideas develop into something which takes my mind away from the previous one. There are a few in the back of my head, but they haven’t really taken over yet. More likely they may be stories that are extensions of ‘Quest for Land’. It has been like that for many previous stories. ‘Mountain People’ was an extension of ‘Refugees’. ‘Refugees’ is a continuation of ‘Water in Sahel’, where the drought caused big migrations. ‘Quest for Land’ is also an extension of ‘Refugees’. I am for example probing into a story on vulnerability called ‘On the Edge’. People being evicted are thrown on the edge, but so are many others (elderly, children, flood victims…). So I drift from one story to another. Since I am staying in one place things are less abrupt, even more related, flowing into one another.

Boeung Kak Lake residents demonstrate in front of the municipality seeking land for relocation. Phnom Penh 2011

GH:  In the introduction to the Quest for Land App you mention the interplay of form and content and comment that you are more of a “content guy”. Your images strike me as being very personal and visceral. How do I say it? They have a  strong physical sense, as if you are using your entire body as well as your eye to make the photo.

JV: It is really a matter of balance and what the intentions are. What gets precedence: what I talk about or how I do it? Yes I am a content guy. I think content is more important than form. By not much but still… And depending on the context as well: book, exhibition, slideshow, iPad? Form would get a bit more precedence over content in a book and certainly in an exhibition. Obviously it is better to use a good photograph of an interesting situation than a bad photograph. There are good photographs with shallow content. There are good stories poorly photographed. And there are good stories well photographed. I try to do the latter. We all do… And yes indeed I try to do it in a ‘personal’ way. I try to leave my mark on the way I write. I try to take away the routine of reading a photograph. Readers are much more photographically educated nowadays. They don’t read photographs the same way they did 50 years ago. Their eye has been stimulated by an ever increasing photographic vocabulary. They have so many more references. You have to stand out to be noticed, to be appealing or seductive or intriguing, but you don’t have to betray yourself at the same time.

It is difficult. I often doubt if I achieve anything there. It is my biggest struggle. As to the physicality of some of my pictures maybe it has to do with the fact that by now I know many of those people who were evicted, and they know me. We are close somehow… I believe they trust me, and I believe in what they are trying to achieve. I am disturbed by their frustration. I feel that if I take pictures up close that I somehow support them better.

Residents of the Boeung Kak community appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany to intervene. Phnom Penh 2008

GH: Who is responsible for the evictions? What becomes of these people’s lives after they have been relocated and dumped outside of town? How do they survive? Besides the few NGO’s, does the government provide any follow-up services?

JV: Who is responsible? People who put greed and the desire for power ahead of compassion, long-term thinking or even normal common sense, combined with an environment in which the rule of law is still in its infancy. And as the people responsible for the evictions often are the same as those who have political power, obviously support for the evicted does not come from the side of the authorities. Except in a paternalistic way, like dumping a rice bag or two, or an opportunity to strengthen a position of power. The people from Borei Keila, kicked 40Km out of town were for example offered a bus ride to Phnom Penh to participate in the commune elections in their former precinct. Needless to say they were expected to vote for those who promised them they eventually would get a land title… who are the same people who kicked them out in the first place.

Save for a few NGO’s the evicted are basically left on their own, piecing together what is left of their lives. A large fraction of those evicted are much worse off than before and the poverty rate among them has increased. So clearly development does not profit everyone… Only the fact of being pushed out to the periphery of town cuts most of the evicted from their already precarious means of subsistence, or, if they manage to keep the same job, the little daily benefit they make is eaten away by the transportation costs.

Tenants evicted from Dey Krahorm waiting to be assigned a home promised by the 7 NG company. Phnom Penh 2009

GH: Have you been threatened or assaulted by the police for being so persistent? Please explain any specific situations.

JV: Cambodia is one of the easiest places to work as a photojournalist. Correction: a foreign photojournalist. No, I have never been assaulted or threatened. Well… except for that guy looking me in the eyes and passing his finger over his throat during the Sambok Chap eviction or the policeman bruising my stomach with his stick when I tried to get back into the Dey Krahorm eviction site. But that was not so bad. It was a fair and open exchange of different standpoints…

It seems there still is an unwritten law since the presence of UNTAC in 1991 which says: ‘Don’t touch the foreign journalist (he hasn’t got a clue as to what is going on anyhow)’. But the other unwritten law says: ‘Don’t be bothered by the Kmer journalist. You can intimidate or bribe him, lie to him, and when it has to happen for the benefit of someone powerful, you can kill him’. And that happens once in a while. One must remember that Cambodia, for the sake of pleasing the donor countries has to maintain a facade of democracy, a free press being one of the ingredients to that. It is tough being a Cambodian journalist in Cambodia, and, unless one works for a foreign media, very difficult to maintain an ethical integrity.

GH: Witnessing these evictions over and over again must break your heart. Do you have to force yourself to remain detached? Any particular examples of people or families you have bonded with and become friends with?

JV: It doesn’t break my heart. It enrages me. And that motivates me to continue. But I don’t bond with families. They know me, know what I do, why I am there. I know quite a few of them but I don’t bond with them. I rarely even talk to people. I need to keep a distance.

GH: Phnom Penh has rapidly developed during the past 10 years. Is there any connection between these evictions and the growth of tourism in Cambodia?

JV: Except for the very few eviction cases directly related to expanding or to the creation of tourism sites like  the recent concession granted for the construction of a resort in Koh Kong province, there is no direct relation. There might be indirect relations as the powerful people who have a stake in the tourism industry might be the same ones involved in investments in other industries like in the agricultural sector. If one considers that the tourism industry was the first industry which helped Cambodia to climb out of its pit and trigger double-digit economic growth, then yes, tourism being related to growth, growth being related to money, and money being the big motivator for evictions, tourism is related to evictions.

Ester Jové Soligue June 11, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Spain.
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My Grandmother at 90. Lleida, Spain, 2008

Ester Jové Soligue (b.1978, Spain) moved to the United States and graduated from the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism program at the ICP.  Her work has been exhibited in Spain at The Center for Cultures and Cross-Border Cooperation Cappont Campus, Morera Museum, Mercat del Pla Museum, Pardinyes’ Contemporary Culture Centre, and also at ‘Visa off’ in Perpignan, France. In New York she has exhibited at the ICP and Studio 304. Her work has been published in the New York Times and Diagonal Newspaper. She received the ‘Ciudad de Gijón’ scholarship and has won a TV3 award that featured her work on Catalan television and published a group book called ‘Nuevas Miradas’. Ester is currently featured on the Emerging Talent roster of Reportage by Getty Images.

About the Photograph

“This picture is part of the series I made of my grandmother Carme during a visit to Spain in 2008. Carme and my grandfather Pere got married over sixty years ago in the postwar period. Two years later, they began building their own home on the land they worked on as farmers everyday of the year. My two older brothers and I grew up in that home. In 2004, their home was demolished to make space for a new housing development. She and her family had to move into a new house, forcing her to leave behind what she had built and fought for. Carme passed away nine months ago, at the age of 93.”

Ahikam Seri June 7, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Israel.
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Eritrean Church, Tel Aviv 2011, from the series ‘Seek Asylum’

Ahikam Seri (b. 1972, Israel) took up photography when his friend introduced him to a makeshift darkroom at his parent’s warehouse. Between 1995 and 1998 he studied photography in Jerusalem. Ahikam has covered news stories in Israel and the Palestinian territories. His in-depth reportage on unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel received an IFDP grant from Fifty Crows and an All Roads award from National Geographic. A report on hard-line Jewish settlers in the West Bank was exhibited at Visa Pour L’image. Other projects have received awards from Nikon and PDN and have been exhibited at the Reportage Photo Festival, and featured in group projects such as This Day of Change by Courrier Japan, and Nazar: Act of Faith by Noorderlicht. He is represented by Panos Pictures.

About the Photograph:

“On the first morning of 2011, Eritreans pray in southern Tel Aviv. Their makeshift church is a former brothel. Since 2007, this neglected part of the city had become home for asylum-seekers who have been illegally arriving in Israel, mainly from Eritrea, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Ghana and beyond. Risking mortal danger to cross the armed Israel-Egypt border, they are smuggled by local Bedouins. They brave possible gunfire from Egyptian border guards crossing into Israel in search of a better future. This has sparked an internal debate over Israel’s moral obligation to provide shelter for such refugees. Until Israeli authorities come up with an official policy, the African asylum-seeker’s presence in Israel remains tenuous and their future uncertain.”

Will Baxter June 4, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Afghanistan.
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Air Assault on Marzak, Afghanistan 2009

Will Baxter (b. 1978, USA) is based in Cambodia, where he is the photo editor at The Phnom Penh Post. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism in 2000 and got his start as a photographer stringing for Reuters in Southeast Asia. Will was a finalist for the 2010 Alexia Foundation Grant for professional photographers. He won 1st place in the Spot News category in the 2008 FCCT Photo Contest with an image from his story about the Cyclone Nargis aftermath in Burma. He was nominated for the Joop Swart World Press Photo Masterclass and Unicef Pictures of the Year in 2009. An exhibition of  his work depicting the lives of Cambodian garment workers who are making Adidas apparel for the 2012 London Olympics is currently traveling in the UK and the Czech Republic.

About the Photograph:

“In 2009 I spent five months documenting the war in Afghanistan. Part of what I wanted to explore is the growing divide between the security forces and the general population. This photograph was taken during a search and clearing operation in the village of Marzak, Paktika province, in February 2009. During the operation, US and Afghan security forces detained several Afghan men with the intention of keeping them overnight for questioning. The photograph shows a group of elders who have come to a compound that security forces had set up as a temporary base of operations. The elders were told to line up outside the wall to wait for an opportunity to speak with a member of the security forces about the possible release of the villagers. The juxtaposition of the soldier on one side and the elders on the other is what struck me about this image, and I think it is quite effective at illustrating the sense of distrust and the overall divide between the security forces and Afghan civilians.”

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